Now a man that will prosecute a debtor, not as a debtor, but by way of revenge, such a man is, I think, not intentionally within the benefit of our law.
In order to state the case right, there are four sorts of people to be considered in this discourse; and the true case is how to distinguish them,
1. There is the honest debtor, who fails by visible necessity, losses, sickness, decay of trade, or the like.
2. The knavish, designing, or idle, extravagant debtor, who fails because either he has run out his estate in excesses, or on purpose to cheat and abuse his creditors.
3. There is the moderate creditor, who seeks but his own, but will omit no lawful means to gain it, and yet will hear reasonable and just arguments and proposals.
4. There is the rigorous severe creditor, that values not whether the debtor be honest man or knave, able or unable, but will have his debt, whether it be to be had or no, without mercy, without compassion, full of ill language, passion, and revenge.
How to make a law to suit to all these is the case. That a necessary favour might be shown to the first, in pity and compassion to the unfortunate, in commiseration of casualty and poverty, which no man is exempt from the danger of. That a due rigour and restraint be laid upon the second, that villainy and knavery might not be encouraged by a law. That a due care be taken of the third, that men's estates may as far as can be secured to them. And due limits set to the last, that no man may have an unlimited power over his fellow-subjects, to the ruin of both life and estate.
All which I humbly conceive might be brought to pass by the following method, to which I give the title of
A COURT OF INQUIRIES.
This court should consist of a select number of persons, to be chosen yearly out of the several wards of the City by the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, and out of the several Inns of Court by the Lord Chancellor, or Lord Keeper, for the time being, and to consist of,
A President, } To be chosen by the rest, and A Secretary, } named every year also. A Treasurer, } A judge of causes for the proof of debts. Fifty-two citizens, out of every ward two; of which number to be twelve merchants. Two lawyers (barristers at least) out of each of the Inns of Court.
That a Commission of Inquiry into bankrupts' estates be given to these, confirmed and settled by Act of Parliament, with power to hear, try, and determine causes as to proof of debts, and disputes in accounts between debtor and creditor, without appeal.
The office for this court to be at Guildhall, where clerks should be always attending, and a quorum of the commissioners to sit de die in diem, from three to six o'clock in the afternoon.
To this court every man who finds himself pressed by his affairs, so that he cannot carry on his business, shall apply himself as follows:-
He shall go to the secretary's office, and give in his name, with this short petition:-
To the Honourable the President and Commissioners of His Majesty's Court of Inquiries. The humble petition of A. B., of the Parish of --- in the Haberdasher.
That your petitioner being unable to carry on his business, by reason of great losses and decay of trade, and being ready and willing to make a full and entire discovery of his whole estate, and to deliver up the same to your honours upon oath, as the law directs for the satisfaction of his creditors, and having to that purpose entered his name into the books of your office on the --- of this instant.
Your petitioner humbly prays the protection of this Honourable Court.
And shall ever pray, &c.
The secretary is to lay this petition before the commissioners, who shall sign it of course; and the petitioner shall have an officer sent home with him immediately, who shall take possession of his house and goods, and an exact inventory of everything therein shall be taken at his entrance by other officers also, appointed by the court; according to which inventory the first officer and the bankrupt also shall be accountable.