Utopia The Meeting At Cardinal Morton's House
Raphael continues with a story that happened when he was dining at Cardinal Morton's house. He first tells of an English lawyer who commended the severe execution of justice upon thieves. The lawyer could not understand why there were so many thieves robbing places when they knew that they would be hung if they were caught. At this point, Raphael spoke freely before the Cardinal, saying that the punishment was too strong for the crime, and that was why it wasn't working. He went on to say:
"There are dreadful punishments enacted against thieves, but it were much better to make such good provisions by which every man might be put in a method how to live, and so be preserved from the fatal necessity of stealing and of dying for it." Cardinal Morton's, pg. 7
His argument that men were driven to stealing through desperation was refuted by the lawyer's opinion that there were enough jobs for these people to choose from. Raphael then took the position that many men are severely injured in war, and therefore cannot work in the trade they used to work in before they went to war. Furthermore, Raphael argued that the aristocracy plays a large part in creating thieves. Idle noblemen hire many people to work on their land, but these people pick up no useful skills. When they become sick, or their lord dies, they are cast out into the world, where, without skills or money, they must steal to feed and clothe themselves and their families.
Raphael added another reason to the multiplication of thieves and beggars in England: the increase in grazing land. In many places, where it is found that sheep of a certain area yield softer wool than sheep in a different area, the nobility and gentry will take over that land in order to let their sheep graze there. Thus, the agriculture stops in these grazing lands, and the towns disappear. The result is that the people who used to live in these areas are driven off their lands without any provisions. Furthermore, there are no opportunities for these farmers to continue farming, as there is no arable ground left. Here again, people must turn to stealing and begging in order to support themselves. Raphael then proposed some solutions to this problem, which included restoring farmlands so that farmers could return to their homes and continue their skill and limiting the amount of wool produced so that nobility and gentry would not be so tempted to take increasing amounts of land. In this manner, employment would rise and the number of thieves and beggars would fall. Raphael then stated:
"If you do not find a remedy to these evils, it is a vain thing to boast of your severity in punishing theft, which though it may have the appearance of justice, yet in itself is neither just nor convenient." Cardinal Morton's, pg. 10
In answer to this, the Cardinal asked Raphael to give his reasons as to why he thought theft should not be a capital crime and what would be a better alternative. Raphael stated his opinion that a human life is worth much more than a little money, and that God has commanded us not to kill, so it is irrational to place human law before divine law.
Furthermore, it is absurd that a thief and a murderer should suffer the same punishment, and this may entice a thief to become a murderer, since there is less chance that he will be caught or identified if he kills his victim. As for a better alternative, Raphael suggested the same punishment that was used in Persia. In this punishment, thieves go about loose and free, doing public works. Should they be idle, they may be whipped; however, if they work hard, they are to be treated without reproach, and are well used. In some places, they are used as guides, or as workmen hired off the public marketplace. In order to be easily identified, they wear an odd uniform, have cropped hair, and a piece of one of their ears is cut off. They are allowed to accept food, meat or drink from friends, but are forbidden to accept money or arms.
Death is the penalty if they try to escape or handle arms, and slavery the penalty for anybody who helps them to do so. Those that discover escaped slaves are rewarded. They may regain their freedom through patience and obedience, and by proving that they have changed their ways.
Most of the Cardinal's guests thought this was not a good proposal and would never work in England. However, when the Cardinal agreed it had merit, they all seemed to change their mind. The Cardinal stated that it had possibilities in England, using the following method: when a death sentence is passed on a thief, the prince would relieve him of it and try the slavery idea as an experiment. If it had a positive effect, then that was a good thing. If it had a negative effect, the death sentence would go into effect.
When the issue of what to do with thieves who were incapacitated due to illness or old age arose, a jester proposed that they send those thieves to monasteries or nunneries. The Cardinal smiled at this and approved of it as a joke. However, the rest of the company thought that the Cardinal earnestly approved, and thus supported the jester's proposition.
Raphael pauses and apologizes for dragging the story on for so long, pointing out that this is just an example to show the extent to which the Cardinal's counselors applauded the Cardinal and flattered him. Furthermore, it shows how little his counsel would be appreciated or valued by the courtiers.
More thanks Raphael for his account of the meeting at Cardinal Morton's house, which brought him great memories from his own country. However, he refuses to change his opinion that Raphael would be an excellent counselor and could do a great deal for mankind. To support his opinion, More quotes Plato's idea that "nations will be happy, when either philosophers become kings, or kings become philosophers." Cardinal Morton's, pg. 17 To this, Raphael replies with another of Plato's quotes, saying that Plato judged right when he said that unless kings became philosophers, they would never take advice from philosophers.