§ Mr. Turner
rose for the purpose of moving the following resolution:—"That Duelling is immoral in its tendency; that it brings into contempt the laws of the country; is contrary to divine command; and ought to be abolished." He most sincerely regretted that the Government had not given to the question he put to them some time ago such an answer as would have rendered this Motion unnecessary. He had, indeed, hoped, from what had passed in another place, when a noble Lord moved an Address to Her Majesty in answer to Her Most Gracious Speech, that the Government would have taken this subject under its own protection, and have brought in a measure for the effectual suppression of Duelling. In 1713, in consequence of the Duel between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun, which had proved fatal to both, a Bill was brought into that House to restrain such contests; but, although it was recommended by Her Majesty, it was lost on the second reading, and no other measure had been introduced. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government on a former occasion told the House that be was disposed to do everything to suppress the practice; but he (Mr. Turner) very much lamented that the right hon. Baronet, with the great power he 1017 possessed, had stopped short of doing the good which he had the means of effecting. The new regulations which had been mentioned referred only to the army; but civilians ought to be dealt with as strictly as officers in Her Majesty's service, and he hoped that there would not be much difficulty in so simplifying the law as to make it understood, and consequently obeyed. He was not aware of any law upon the Statute-book, or any document under the sanction of the Government, certainly none under Scriptural sanction, which said that Duelling was lawful in any shape; and, therefore, if authority could not be found for its toleration in society, then, as a Christian House of Commons, they were bound to look out for some remedy against it. It was said the other day by an hon. Member, that Duelling had been created by public opinion, and that public opinion would destroy it; but public opinion was a plant of very slow growth. Any Act, however, of the present Government would not have the same difficulty to contend with, it would be quick and effectual, and greatly would it tend to the honour of the Government to bring in a law, brief in its object and positive in its effect. He should not despair of seeing the Government propose a measure that would be satisfactory to the country. What did that eminent writer Paley say on the practice of Duelling?—Murder is forbidden; and wherever human life is deliberately taken away, otherwise than by public authority, there is murder. The value and security of human life make this rule necessary; for I do not see what other idea or definition of murder can be admitted, which will not let in so much private violence as to render society a scene of peril and bloodshed.That was language the force of which all the eloquence of the right hon. Baronet would not be able to remove. There was a curious document in reference to this subject, which he would just mention to the House; it was a document written by Colonel Thomas, dated the evening before the Duel in which his life was sacrificed. He said,—He was seriously opposed to duelling; it neither proved a man a gentleman nor brave; nor did it give satisfaction for insult; almost any man could raise physical courage enough to fight a duel, but few, alas! possessed sufficient moral courage to stem the tide of public scorn.Turn wherever they might, and read 1018 whatever they would, nothing stared them in the face but the extent of this great calamity. In the churchyard of the little village of Charmouth, in Dorsetshire, there was a tombstone raised to the memory of an officer, who, after having been preserved through eighteen engagements in the service of his country, had fallen the victim of Duelling. But means had of late been taken to abate the practice, and the public who were not perhaps so fully aware of the fact as they should be, ought to know that there was a society which had done great honour to itself, because it was composed of officers of high rank in the Army and Navy, and civilians also of high station, instituted for the purpose of suppressing Duelling. This Society was composed a short time since, of 349 members; among these gentlemen, were 13 Admirals, 67 Field-officers, 36 Captains in the Army, 32 Captains in the Navy, 17 Lieutenants in the Navy, 31 Noblemen, 141 civilians, 16 Members of that House, and, he regretted to state, only one Clergyman of the Church of England. The noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor) informed him that the Clergy had not joined the Society for particular reasons. Such a Society ought not to be, and could not be, long hid from public notice; but he had conversed on this subject with twenty Members of this House who were ignorant of the existence of such an Association, and he believed that very few hon. Gentlemen were aware of its establishment. The gentlemen who composed that Association were eminent for their high moral character. Hon. Gentlemen would readily admit that such men as the noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley) the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir H. Inglis), who were not now present, the noble Member for Chester (Lord R. Grosvenor), and the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper), who had the manliness to state the other evening in that House, that nothing would induce him to accept a challenge—would not connect themselves with any association whose object was not most praiseworthy and beneficial. He was aware that the authorities which might be brought against him, in support of the practice of duelling, were such as would have great weight in some quarters; but he would make a statement of facts which could not be controverted. It had been stated by Her Majesty's Government, that they found it extremely difficult to frame a law for the suppression of the prac- 1019 tice of Duelling; but it had not been difficult