American Government & American Politics
December 6, 2012
Running Head: Death Penalty (Asbury)
The death penalty, or capital punishment, has been around for centuries. Since before the United States were states, capital punishment has been something that settlers used to punish people who have done crimes that were unheard of. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, thirteen crimes warranted the death penalty. These crimes included, idolatry which is to idolize something or to blindly worship an object, witchcraft, blasphemy, rape, statutory rape, kidnapping, perjury in a trial involving a possible death sentence, rebellion, murder, assault in sudden anger, adultery, and sodomy (Baird, 103). These crimes were enforced by the English Penal Code, which is the criminal code of England that has existed since the early 1600’s. The Penal Code gave the limitations and the allowances for what qualified and what still qualifies for Capital Punishment and what does not. Even then, with fourteen enforceable capital offences listed, each colony varied in what they punished their people for. For example, Quakers had much milder laws and the Royal Charter of South Jersey did not permit capital punishment for any reason and there were no executions in that area until 1691. It was not until 1682 with the William Penn Grant Act that the death penalty was limited to only treason and murder. Even with this act in place, most colonies continued to follow the British Code. When people were tried for these crimes, they were accompanied by the appropriate biblical quotation that went with the crime they committed thus justifying the capital punishment (Baird, 104). Even though the Founding Fathers of this country commonly accepted the death penalty, there were still many early Americans that opposed capital punishment, similar to today’s world. During the late 18th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was considered to be the founder of the American Abolitionist movement, decried capital punishment. One of his biggest followers was Benjamin Franklin. Not only was Ben Franklin one of his biggest supporters, Franklin also offered his home in Philadelphia to create a “House of Reform.” This was a prison where criminals could be detained until they learned to change their antisocial behavior (Baird, 106). Soon after, in 1790, the Walnut Street Jail was built in Pennsylvania, the primitive seed from which the American Penal system was then created and grew to what it is today. After years of attempting to get the capital punishment abolished, it was way after Rush’s death, in 1887, that capital punishment was even considered to be abolished. During and after the Civil War, Maine and Iowa successfully abolished the death penalty. Almost immediately after, however, legislation reversed and reinstated it in 1887, then causing Maine to again reverse itself and abolished capital punishment once again. While some states think that the capital punishment is something to keep around, there are seventeen states that do not currently have the death penalty in their justice system. These states are Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The District of Columbia also does not administer capital punishment in their system. Some of these states that have recently abolished capital punishment still had death row inmates in their prisons when it was abolished. The ones that were convicted before the death penalty in some states, are just sentenced to life in prison and for other states and some may still execute the ones that were left from before the abolishment. In Illinois, where recent abolition legislation took effect, on July 1, 2011, all former death row inmates have been moved to regular jail cells and could possibly be let out for the regular...
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