Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ties for less than they are plainly worth. The purchaser, in the mean time, as soon as they are out of hearing, boasts of his gainful bargain; and trumpets, without a blush, the value of the arti. cles, which he had before decried. 4. Another class of frauds is connected with the Contraction; and Payment, of Debts. The first transgression of this nature, which I shall mention, is the contraction of debts, with clear conviction, that we possess no means of discharging them; and that we shall, in all probability, possess no such means hereafter; at least, within any reasonable period of payment. Multitudes of persons covet enjoyments, in the possession of others, to such a degree, that they are willing to acquire them, if they can, without troubling themselves about paying for them. Such persons are often professed cheats; and triumph in the success of their impositions. But there are others, who regard themselves as honest men; and would be not a little surprised, as well as wounded, at the suspicion of fraudulent designs in their conduct. Most, or all, of these men form some loose, indefinite design of paying their debts; but, instead of providing the necessary means for this purpose, trust to some future casualty. They will tell the creditor, who charges them with dishonest conduct, that, although they did indeed know themselves to be destitute of property, and of any rational expectations of future property, when the debt was contracted, yet they hoped, that in the course of events, they should, in some manner or other, become able to discharge it. In this case, they will add, they should have discharged it, both willingly and faithfully. What they thus allege is, probably, in many instances true. The persons in question do not form a direct intention to defraud their creditors. Thus far their honesty goes. But here it stops. They form no design, direct or indirect, to take effectual measures to do their creditors justice. They do not conscientiously abstain from contracting debts, until they know, that they shall be able to cancel them by fair payment. On the contrary, they contract them, when they know themselves to be unable, and to be unpossessed of any fair probable means of being able at a future time. In all this they aro, although, often without suspecting it, grossly dishonest.

Another sin, very nearly akin to this, is contracting debts, without perceiving any means of payment to be in our power. Those, who transgress in this manner, feel satisfied, if they do not know themselves to be unable to pay. Were they evangelically honest, they would take effectual care to see whether they were able, or not. Often, by overrating their property, their efforts, or the markets, they feel a loose conviction, that they shall possess this power; but take no pains to render the fact certain, or even probable. Such morality can result only from absolute insensibility of mind to the great duty of doing justly; an entire ignorance of what it demands; and a total forgetfulness of exposure to the Divine indignation. We are bound, before we receive, before we become willing to receive, our neighbour's property, to know, that we have means, clearly probable, of paying him: etherwise, we wantonly subject him to the loss of it; and differ very little, as moral beings, from thieves and robbers. If we are in doubt concerning either the probability, or the sufficiency, of these means; it is our duty to detail them fairly to the person, with whom we are dealing. If, in this case, he is disposed to entrust us with his property, and we afterwards make faithful efforts to cancel the debt; I do not see, that we are chargeable with fraud, although we should fail. He who contracts a debt, without discerning that he has probable means of discharging it, differs in no material respect from a Swindler. He plunders his neighbour from indifference to justice; the Swindler from contempt of it. In the view of common sense, in the sight of God, the moral character of both is essentially the same.

Another transgression of the same general nature, is neglect. ing to pay our debts at the time. There are many persons, whose general character, as honest men, is fair; who yet, in this respect, are extremely deserving of censure. They contract debts, which they engage to discharge within a given time. This time is, therefore, a part of the contract; a ground on which the bargain is made; a condition, on which the price was calculated. This obvious truth is understood by all men; and makes a part of the language of everybargain, in which credit is given. To the expectation, formed by the Creditor, of receiving his debt at the time specified, the Debtor has voluntarily given birth.

[merged small][ocr errors]