in former times, and in other countries, to abate this nuisance. Measures had been taken in other countries which, if adopted in this, would sooner or later, and he believed very speedily, put an end to the practice. If in this country a duellist were convicted of murder, the punishment inflicted by our laws was, he conceived, far too severe; and, in consequence of this excess of punishment, Juries were very unwilling to convict parties of such offences. Not many years ago capital punishments were abolished in the case of an offence then very common in this country: he alluded to forgery. A very strong feeling was manifested by the nation against the application of so severe a punishment to offences of that class; capital punishment was abolished, and a much milder punishment was substituted. He thought a similar course might be very advantageously adopted with respect to Duelling. He conceived, that not only ought parties to be punished who engaged in such encounters, when a fatal result ensued, but that provision should be made for the punishment of all persons who sent or accepted challenges. He had strong reason for believing that the general feeling of the people of this country was favourable to the entire abolition of the punishment of death in cases of fatal duels; and he conceived that a measure to effect this object would be attended with most salutary effects. Juries would no longer hesitate as to the verdict they should return; Judges would be relieved from the painful duty which, in cases of this nature, they might now be called upon to perform, and which to them must be extremely distressing; and offences of this kind would be certain to meet a just measure of punishment. He wished that Her Majesty's Government would take this question into their most serious consideration—whether an alteration of the severe punishment now attached to Duelling, might not be most beneficial. He would venture to assert, that a course which, in the case of forgery, had tended to a material diminution of offences of that class, would effect the same results in the case of Duelling. His opinion was, that when convictions took place for Duelling, the capital punishment should not be imposed, except where parties fought without seconds, and then he conceived the extreme punishment would be justifiable. The public at large had a duty to perform with relation to this subject; and, unless 1020 they took some means to put the Government in possession of their sentiments on the question, it was next to impossible for the exertions of hon. Gentlemen in that House to be successful. He did not allude exclusively to the religious communities; for one great advantage in mooting this question was, that it was entirely unconnected with sectarian or party feeling. But he would call the attention of the House to the nature of the laws which had been enacted in other countries for the suppression of Duelling. By the law of Switzerland, any person who killed another in a duel, became liable for the debts of the deceased. He was sanguine enough to believe that, in high life, in this country, even the adoption of such a law as this would produce a most excellent effect. The law of Switzerland also provided that an action should he for damages against the nearest of kin. In 1752, the Emperor Joseph—and to this he called the special attention of the right hon. and gallant Officer (Sir H. Hardinge)—declared, "I will not suffer Duelling in my army; I despise the maxims of those who pretend to justify it, and who kill each other in cold blood." These observations referred to a case in which two officers had fought a duel; and the Emperor proceeded—"Let a court-martial try these officers, and examine the subject of their quarrel; and let him who is guilty submit to his fate, and to the rigour of the law. I am resolved this barbarous practice shall be suppressed and punished, should it cost me half my officers," It was somewhat extraordinary that the right hon. and gallant Officer had applied to the practice of Duelling the very same term that was used by the Emperor—he had characterised it as a "barbarous" practice. He found it stated that, many years ago, Duelling was denounced in France as "a detestable custom, introduced by the Devil for the destruction of soul and body." He was sure no individual would contend, in the face of that House, or of any other great national society, that this language might not with equal propriety be adopted now. In France Duelling was prohibited; the goods of duellists were confiscated, and they were excluded from Christian burial. Why were such regulations made against the practice? Because it was regarded in its true light—as cold-blooded and deliberate murder. His conviction was, judging from history, that imprisonment and exclusion from Government offices had ever been found the 1021 most effectual means of preventing the practice of Duelling. Two Proclamations had been issued in this country on the subject—one in the reign of Queen Anne, and the other by James I. The latter proclamation elicited the opinion of the eminent Lord Bacon on the subject of Duelling—an opinion which he thought would command the respect and attention of those Members of Her Majesty's Government who were present on this occasion. Lord Bacon said:—I must acknowledge that I learn out of the King's last Proclamation the most prudent and best-advised remedy for this offence that the wit of man can devise. This offence, my Lords (addressing the Lords of the Star Chamber) is grounded upon a false conceit of honour, and therefore it should be punished in the same kind. The fountain of honour is the King; to be deprived of his favour, and to be banished from the Royal presence would be a fit punishment.He believed, though he should be unsuccessful in his Motion, there was a growing feeling on the subject of Duelling prevalent in the country, which would eventually demand the attention of Parliament to some legislative measures for its prevention. But if he might judge from the present appearance of the respective sides of the House, he thought he would be able to carry his resolution. If he did succeed it