CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: HISTORY
Effectiveness // History // Moral aspect
Capital punishment is a legal infliction of the death penalty; in modern law, corporal punishment in its most severe form. The usual alternative to the death penalty is long-term or life imprisonment. The earliest historical records contain evidence of capital punishment. It was mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi. The Bible prescribed death as the penalty for more than 30 different crimes, ranging from murder to fornication. The Draconian Code of ancient Greece imposed capital punishment for every offence.
In England, during the reign of William the Conqueror, the death penalty was not used, although the results of interrogation and torture were often fatal. By the end of the 15th century, English law recognized six major crimes: treason, murder, larceny, burglary, rape, and arson. By 1800, more than 200 capital crimes were recognized, and as a result, 1000 or more persons were sentenced to death each year (although most sentences were commuted by royal pardon). In early American colonies the death penalty was commonly authorized for a wide variety of crimes. Blacks, whether slave or free, were threatened with death for many crimes that were punished less severely when committed by whites. Efforts to abolish the death penalty did not gather momentum until the end of the 18th century. In Europe, a short treatise, On Crimes and Punishments, by the Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria, inspired influential thinkers such as the French philosopher Voltaire to oppose torture, flogging, and the death penalty. The abolition of capital punishment in England in November 1965 was welcomed by most people with humane and progressive ideas. To them it seemed a departure from feudalism, from the cruel pre-Christian spirit of revenge: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Many of these people think differently now. Since the abolition of capital punishment crime – and...
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