Since the provision this court of inquiries makes for the ease and deliverance of every debtor who is honest is so considerable, 'tis most certain that no man but he who has a design to cheat his creditors will refuse to accept of the favour; and therefore it should be enacted,
That if any man who is a tradesman or merchant shall break or fail, or shut up shop, or leave off trade, and shall not either pay or secure to his creditors their full and whole debts, twenty shillings in the pound, without abatement or deduction; or shall convey away their books or goods, in order to bring their creditors to any composition; or shall not apply to this office as aforesaid, shall be guilty of felony, and upon conviction of the same shall suffer as a felon, without benefit of clergy.
And if any such person shall take sanctuary either in the Mint, Friars, or other pretended privilege place, or shall convey thither any of their goods as aforesaid, to secure them from their creditors, upon complaint thereof made to any of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace, they shall immediately grant warrants to the constable, &c., to search for the said persons and goods, who shall be aided and assisted by the trained bands, if need be, without any charge to the creditors, to search for, and discover the said persons and goods; and whoever were aiding in the carrying in the said goods, or whoever knowingly received either the goods or the person, should be also guilty of felony.
For as the indigent debtor is a branch of the commonwealth which deserves its care, so the wilful bankrupt is one of the worst sort of thieves. And it seems a little unequal that a poor fellow who for mere want steals from his neighbour some trifle shall be sent out of the kingdom, and sometimes out of the world, while a sort of people who defy justice, and violently resist the law, shall be suffered to carry men's estates away before their faces, and no officers to be found who dare execute the law upon them.
Any man would be concerned to hear with what scandal and reproach foreigners do speak of the impotence of our constitution in this point; that in a civilised Government, as ours is, the strangest contempt of authority is shown that can be instanced in the world.
I may be a little the warmer on this head, on account that I have been a larger sufferer by such means than ordinary. But I appeal to all the world as to the equity of the case. What the difference is between having my house broken up in the night to be robbed, and a man coming in good credit, and with a proffer of ready money in the middle of the day, and buying 500 pounds of goods, and carrying them directly from my warehouse into the Mint, and the next day laugh at me, and bid me defiance; yet this I have seen done. I think 'tis the justest thing in the world that the last should be esteemed the greater thief, and deserves most to be hanged.
I have seen a creditor come with his wife and children, and beg of the debtor only to let him have part of his own goods again, which he had bought, knowing and designing to break. I have seen him with tears and entreaties petition for his own, or but some of it, and be taunted and sworn at, and denied by a saucy insolent bankrupt. That the poor man has been wholly ruined by the cheat. It is by the villainy of such many an honest man is undone, families starved and sent a begging, and yet no punishment prescribed by our laws for it.
By the aforesaid commission of inquiry all this might be most effectually prevented, an honest, indigent tradesman preserved, knavery detected and punished; Mints, Friars, and privilege-places suppressed, and without doubt a great number of insolencies avoided and prevented; of which many more particulars might be insisted upon, but I think these may be sufficient to lead anybody into the thought; and for the method, I leave it to the wise heads of the nation, who know better than I how to state the law to the circumstances of the crime.