was his intention to propose a short Bill, which he hoped would provide a remedy for the evil of which he complained. He might state, that he had received many hundreds of letters on this subject and he had selected one from a distinguished officer holding high rank in Her Majesty's service—another from a civilian—and a third, he believed from a clergyman. As he had been favoured with so many letters, he had been unable to acknowledge their receipt in a formal manner. The writer of the first letter to which he had referred had not given his name; but he believed he was acquainted with the handwriting, and if his supposition was correct, a braver and better man than the writer did not exist. That writer said, as one of his constituents, and as an officer in the Navy, that he was a decided opponent to the practice of duelling. The writer begged him to push the Government on this subject, in order to induce it to consent to the abolition of the practice. His correspondent also suggested, that the Government should issue a public notice to the Army and Navy, to the effect that any 1022 officer taking part hereafter in a duel, either as a principal or as a second, should be removed from Her Majesty's service, and that if he persisted in fighting a duel, and should fall, no pension should be granted to his widow. Once issue such an order, and there would be an end to the practice, and he did nor think that any officer would be found who would for the sake of gratifying a spirit of revenge run the risk of depriving his widow of that pension to which she would, under other circumstances, be entitled. He had avoided, until he had read the sentiments of the correspondent whose letter he had just laid before the House, alluding even indirectly to the case of Mrs. Fawcett, who had been deprived of her pension in consequence of her husband having been killed in a duel with Lieutenant Munro. On that subject he must state to the House that he cordially agreed with what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland the other evening. He trusted that the circumstances which had been stated to the House with reference to the condition of Lieutenant Munro would have the effect, in mitigating public opinion with regard to that individual. Another correspondent urged him to push Her Majesty's Government on the subject—to urge them to take a comprehensive view of the matter. The writer said—Why not promulgate a notice to the effect that any person, either as a principal or as a second, would be considered ineligible to hold any office in the Army, Navy, Colonial, Foreign, Home Department, Horse Guards, Admiralty, and (he thought the writer said most wisely) the Privy Council?Persons high in station and in society had sanctioned the practice of Duelling. He wanted no more than that common justice should be done to the cause he was advocating. He believed that many who had formerly sanctioned the practice of Duelling regretted, as much as he did, the imperious necessity that had compelled them to send or accept a challenge and fight a duel. It had long been his opinion that the public press of this country ought to advocate the abolition of the practice of Duelling. He held in his hand rather a singular document with regard to the press of this country. Before he made use of any argument deduced from the article in question he must state that many hon. Gentlemen appeared to he of opinion that the practice of Duelling Was fast drawing to a close in this country. He at one time was disposed 1023 to entertain the same opinion; but he found upon examination that such was not the fact. He was compelled to go back again to the reign of George III. He found that during the reign of that Monarch no less than 172 duels had been fought; out of the 172 how many did the House imagine were convicted upon trial? At that period, as at the present moment, the feeling of Juries and Judges were in favour of the parties who suffered. Of the 172 persons who fought 91 were killed, and two persons only were subjected to punishment. They were executed. Had the persons who fought been punished by being transported for a period of 14, 17, 21 years, or for life, much good might have resulted. At the present moment the nominal punishment was positively a premium on the practice of Duelling. It encouraged it in every possible shape and degree. In fact, Juries went so far as to sympathize with the parties who fought duels. They certainly went through the ordeal of a trial, but they were not convicted for the offence. If guilty, the parties escaped in consequence of the asperity of the law. During the year 1838, four duels were fought in this country, and four in 1839. It would be found that the average number of duels during the last three years was greater than what had occurred in the reign of George III. In the year 1838, an article on the subject of duelling appeared in the Standard newspaper, having reference to a particular case that occurred at that period. The writer of the article to which he referred, said, "that there existed no necessity for sanctioning the practice of Duelling,—that a person who killed another in a Duel was as much guilty of murder as the highwayman who took away the life of a fellow-creature, and the law made no distinction between the two cases." The writer of the article in the Standard asked, with very good sense, "Is this tyranny to be endured?" He did not believe that the Standard went so far now on the subject of duelling as it did formerly when that article appeared. It went now halfway on the subject—in fact, as far as the Government went—but not so far as he wished to go. Before he sat down he considered it to be his duty to call the attention of the House to what Earl Fortescue had done in reference to the suppression of Duelling during the time that distinguished nobleman held the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. That noble Earl issued an important document on the subject. It 1024 went much further than the Government appeared disposed to go, if he judged of the intention of Government by the contemplated alteration in the articles of war. He should not be