It is an expectation, therefore, which he is bound to fulfil. " If he does not take every lawful measure in his power, to enable himself to fulfil it; or if he does not fulfil it, when it is in his power; he is guilty of fraud; of depriving his neighbour, not perhaps of design, but by a guilty negligence, of a part of his property. The delay of payment beyond the appointed time, is, in almost all instances, injurious, and, in some, almost as injurious to the creditor, as an absolute refusal to pay would originally have been. The real value of a debt, where the security is sufficient, is, among men of business, estimated according to the time, when the payment is reasonably expected. Thus notes, bonds, and other obligations for money, when given by men, known to be punctual in the discharge of their debts, pass in the market for their nominal value; and are received in payments with no other discount, than that, which arises from the distance of the period, when they become due. Those given by negligent men are, on the contrary, considered as depreciated, from the beginning; and that, exactly in proportion to the negligence of the signer. Of this sum, be it what it may, the negligent man defrauds his creditor. The Law of God required, in accordance with the doctrine, which I am urging, that the sun should not be suffered to go down upon the hire of the labourer. The Spirit of punctuality, here enjoined, ought to be found in all men. The engagements, which we make, we are bound, as honest men, to fulfil. The expectations which we knowingly excite in the minds of those, with whom we deal, we are required to satisfy: and, when we fail, either voluntarily or negligently, we are inexcusable. The last iniquity of this species, which I shall mention, is the payment of debts with something of less value, than that which we possess. It has been doubtless observed, that I have, all along throughout this discourse, chiefly passed over in silence those gross frauds, which are the direct objects of criminal prosecution. Such is my intention here. I shall pass by the gross iniquities of passing counterfeit currency; forging obligations, and endorsements; and others of the like nature. To reprove these crimes cannot be necessary in this place. I have therefore con'fined, and shall still confine, myself to those, which are esteemed smaller transgressions, and are less observed, and less dreaded, by mankind. .* There are some kinds of currency, whose real value is inferior to that, which is nominal. Coin is in some countries, and at some times, alloyed below the common standard. It is, also, very often worn down below the standard weight. Paper-currency is, also, in many instances subjected to a discount, wherever its true value is understood. Debts are very often paid with this depreciated currency, without any notice given by the debtor of its depreciation. Debts are paid, also, to a considerable extent in commodities. In these there are often defects, in kind, or quantity, not readily perceivable by the creditor, and, what is much more unhappy, concealed, or not disclosed, by the debtor. Often, debts are paid by labour and services. These, not unfrequently, are stinted with respect to the time, through which the labour ought to extend; the skill, and thorough execution, which ought to be employed; the care, which ought to be used; and, universally, the completeness of the service engaged, and therefore justly expected, by the creditor. In every case of this nature, it is the design of the debtor to gain something by the means, and mode, of paying the debt, which he would not have gained, had he paid it in undebased coin; and which he would not have gained by a fair, honest fulfilment of the original terms of the contract. Whenever the debtor feels, that in discharging his debts he has acquired something from the creditor, not involved in the plain terms of the contract, he may be assured, that his mode of payment has involved in it a fraud, and that he has acted the part of a cheat. All these may, and often do, seem to the perpetrators, crimes of little moment: and it will, perhaps, be no easy matter to convince them of the contrary. I wish such persons to remember the great maxim, taught by the unvarying experience of. man; that he, who allows himself to be dishonest in one thing, will soon be dishonest in all things. I wish them still more so

lemnly to remember, that God is a witness of all their fraudulent conduct, however it may be concealed from mankind; and that, although they may cheat men, they cannot cheat God. 5. Another enormous class of frauds is composed of Breaches of Trust. Upon this unlimited subject my observations must be few, and summary. Frauds of this kind are found in the servant and the monarch, and in all the intervening classes of mankind. They fill with complaints every mouth; and haunt every human concern. To describe them, would demand the contents of a library: to name them, would be to recount most of the business of man. As they exist every where ; so all men are familiarized to them. Of course, it is the less necessary to detail them here. There is, also, but one opinion concerning them, and concerntheir authors. They are all by the universal voice pronounced to be frauds; and their authors to be knaves and villains. He, who assumes an employment, engages in the very assumption to discharge the duties, which it obviously involves. If he fails, he fails of his duty; if he negligently, or voluntarily, fails; he is, palpably, a dishonest man. The expectations, which we knowingly excite in others, we are indispensably bound to fulfil. Nothing less than this, will satisfy the commands of God, or the dictates of an unwarped Conscience. Nothing less will ever acquire, or secure, a fair reputation. I shall only add, that there is no easy or sure method of accomplishing this invaluable object, but to begin early, and to go on with inflexible perseverance.

REMARKS.

1. The Subject, which has been under consideration, presents us with a very humiliating and painful specimen of human corruption.

The duty of rendering justice to our neighbour, is one of the plainest dictates of the law, written on the hearts of men; one of the first demands of conscience; one of the prime injunctions of God. Accordingly, no duty has been more readily, universally, or absolutely, acknowledged, or demanded, by mankind. The bounds, also, which separate justice from injustice, are of.

Vol. IV. 39

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »