Now, gentlemen, if you cannot execute a law, it is manifest that it better not be on the statute-book.
This is just what they found in England
For instance, the law used to be that a man should be hung for stealing a shilling.
That was thought too hard, and the sum was raised to forty shillings; but under this law, no jury could be found to convict,--they would find some way to evade the statute.
Thus, in one case, a man was taken up for stealing a watch which cost ten or fifteen pounds. The man had undoubtedly stolen it; it was proved against him. The jury brought him in guilty of stealing the watch, and found that the watch was worth thirty-nine shillings, eleven pence. The watch-maker said, “Why, the very fashion of that watch was worth five pounds.”
“Perhaps it was,” said the jury, “but we don't hang a man for five pounds.”
Afterwards they raised the amount to five pounds; then the jury brought the accused in guilty of stealing four pounds, nineteen shillings, eleven pence,--always keeping one penny behind the hanging limit.
Of course it was perjury, but the jury would not convict of the crimes of stealing and forgery, when the penalty was death.
The legislature said, The man who forges shall be hung,--but men forged every day, and every hour of the day; and the bankers of London
, with millions of pounds resting on the fidelity of an autograph, went before the legislature and said, “Be kind enough to pass a statute against forgery that shall not inflict the punishment of death.”
It was found that a man charged with forgery was certain to be acquitted; the witnesses quibbled, the juries quibbled, the prosecuting officer quibbled, until no man was ever hung for forgery.
Then the bankers of London
(one thousand of them) went before the legislature, and said, “Your gallows is no protection to us; be kind enough to take it away!”