doing his duty to the noble Earl if he refrained from bringing the document under the consideration of the House—that document which had become a matter of history in this country. A particular circumstance had called Earl Fortescue's attention to the question of duelling, and that noble Earl, by command of the Government, and as the Representative of Her Majesty, on the authority of the Crown, issued on the occasion the document referred to. He had no doubt that the right hon. and noble Lord opposite would find the document in the office to which he had access. The hon. Gentleman read the proclamation, which set forth that, from circumstances which had recently been brought before the Lord Lieutenant, it was his desire that it should be signified to Her Majesty's forces in Ireland, that it was the Lord Lieutenant's firm determination to punish with immediate dismissal any officer who should give or accept, or be concerned, either directly or indirectly in giving a challenge, under any pretext or under any provocation whatsoever. Now, he asked, was it possible, after this condemnation of the practice by Her Majesty's late Representative in Ireland, that it could be sanctioned by the present Government, the conservators of the peace of the country? Unless he had put a wrong construction on this Proclamation, the meaning of the noble Earl was, that the officers over whom he had control were not to fight duels, and not to accept challenges; and that accepting a challenge would disqualify the party from holding office under Government. He would again allude to the letter of Lieutenant Munro, and he would declare that Lieutenant Munro's language in that letter was such as made him (Mr. Turner) believe, that scarcely any punishment which a jury of his countrymen could have inflicted would have surpassed what he was now undergoing; for he thought that his letter manifested his feelings to be most acute. He thought that letter was calculated to bring over the sympathies of the country very much in Lieutenant Munro's favour. Lieutenant Munro had attempted, and very nearly, he believed, succeeded in convincing the House that he was not the great criminal that had been supposed, and under these circumstances he put it to the 1025 Government, whether some act—which he was sure would be well received by the public—could not be devised which would give something like comfort to both these parties—he meant Lieutenant Munro and the widow of Colonel Fawcett? He would pass an act of oblivion on all matters of this kind that up to the date of the act had taken place. He would grant the widow her pension as an act of grace, and not as an act of right. The country had seen an Act passed, and that lately, where the circumstances of the parties were taken into consideration, to relieve those parties from the penalties they had incurred. Why should not some law of the like nature be passed, which would embrace both these cases? and when that was done then let them alter the law, and make the punishment not only certain, but let that punishment, whatever it were, quickly follow the offence. If that were done, as he was sanguine enough to think sooner or later would be done, the law would be an honour to the Government, which should pass it, and a credit to the House of Commons who supported and sanctioned it.
§ Mr. Ewart
seconded the Motion. It appeared to him there was a necessity for practical legislation on this subject. Judging from the maxims which were delivered in general by hon. Members who had spoken on it, there was hardly one, he thought, who would deny the evil of the practice. In fact, the expression of opinion had been so general, that it amounted to a resolution of the House to put down Duelling. Waving all vain declamation, he wished to state the question, which was, as he conceived—could they put an end to this practice they all detested? He had endeavoured to glean from what had fallen from the hon. Mover what the punishment was which he intended to establish, and he gathered that the hon. Mover would enact the punishment of transportation in general, retaining, however, capital punishment for one species of Duelling, viz., in the case of Duels without seconds. In that, he must say, he differed from the hon. Gentleman, because he was one of those who were against all capital punishments whatever. But, besides that, he doubted whether there was justice in the hon. Gentleman's plan. The law of England considered manslaughter as a less crime than murder, the latter being accompanied by circumstances of malice and forethought, of which the former was 1026 divested. The truth was, the man who went out with seconds after a deliberation of two or three days, perhaps, committed a greater crime than he who hastily went out to fight, on the exasperation of the moment, without seconds. Seconds did not diminish the crime. He differed, therefore, from the hon. Gentleman on this point, and he thought the remedy would not come up to public opinion on this subject. Besides, its effect would be to increase and extend capital punishments; for he believed that since the case of Colonel Campbell in 1808 no execution for Duelling had taken place. With respect to the sentiments of Her Majesty's Ministers, he understood that they had reflected maturely on the question. They had stated so. He would ask them, therefore, whether it were not possible to put down the Crime of Duelling by inflicting a proper punishment, inflicting no punishment however equivalent to capital punishment? For his part he would venture to introduce a Bill to inflict a punishment of from two years imprisonment to fourteen years' transportation, at the discretion of the fudge. He believed that would agree with public opinion, and it was manifest that they wanted sonic punishment which would accord with the present state of public feeling; but before he (and he believed other Members) could take any practical step in the matter, he wished to ascertain what were the intentions of the Government; and he thought, that from the statements of the Government the other night, the House had a right to claim some information of their intentions.
