Brief History of Capital Punishment

Dec 5, 2012

American History Through Literature 1870-1920 , 2006
Even earlier than the year 1870, people were opposing the Death Penalty in America. These
same people also opposed things such as slavery. Early Enlightenment philosophers believed that we should not be focusing on the punishment of the crime, but we on crime prevention itself. in 1840, Horace Greeley (1811-1872) became a vocal opponent of the death penalty. He said that the death penalty teaches revenge, weakens the horror of bloodshed, ensures that the guilty will escape punishment (much the same of my personal opinion), and it will make criminals more sympathetic to the general public.

The Death Penalty Reform Movement began during the period between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I. The general public was becoming increasingly aware of the incompetence and unfairness with which this penalty was being carried out. The many high-profile criminal trials that were covered by sensationalist media made it clear that this penalty was being taken for granted. People were angry that although the Eighth Amendment specifically prohibited “cruel and unusual punishment,” the Supreme Court failed to recognize that the death penalty qualified under this category.

I thought it was interesting that as early as 1770, people were opposing capital punishment. From previous research, I've learned that the death penalty was in fact very popular during early America even though "cruel and unusual punishment" was prohibited. I agree with all of Horace Greeley's stances on the subject, and it makes me feel better about my opinion to know that I'm not the only person in history to feel the way I do.

Source Citation
Morrow, Nancy. "Capital Punishment." American History Through Literature 1870-1920. Ed. Tom Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006. 199-203. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

Document URL