Death Penalty History

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History of the Death Penalty

The Death Penalty is nothing new to our society. It has been in effect throughout the world for ages. As far back as the Eighteenth Century, B.C., a king of Babylon codified 25 crimes that were punishable by the death penalty. {In the Draconian code of Athens, it was the only punishment for all crimes.} This debate is especially strong within the Christian religion, due to the fact that Jesus himself was sentenced to the death penalty.

Skipping ahead to more modern times, the death penalty in America was influenced more by Great Britain than any other country. The first record of execution in America is that of Captain George Kendall in Jamestown, Virginia. He was accused of espionage for Spain. A few years later, Virginia governor Sir Thomas Dale enacted the Divine, Moral and Marital Laws that provided for the death penalty in even the most minor offenses.

Along with the enactment of capital punishment came the abolitionist movement, which still exists today. One of the major activists was Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. Rush challenged the belief that the death penalty was a deterrence to crime. He convinced Benjamin Franklin and Philadelphia Attorney General William Bradford of this view. Bradford later became the US Attorney General and he led PA to become the first state to consider degrees of murder based on culpability. PA repealed the death sentence for all crimes except first degree murder.

The abolitionist movement gained momentum in the early nineteenth century. The most major development during this time was Pennsylvania's replacing public executions with closed session executions in its correctional facilities. Michigan became the first state to totally abolish capital punishment. This led to abolition all over the world.

During the Civil War the opposition waned, as focus was given to anti-slavery. The next time...
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