said the subject branched into two divisions, the moral and the practical, and it was to the latter only that he wished to address himself, namely, the possibility of Legislation. The hon. Members who had moved and seconded this Motion seemed to think that legislation could only act by punishing. He could not help thinking, that legislation might do more; for, could they look to this practice, which all admitted to he wrong, to be absurd, to fail of attaining its proper object—the prevention of insult, and inquire why it had continued so long in this and other countries, and not be satisfied that it was owing to some deficiency on the part of the law? He considered the blame of duelling to rest not so much with the individuals, as with the state if the law. The practice 1027 arose in barbarous times, when men were so rude and unskilful in the sifting of evidence, that they could not in a dispute discover who was right and who wrong and in their ignorance they turned to their superstitions, and appealed to the sword to point out where lay the right. The root of the evil consisted in the law leaving one class of offences utterly unprovided for by any regulation whatever; for, with regard to offences against the honour, the law provided no adequate protection whatever. It would not do to try and get over this by pretending that these insults and offences against the honour were no injuries at all. There certainly were very grave injuries of this kind for which the Law Courts provided no adequate redress. It was true, that a number of very trivial offences were brought under a cognizance of the arbiters of honour, but there were also very grave offences publicly proclaimed, imputations of base motives, false aspersions, unjust attempts to bring contempt upon character, which it was hard to expect a man to receive with impunity, and for which the law ought, in his opinion, to provide some remedy and redress; so that the injured party might disprove what was false, and reinstate himself in public opinion. The law, if it could be so styled, of honour, failed in the great object of all law, for it did not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, but punished both alike. Courts of honour had been a subject of ridicule, be was aware, but they had been established, nevertheless, with good effect in some countries of Europe. In Russia no officer of the army would fight a duel, because the punishment was so severe; and in Bavaria and Prussia officers had recourse to the court of honour. He might state the opinion of Blackstone on this subject, who, after stating, that by law, killing in a duel was murder, both in the principal and second, went on to say,Yet it requires such a degree of passive valour to combat the dread of even undeserved contempt, arising from the false notions of honour too generally received in Europe, that the strongest prohibitions and penalties of the law, will never be entirely effectual to eradicate this unhappy custom, till a method be found out of compelling the original aggressor to make some other satisfaction to the affronted party which the world shall esteem equally reputable as that which is now given at the hazard of the life and fortune, as well of the person insulted as of him who bath given the insult.So that Blackstone contemplated the pos- 1028 sibility of establishing a tribunal which should give satisfaction in a true, a just, and reasonable sense and not that empty and miserable satisfaction which was attained by a man exposing his life and that of another. Duelling he believed, seldom took place now from revenge; parties were reluctantly compelled to go out, generally from fear, from the dread of society, and of being degraded if they listened to their conscience and their better feelings, and refused to imbrue their hands in the blood of their fellow-creatures; but if another alternative were given, if a court were constituted which would ascertain which party was in the wrong, and give a proper satisfaction to the injured, gentlemen might resort to it. Such a tribunal might enjoin the sort of apology which the party in the wrong ought to make, and so the injured party would have a real remedy. Whatever apology the necessity of the case might require, the Court could dictate the nature and terms of such apology, and that might be made public. Where the injury lies in being lowered in public estimation the adequate remedy consists in restoring the sufferer to the position to which he is fairly entitled, in general estimation. Some such measures as those, could, he thought, be adopted if the Government really wished to put an end to the practice. If they were to legislate, it required the talents and knowledge of a Government to enable them to do so, and he hoped that they would bring those talents and that knowledge to bear upon the question in an effectual manner. Persons appointed to decide questions relating to affairs of honour might be selected as nearly as possible from the same station in society with the parties concerned: and they would, therefore, be enabled to appreciate the feelings of those, respecting whose cases they might be called upon to adjudicate. It would then be likely that the judgments of such Courts would prove satisfactory. The principle of arbitration was one acknowledged in some cases, and he did not see why that principle should not be applied by law so as to become a substitute for duelling.
