REASONS Humbly offered for An Act for Relief of Insolvent Debtors, and Fugitives for Debt.
THE Number of Debtors confined in the several Goals of this Kingdom, and the Fugitives Abroad, is surprizing at this present Time: And the causes of this Increase have arisen from several Circumstances, which, it is humbly hoped, will intitle the Sufferers to the Notice and Clemency of the Legislature.
Losses by Sea, Disappointments in Trade, during the War; and the Mortality amongst the Horned Cattle, have been the Ruin of many Thousands, who are now confined in Prison, or been obliged to take Refuge in Foreign Parts: And as these are Calamities that no human Prudence or Economy could guard against, or avoid, are rather Misfortunes than Faults; it is humbly presumed, that they will be deemed more worthy of Commiseration than deserving of Punishment.
The Conclusion of a Peace, tho’ an Event that has been attended with the most eminent Advantage to the Publick, has yet nevertheless involved many Individuals in Difficulties which they have not been able to surmount: Several Mechanicks, Manufacturers, and others, who by Reason of the Decay of Trade, during the Wars, were not able to support themselves, voluntarily entered, and others were compelled into the Service of the Publick, from which they were discharged upon the Conclusion of a Peace and some of them brought from Prisons Abroad, where they had been stripp’d and plunder’d by the Enemy: These Persons by a long Disuse of their several Trades and Occupations, have been rendered in a great Degree incapable of following their Business, and unable to gain a Livelihood; and, in their respective Trades and Callings, daily searching after Employment, have contracted Debts, for the necessary Support of themselves and Families, which they have not been able to discharge; and must now perish in Prisons, or remain in a State of Banishment, unless they are relieved by the Clemency of Parliament. In the Service of their Country they ventured their Lives for a bare Subsistance; and it is owing to the foregoing Considerations, that the Legislature have always extended those Acts of Mercy after the Conclusion of every Peace.
Every Prison affords Instances of Men undone by Accidents, and inevitable Turns and Reverses of Fortune; such may well presume to pray the
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Publick Regard: And it is hoped, that others, whose Ruin may have been the Effect of good Nature, Credulity or Folly, will not be deemed for ever unworthy to share the Blessings of Liberty, Clemency and Freedom, or in any wise hinder the granting Relief to the real and numerous Objects of Companion.
It often happens, that the Obstinacy of one Creditor, not only deprives a Man of his Liberty, but also hinders his other Creditors from their just Share of his Effects, which the Debtor would be glad to surrender for his Discharge.
France is now increasing and improving her Navy; and Manufactories are established, and industriously promoted and encouraged in Spain, Portugal, and other Places; and many of our Seamen and Manufacturers have been constrained, through the Severity of their Creditors, and to avoid the Horrors of a Goal, to seek an Asylum in those Countries; where, for the Sake of Bread and free Air, they may be induced to enter into Employments detrimental to the Interest of their native Country.
All the Compensation that the confined Debtors are able to make to their Creditors, they most willingly offer: All they are possessed of, or intitled to in Expectancy, they would gladly relinquish under the Penalty of Death: Their most humble Request, is only to be released upon these, or any other Conditions, from a Confinement, wherein they are become a real Incumbrance, without having it in their Power to be of any Service to the Publick; and many able and useful Men are daily perishing through Want and Distress; and others are consuming, in the Support of themselves and Families, those Effects, which might be divided to make Satisfaction to their Creditors.
The longer they remain in Prison, the less will they have to offer for the Satisfaction of their Debts; and as they are ready chearfully to surrender their All, it is humbly hoped that it will not be thought unjust to restore these unhappy Persons to their Families, and to the Publick; and to grant them an Opportunity of retrieving their Misfortunes, and, by their Industry, to support and sustain themselves; and relieving the Community from the Burden of many of their Families, who are now subsisted by their respective Parishes, or Friends and Relations.
Their longer Confinement cannot answer any other Purpose, than only to gratify the Spleen or Resentment of some particular Creditors; and their Release, will be an Advantage to all their Creditors, and the Publick in general.
Men deprived of their Liberty and Substance, by Sickness, Losses, and other Accidents and Events, which they could neither foresee, nor escape, are sometimes driven into Excesses they were before Strangers to, in order to prevent what they are not able to bear. Reflections upon their own Miseries and Misfortunes: And all confined Persons in general are subjected to a State of Inactivity and Idleness.
These are most unhappy and disadvantagious Circumstances for Persons, who, when it shall be their Fortune to be released, are to support themselves by their Industry, and Labour: Habits are dangerous Things, and those which have been of the longest Continuance, are of the most stubborn Nature.
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For these, and various other Reasons too tedious to mention, the unhappy confined Debtors humbly presume to implore the Compassion of this honourable House: They would joyfully strip themselves to their Creditors for Liberty to earn their Bread; and are willing with the utmost Chearfulness, and Readiness, to submit to any Disposition that may be made of them for the Publick Service: Most of them are able bodied Men, who might be employed to the Advantage of their Country, in the Fisheries, or in his Majesty’s Colonies and Plantations Abroad, and particularly in the new Settlement at Nova Scotia.
And they humbly hope, that upon Consideration of the peculiar Hardships of many of their Cases, the Miseries they now labour under, and the Advantages of their Release, they shall be deemed proper Objects of the Humanity, and Generosity of the Legislature; and the rather as there is Reason to dread fatal Consequences from the Fulness of Prisons, which has in many Places already occasioned Distempers, which, when the Weather becomes warm, may probably increase, and occasion a general Mortality.
Transcribed from the copy in the British Library. ESTC record no. T66990
‘The Conclusion of a Peace’: The treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, concluding the war of the Austrian Succession, signed 18 October 1748.
‘the Mortality amongst the Horned Cattle’: There were recurring outbreaks of cattle plague, (rinderpest), between 1745 and 1758, especially severe in 1747-8 and 1750-1. Broad, Cattle Plague in Eighteenth century England. (PDF).