Learn From History
The first established laws of capital punishment trace back to the eighteenth century B.C.E. in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon. An examining of the accounts of capital punishment starting with Hammurabi and continuing through the present demonstrates that the punishment’s history follows a trend. Throughout the course of history, the trend of capital punishment has gone from its devaluing of human life to its being protective of human life; historically, a completely innocent person was put to death for something as minor as holding a belief, whereas presently only the most heinous crimes merit such punishment. Capital punishment has gone through countless revolutions as human intelligence has advanced. The advancement of human intelligence led to increased focus on the preciousness of human life. As human life becomes closer to being considered priceless, the belief that no crime can justify the intentional killing of its perpetrator continues to gain popularity. This belief indicates that complete abolishment of capital punishment is approaching. In the United States, capital punishment was first instituted for even mirror crimes, but has progressed to being used conservatively, evidence of the approaching conclusion of the trend of Capital Punishment: complete abolishment. Comparing the similar histories of capital punishment between the United States and France also suggests the complete abolishment of capital punishment.
The first colony established in America was Jamestown in 1607. The long history of capital punishment in America began shortly after the arrival of the colonizers of Jamestown in 1608. Captain George Kendall is known as the first recorded person to be executed in America. Kendall was revealed as a spy for Spain, the reason for his execution (Frontline: the execution...). Treason, a crime punishable by death in all colonies, did not infer colonies were governed by a uniform code of laws regarding capital punishment (Zimring). Colonies were not united, so individual colonies followed their own laws influenced by the colony’s mother nation in Europe. The Duke’s Law of 1665, Capital Laws of New England, and Divine, Moral and Martial Laws are examples of the code of laws by which colonies were governed (The Colonial Laws of New York). Crimes listed as punishable by death in these laws included stealing grapes, killing chickens, trading with Indians, striking one's mother or father, or denying the "true God". More serious crimes included pre-meditated murder, sodomy, witchcraft, adultery, idolatry, blasphemy, and rape (Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty). Despite the vast difference between rape and killing chickens, the same penalty resulted. The crime of “stealing grapes” clearly demonstrates the low value of human life during the early colonies. People realized changes to the crimes punishable by death were mandatory.
In the early history of American capital punishment the methods of execution used were burning, pressing, breaking on the wheel, and hanging, the most common(Frontline: the execution…). The methods during this time were painful, cruel, and tortuous, but surprisingly, the methods did not invoke criticism for decades. The first changes made to individual state’s laws regarding Capital Punishment began to occur from 1776 to 1815. The changes made to the laws during this period involved the crimes that resulted in the death penalty. The small reform was influenced by an abolition movement against Capital Punishment. Cesare Beccaria, an abolitionist, wrote the most influential essay of the movement in 1767 (Frontline: the execution…). Beccaria’s focus of the essay was that there was no justification for the state's taking of a life. Beccaria’s essay made clear to American people his focus, and his underlying message that people’s value of human life was unbelievably low. The essay especially appealed to the intellectuals,...
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