§ Sir R. Peel
said.—The hon. Member opposite proposes that the House should pass a resolution to the effect, that Duelling is immoral in its tendency; that it brings into contempt the laws of the country; that it is contrary to the Divine command; and that it ought to be abolished. This is the resolution which the hon. Member has submitted to the House. Now, I really 1029 think that the House ought to pause before they proceed to deal with a question of this kind by means of a resolution. It appears to me that it would be establishing a most dangerous precedent if we were to take upon ourselves the office of interpreting the Divine commands. It might be a very compendious way of getting over a difficulty, but it is not the way in which I think that the House ought to encounter matters of this kind. We may by legislation prohibit any practice which we think ought to be prohibited, but I object to taking the initiative in the matter by means of a resolution; for unless this resolution should prove effectual, the consequence of adopting it would be to disparage the authority of the House, and to lower the influence of Parliament in public estimation. Suppose that we should agree to this resolution, how are we to enforce it? Suppose that the public totally disregard it, what means have we of making it obeyed? I am aware it has been said that the Crown ought to interpose its authority for the purpose of putting an end to this practice. I beg the House for a moment to consider the extent to which that authority reaches. In a matter of this kind the Crown can only exercise its influence over a very small portion of the community. The great mass of mankind are beyond the control of the Crown, and for this House to make a demand upon the Executive Government calling upon them to put down Duelling by such powers as we possess, would, I think, amount to a very noxious precedent; and it would be equally objectionable to call on us to pass any measure which we possess no reasonable prospect of being able to carry into practical effect. But, above and beyond all this, I must deprecate any proposition, the object of which may be to denounce certain Acts by means of resolutions. I have not forgotten that the hon. Member told the House that if we agreed to his resolution, he would then bring in a Bill for the purpose of carrying into full effect the principle set forth in the Motion; but I want to know why be need preface his intended piece of legislation by any resolution whatever? If the legislation of the hon. Member were calculated to be effectual, then his resolution is unnecessary. On the other hand, if he succeed in carrying his resolution, and does not prove successful with his measure of legislation, the House will find 1030 itself placed in a very awkward position; for there would stand the Motion without any means of giving it effect. Thus, whatever way we take the matter, neither the House nor the public would be any gainers. In making these observations, I am at the same time quite prepared to admit that the subject now brought before the House is one which is, in all respects, entitled to the most serious consideration. I quite agree, that if a legislative remedy can be devised, it is the duty of Parliament to lose no time in applying it. The hon. Member has told as that at some future time he will introduce a Bill for the purpose of giving effect to the principles and views which he has just stated to the House. I can only say that if he should do so, I shall not cast any impediment in the way of his introducing a Bill of that kind, of course reserving to myself a discretionary power of considering and deciding upon the proposed measure so soon as it comes regularly under the consideration of the House; but whenever the hon. Member asks for leave to bring in a Bill on the subject to which he has this evening called the attention of the House, I shall readily vote for the Motion for leave; but upon the nature of the hon. Gentleman's legislation must depend his chance of ultimate success. If the views of the hon. Gentleman were carried into effect, there should be two enactments, according to one of which there could be no capital punishment unless the parties engaged in a duel fought without seconds. See, now, the extreme difficulty of dealing with such a case. To declare that there should be one punishment for one species of Duelling, and another for a different kind of the same offence, would, in my opinion, appear like giving an implied sanction to that description of crime to which the lighter punishment was assigned. To this I must object, for I should be afraid of giving any such sanction to the practice. If the good sense and moral feeling of the community be opposed to Duelling, I do not think we ought to give it even an implied encouragement by any measures of legislation. This part of the question is really surrounded with difficulties that are almost insuperable. Suppose that two Gentlemen have had some cause of a quarrel—that they give way to their feelings—that in the heat of passion they fight without seconds—these persons, according to the hon. Member, might to be 1031 subjected to a certain punishment greater than those who after quarrelling go home, deliberate over the causes of their dispute, select seconds, and then go out to carry their hostile intentions into effect. I am sure that the present feeling of society on this subject would be decidedly opposed to inflicting the severe punishment upon the less deliberate offence. What, for example, would be thought of the case of Lord Byron and Mr. Chaworth? What would the public think if they saw a certain description of Duelling mentioned in an Act of Parliament in certain terms, which Act must be drawn up technically and construed literally? The inference that the public would draw from this must be, that Parliament gave a sort of sanction to the one sort of Duelling and not to the other. As to one of the propositions made by the hon. Member, namely, that the surviving party should pay the debts of him who lost his life in the