A history of the capital punishment in the united states

Brought over from the United Kingdom, it evolved into different versions that depended largely on each state that adopted it.

A history of the capital punishment in the united states

Colonial period[ edit ] Abolitionists gathered support for their claims from writings by European Enlightenment philosophers such as MontesquieuVoltaire who became convinced the death penalty was cruel and unnecessary [4] and Bentham.

In addition to various philosophers, many members of QuakersMennonites and other peace churches opposed the death penalty as well.

Perhaps the most influential essay for the anti-death penalty movement was Cesare Beccaria 's essay, On Crimes and Punishment.

Beccaria's strongly opposed the state's right to take lives and criticized the death penalty as having very little deterrent effect.

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After the American Revolutioninfluential and well-known Americans, such as Thomas JeffersonBenjamin Rushand Benjamin Franklin made efforts to reform or abolish the death penalty in the United States. All three joined the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisonswhich opposed capital punishment.

Following colonial times, the anti-death penalty movement has risen and fallen throughout history. In Against Capital Punishment: Haines describes the presence of the anti-death penalty movement as existing in four different eras.

At present, there are twelve states that do not permit capital punishment under any circumstances. Some states have laws permitting capital punishment, but have not charged anyone under them. Not all executions of prisoners in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were ordered by the state. California and New Jersey restored the death penalty, and thirty-eight of the fifty states now have capital punishment laws. Some states use them frequently. Since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty, persons have been executed in Texas alone. Although some U.S. states began abolishing the death penalty, most states held onto capital punishment. Some states made more crimes capital offenses, especially for offenses committed by slaves. In , in an effort to make the death penalty more palatable to the public, some states began passing laws against mandatory death sentencing.

Anti-death penalty sentiment rose as a result of the Jacksonian era, which condemned gallows and advocated for better treatment of orphans, criminals, poor people, and the mentally ill.

In addition, this era also produced various enlightened individuals who were believed to possess the capacity to reform deviants.

Although some called for complete abolition of the death penalty, the elimination of public hangings was the main focus. Initially, abolitionists opposed public hangings because they threatened public order, caused sympathy for the condemned, and were bad for the community to watch.

However, after multiple states restricted executions to prisons or prison yards, the anti-death penalty movement could no longer capitalize on the horrible details of execution.

The anti-death penalty gained some success by the end of the s as MichiganRhode Islandand Wisconsin passed abolition bills.

A history of the capital punishment in the united states

Abolitionists also had some success in prohibiting laws that placed mandatory death sentences of convicted murderers. However, some of these restrictions were overturned and the movement was declining. In addition, the anti-gallow groups who were responsible for lobbying for abolition legislation were weak.

The groups lacked strong leadership, because most members were involved in advocating for other issues as well, such as slavery abolishment and prison reform. Members of anti-gallow groups did not have enough time, energy, or resources to make any substantial steps towards abolition.

Thus, the movement declined and remained latent until after the post-Civil War period. Second abolitionist era, late 19th and early 20th centuries[ edit ] The anti-death penalty gained momentum again at the end of the 19th century.

Populist and progressive reforms contributed to the reawakened anti-capital punishment sentiment. In addition, a " socially conscious " form of Christianity and the growing support of "scientific" corrections contributed to the movement's success. This method was supposed to be more humane and appease death penalty opponents.

However, abolitionists condemned this method and claimed it was inhumane and similar to burning someone on a stake. In an op-ed in The New York Timesprominent physician Austin Flint called for the abolition of the death penalty and suggested more criminology -based methods should be used to reduce crime.

Many judges, prosecutors, and police opposed the abolition of capital punishment. They believed capital punishment held a strong deterrent capacity and that abolishment would result in more violence, chaos, and lynching.

Despite opposition from these authorities, ten states banned execution through legislation by the beginning of World War I and numerous others came close.

However, many of these victories were reversed and the movement once again died out due to World War I and the economic problems which followed. The American Civil Liberties Unionhowever, developed in and proved influential. The group focused on educating the public about the moral and pragmatic trouble of the death penalty.

They also organized campaigns for legislative abolition and developed a research team which looked into empirical evidence surrounding issues such as death penalty deterrence and racial discrimination within the capital punishment process.

Although the organization had little success when it came to abolition, they gathered a multitude of members and financial support for their cause. Many of their members and presidents were well-known prison wardens, attorneys, and academic scholars. These influential people wrote articles and pamphlets that were given out across the nation.

They also gave speeches.California and New Jersey restored the death penalty, and thirty-eight of the fifty states now have capital punishment laws.

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Some states use them frequently. Since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty, persons have been executed in Texas alone.

This video by Rob Stansfield, PhD of Sociology & Anthropology at University of Guelph, depicts the history of abolition of capital punishment in the United States, on a state by state basis, from to Many more states began to abolish the death penalty, but still administered capital punishment for capital offenses, such as those committed by slaves.

A great reform and victory for the death penalty abolitionists was seen when Tennessee in , and later Alabama, enacted discretionary death penalty statutes: the circumstances of the crime. Although some states abolished the death penalty in the mid-Nineteenth Century, it was actually the first half of the Twentieth Century that marked the beginning of the "Progressive Period" of reform in the United States.

In the United States, the 'deterrence argument' is one of the most common justifications for the continued use of capital punishment. [25] [26] Essentially, the deterrence argument puts forth the notion that executing criminals deters . The American Bar Association calls for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in the United States.

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is executed by lethal injection, becoming the first person executed by .

History of the Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center