We study history to understand what happened to societies in the past and help know what will affect today’s day.. When studying history, you do not only study an event, you also study everything that had to do leading up to the event, as well as the society’s culture, religion, politics, and economics. In this essay, I will be analyzing the history of the death penalty.
The early days of the death penalty
The first established death penalty laws date as far back as the Eighteenth Century B.
C. in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, which codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes. Those crimes could include adultery (cheating on a husband ) and helping slaves escape from owners. Surprisingly, murder was not one of the twenty-five crimes.
In the early times of colonialism, a colonist in Virginia could be executed for crimes as trivial as stealing grapes, killing chickens, or trading with the Indians.
But the first documented execution in the new colonies was for a far more serious offense. In the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608, Captain George Kendall was sentenced to be hanged for the capital offense of treason. Among other serious capital crimes in colonial times were murder, rape – and witchcraft. Then later the first state to limit crimes punishable with the death penalty was Pennsylvania. In 1682 the conference of Pennsylvania produced the Great Law or Body of Laws, which consisted of 61 chapters dictating the governance of Pennsylvania. It included the original Quaker criminal code which limited crimes punishable by death to premeditated murder and treason. Pennsylvania replaced the death penalty and bodily punishments with imprisonment in a House of Correction. At least one signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, opposed the death penalty. In the fifth and eighth amendments, it clearly stated that it was allowed.
In summary, even if certain forms of punishment could be banned (such as crucifixions or beheadings) the basic principle of government executions remained permissible if individual states and the federal government wished to legislate for these as punishment.
Later days of the death penalty
Starting around 1833, public executions were attacked as cruel. Sometimes tens of thousands of eager viewers would show up to view hangings; local merchants would sell souvenirs and alcohol. Fighting and pushing would often break out as people jockeyed for the best view of the hanging or the corpse.
Violence and drunkenness often ruled towns far into the night after ‘justice had been served.’
Many states enacted laws providing private hangings, where the public was not allowed. Rhode Island (1833), Pennsylvania (1834), New York (1835), Massachusetts (1835), and New Jersey (1835) all abolished public hangings. By 1849, fifteen states were holding private hangings. This move was opposed by many death penalty abolitionists who thought public executions would eventually cause people to cry out against execution itself. For example, in 1835, Maine enacted what was in effect a moratorium on capital punishment after over ten thousand people who watched a hanging had to be restrained by police after they became unruly and began fighting.
In 1846, the state of Michigan abolished the death penalty for all crimes, except treason, and replaced the death penalty for all other serious crimes with life imprisonment. The law took effect the next year, making Michigan, for all intents and purposes, the first English-speaking jurisdiction in the world to abolish capital punishment and the first state to outlaw the death penalty for all crimes, including treason, was Rhode Island, in 1852; Wisconsin was the second state to do so a year later.
In the 1880s, inventor Thomas Edison started building electrical lighting systems in U.S. cities. Edison’s company demonstrated the power of electricity by electrocuting animals (killing them with electricity). These demonstrations led some people to reason that electrocution was a quick and painless form of execution and it started to be used soon after that. Electrical execution can also now be referred to as the ‘electric chair’.
Recent days of the death penalty
The movement against capital punishment revived again between 1955 and 1972, after teh II World War and the publication of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the newly created United Nations. England and Canada completed exhaustive studies that were largely critical of the death penalty and these were widely circulated in the U.S. Death row criminals gave their own moving accounts of capital punishment in books and film. Convicted kidnapper Caryl Chessman published Cell 2455 Death Row and Trial by Ordeal. Barbara Graham’s story was utilized in book and film with I Want to Live! after her execution. Television shows were broadcast on the death penalty. Hawaii and Alaska ended capital punishment in 1957, and Delaware did so the next year. Controversy over the death penalty gripped the nation forcing politicians to take sides. Delaware restored the death penalty in 1961. Michigan abolished capital punishment for treason in 1963. Voters in 1964 abolished the death penalty in Oregon. In 1965 Iowa, New York, West Virginia, and Vermont ended the death penalty. New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 1969. Trying to end capital punishment state-by-state was difficult at best, so people who wanted to get rid of the death penalty turned much of their efforts to the state courts.
As a turning point, in 1982, The United States Supreme Court overturns the death sentence of a man who was convicted of the robbery and murder of an elderly couple in Florida. Edmund had not directly participated in the murders himself but had only driven the getaway car. This was enough, under Florida law, to make him a ‘constructive aider and abettor’ in the killings, and so liable to the death penalty. However, a majority of five of the Supreme Court justices rules that this is not enough to subject him to the death penalty since they find Edmund had no intent to kill.
On December 7, 1982, Texas became the first to use the electric chair procedure, executing 40-year-old Charles Brooks for murdering Fort Worth mechanic David Gregory.
Today’s recognition of the death penalty
Utah executed convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner by firing squad. He became just the third person [all in Utah] in the last 33 years to be executed by being shot and likely one of the last. Utah has eliminated the firing squad (Gardner, convicted before the legal change, was grandfathered in) and it only remains legal as a means of execution in Oklahoma – even then, only as a backup.
Teresa Lewis was put to death in Virginia on Thursday for arranging the killings of her husband and a stepson over a $250,000 insurance payment. The 41-year-old was the first woman to be executed in the United States in five years. Texas held the most recent U.S. execution of a woman in 2005. Out of more than 1,200 people put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, only 11 have been women.
In conclusion, the death penalty was not considered a very serious punishment centuries ago, although now people have actually started to realize the severity of its implications. The death penalty is illegal/ prohibited in many countries and states, including in all of the European Union and most of Europe. These methods of punishment are very extreme and excessive. I chose this topic because I found it fascinating that a country that is considered very developed (USA) still uses methods considered to be very old fashioned and cruel, and that a continent such as Europe has already for several decades abolished capital punishment methods… all except for Belarus.
Cite this essay
The Death Penalty in the USA. (2020, Oct 08). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-death-penalty-in-the-usa-essay