encounter, it was one which he felt assured the House would never for a moment entertain. The persons who sought to make a reputation by Duelling formed a race of men now extinct; a more pestilent class never existed, but the good sense and good feeling of society at large had extinguished them. The contempt and disgust with which their real cowardice was viewed had driven them from all intercourse with any respectable class; but if they now existed, or were again to arise, they would, in endeavouring to raise their reputation as duellists—supposing the measure of the hon. Gentleman to succeed—select those persons for their antagonists of whose solvency they felt perfectly assured. I need scarcely add, that every consideration of this kind must diminish the confidence which we might otherwise place in the proposed measures of the hon. Gentleman. Amongst other matters it was now proposed to establish a court of honour. I do say there would be great difficulty in giving a legal sanction to any thing of that sort, and I very much doubt whether such a court could obtain reparation for wounded honour as readily as it might be obtained from the good feeling of the offending parties. I think it probable that the cases in which it failed would be more numerous than those in which it succeeded. I am sure that in the present state of society more instances of honourable reparation would arise from the generous feelings of the parties themselves than from 1032 any intervention of courts of honour. There were in ancient times courts of honour and courts of chivalry, but I hardly think the revival of them would accomplish the object which the hon. Member has in view; and I think I may now say that there exists a general feeling in favour of the position that there is more true courage and far less humiliation in giving than in refusing honourable amends. I will imagine the provocation given in a case of this sort to be of the grossest kind. I will suppose that there has been a threat of personal chastisement—that a whip has been held up in a menacing attitude—that there is an appeal to a court of honour—that the party who has given the provocation refuses to make the apology which the court has directed—that the court has inflicted upon him, we will say, fine or imprisonment—all this may go a certain length, but if public opinion be adverse to it the success of any such measure can never be complete. Believing all this—believing that courts of honour, like juries, would be very much under the influence of public opinion—believing that men like those who had already set the law of the land at defiance would not submit to courts of honour—believing that though the punishment of transportation might be enacted, its beneficial effect would be doubtful—believing that the fear of conviction, and even the fear of transportation, would not deter some parties; and, finally, that in too many instances the persons accused would rely too confidently on public sympathy, I must vote against the Motion of the hon. Member. I rely much less upon legislation than I do upon public opinion—than I do, for example, upon the influence of the 360 Gentlemen, including admirals, general officers, and other eminent persons possessing the nicest sense of honour, who have denounced the principle and practice of Duelling—who have declared that challenges ought neither be given nor accepted. Those are the grounds upon which Her Majesty's Government have thought it right to abstain from proposing any measure on the subject; but that will not prevent my giving to any Bill that the hon. Gentleman thought proper to introduce the fairest and most dispassionate consideration. There now is an evident indication that public opinion begins to discourage Duelling. I fear to check the flow of such a feeling. The subject has 1033 been very carefully considered by the advisers of the Crown. They have done everything in their power to discourage Duelling in the naval and military branches of the public service, by issuing certain new regulations on the subject, and I must say that I doubt the expediency of interfering further at present. I have no objection that the hon. Member should try his hand at legislating on the subject; but I must deprecate any attempt to pass a resolution such as that which has now been proposed to the House.
§ Lord R. Grosvenor
said, that formerly the feeling in society was, that a man who refused to send a message after having been insulted was degraded, but he did not think that such was the feeling now. Almost every man who had spoken upon the subject in Parliament, expressed opinions condemnatory of the practice of Duelling. With respect to the nature of the punishment, he thought it was impossible to put a duellist in the same class as a murderer; by doing so, the law was rendered inoperative. This was a subject peculiarly fitting to be dealt with by the Government. A private individual was deterred from bringing it forward because his motives might be misconstrued. He thought it inconsistent to establish a rule affecting the Army without making it equally applicable to the Navy and to the persons employed in the civil departments of the country. To leave the law in its present state, with respect to the rest of the community was impossible. He would willingly leave the matter to the influence of increased civilization. If it was said that a man was no longer to have recourse to Duelling to vindicate his honour, then the Legislature was bound to provide some other means by which he might do so, and protect himself from insult. He did not entertain the same opinion that the right hon. Baronet had expressed, as to the difficulty of devising suitable punishments. Transportation did not seem to him to be necessary in the case of duelling. The punishment should be consonant to public feeling—privation of commissions in the Army and Navy, and dismissal from official service of persons holding office under Government, and this privation and dismissal for a certain period, would, in his opinion, be perfectly agreeable to public opinion.
