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E are now arrived at the fourth and laft branch
of these commentaries; which treats of public
wrongs, or crimes and mifdemefnors.

For we may remember that, in the beginning of the preceding volume, wrongs were divided into two fpecies; the one private, and the other public. Private wrongs, which are frequently termed civil injuries, were the fubject of that entire book we are now therefore, laftly, to proceed to the confideration of public wrongs, or crimes and mifdemefnors; with the means of their prevention and pu nishment. In the pursuit of which fubject I fhall confider, in the first place, the general nature of crimes and punishments; fecondly, the perfons capable of committing crimes ;

a Book III, ch. 1.





thirdly, their feveral degrees of guilt, as principles or acceffaries; fourthly, the feveral fpecies of crimes, with the pu nishment annexed to each by the laws of England; fifthly, the means of preventing their perpetration; and fixthly, the method of inflicting those punishments, which the law has annexed to each feveral crime and mifdemefnor.

FIRST, as to the general nature of crimes and their punishment: the discussion and admeafurement of which forms in every country the code of criminal law; or, as it is more ufually denominated with us in England, the doctrine of the pleas of the crown; fo called, because the king, in whom centers the majesty of the whole community, is supposed by the law to be the person injured by every infraction of the public rights belonging to that community, and is therefore in all cafes the proper profecutor for every public offence ».

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THE knowlege of this branch of jurifprudence, which teaches the nature, extent, and degrees of every crime, and adjusts to it it's adequate and neceffary penalty, is of the utmost importance to every individual in the ftate. For, (as a very great master of the crown law has obferved upon fimilar occafion) no rank or elevation in life, no uprightness of heart, no prudence or circumspection of conduct, should tempt a man to conclude, that he may not at fome time or other be deeply interested in thefe refearches. The infirmities of the best among us, the vices, and ungovernable paffions of others, the instability of all human affairs, and the numberless unforeseen events, which the compafs of a day may bring forth, will teach us (upon a moment's reflection) that to know with precision what the laws of our country have forbidden, and the deplorable confequences to which a wilful disobedience may expofe us, is a matter of univerfal


In proportion to the importance of the criminal law, ought alfo to be the care and attention of the legislature in properly ← Sir Michael Foster, pref. to rep.

See Vol. I. p. 268.

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