§ Mr. Hume
did not agree with the right 1034 hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) that a resolution of the House was an irregular mode of proceeding, although it might be followed up by any legislative measure. Nothing was so common as to do so. A resolution often preceded the introduction of a Bill. In his opinion, the present state of society did not admit of legislation upon this subject. Duelling was a custom which could not be changed by legislative enactments. Still the house might, with great propriety, pass a resolution expressive of its opinion against this barbarous practice. It would by degrees, strengthen the hands of Government to put it down. No one declared his approbation of the practice. If Her Majesty, who had intimated her anxiety to put an end to the practice in the Army and Navy, were to issue a single ordinance, declaring that no individual in society, whatever his rank might be should be admissible to office, or received in any public capacity or at court if guilty of sending or accepting a challenge to fight a duel. Let such an ordinance be passed, and that would effectually put an end to the practice.
§ Mr. Plumptre
said, it was not his practice to put out resolutions as feelers of the opinion of the House as to the success of a Bill. He thought the practice of Duelling was not only criminal in its tendency, but criminal in itself. He would express his condemnation of Duelling, by dividing with the hon. Mover of the Question.
§ Mr. Warburton
hoped the hon. Member would withdraw the resolution. He had already received, from the expression of the opinions of hon. Gentlemen, a sufficient condemnation of the practice, and all the objections that could possibly have been made against the resolution had been urged against it. He had been told, that according to the existing law, they could not have a stronger condemnation of the practice than was now inflicted. What possible object, therefore, could be gained by pressing the resolution? In order to save the House from appearing by their Motion in any way to express approbation of Duelling, he should move the previous Question.
§ Mr. Brotherton
hoped that the resolution would be withdrawn. It would be establishing a very dangerous precedent for the House to approve what would be against the Divine commands. And he agreed, that the practice of Duelling was only to 1035 be put down by public opinion. There was a growing feeling against it. Duelling, capital punishments, and war, would disappear when Christian nations became nations of Christians. But he could not force people to adopt religious principles of action. He desired, however, to encourage public opinion favourable to humanity. True courage consisted in not being afraid of being thought afraid. If the Legislature interfered at all, unquestionably it should be, not by Resolution but by Bill. The defect of the present law was, that only if duels proved fatal they were punishable. Why, should it not be law that if any one fought a duel, fatal or not he should be liable to prosecution? Then the very provoking to a Duel should be criminally punishable; and certainly the law was never put in motion against those who did not happen to injure their opponents in duels.
Sir T. D. Acland
added his request for the withdrawal of this highly inconvenient resolution. He frankly confessed that he could not negative it in any part of it as a proposition. Duelling undoubtedly was the crime, which, by some unhappy fatality, was allowed to exist, as if to brand by its barbarity, the character of an age and of a country so highly civilized, and to present a melancholy proof of the imperfection of our nature, in the inability of the noblest spirits among us to cast off a usage so cherished—still the last lamentable relic of a barbarous age. There was unquestionably, an insuperable bar to legislation; and whichever way the division went, if a division were persisted in, it would in its result be injurious to the cause all had at heart—the suppression of the odious usage. It would be most unfortunate by such an injudicious course to run the risk of giving the slightest check to the improved feeling of society on the subject. The law had done, it appeared, all it could. The difficulty was in getting society to put it into execution. The most honourable and estimable man—however grossly or wantonly insulted—would hardly have the moral firmness to go into a court of justice and expose his antagonist's conduct, encountering the obloquy attaching to such an appeal to another authority than that of a man's own sense of honour. The thing to be most desired, was the discouraging the preparatory steps in the progress of these unhappy affairs. Let sonic secondary 1036 punishment such as would really be inflicted, be imposed on those who sent, received, or carried challenges. At present it was alike unfortunate and unfair that society was quite passive during the progress of cases which served, though leading in themselves to no fatal results, to foster the feeling and perpetuate the practice of Duelling, society was silent while this custom was cherishing and continuing the apparent necessity for violating the law—so long as no fatal consummation was produced. But when some fatality occurred in some case, perhaps of far less malice, far less of revengeful feeling than others, but accompanied with circumstances of horror, then society rose up in alarm and in execration; and probably, under such circumstances, a man, animated by motives infinitely less malicious than those of others, who, not having succeeded in killing their antagonists, escaped almost unblamed, would hardly find a fair trial. Perhaps it would have a beneficial effect to exclude from the highest, the purest. and the most dignified presence in the land, those who had been concerned in duels fatal or otherwise. At all events, every man should sincerely assist in the discountenancing of this dreadful crime; and with that motive he had caused his name to be inscribed among those who had borne public testimony against the practice.
§ Mr. Turner
declared, that while he consented to withdraw his resolutions he did so with the determination, in the event of the Government not undertaking the task, of proposing a measure to the House on the subject, the responsibility of which however, he deemed would more appropriately be assumed by the Government than by any individual Member.
§ Motion withdrawn.