Capital Punishment: Ongoing Debate
Capital punishment has been in circulation from very ancient times. It was used to punish thieves and liars or those disloyal to their country. It was carried out in a barbaric way before; lopping off heads, feeding people to animals, or burning at a steak. Even back in those ages, people were protesting it at a small level. They knew it was cruel, but the way it was carried out did not change much because if people questioned it, they might end up being killed themselves. The death penalty has now evolved in to more humane methods; lethal injection, toxic gases, and electrocution. Yet there are still those who question the humanity of it. There are those who still believe it is cruel and unusual and just an unnecessary measure to take. They feel it is better to just let them rot in life imprisonment, living out their years, while the other group feels life is something they do not deserve. The truth is that capital punishment is full of controversy that will never die for all time. Before getting into the controversy, one must understand the history and origin of capital punishment, which dates back to the Eighteenth Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon. This code made twenty five different crimes punishable by death. The sentence was carried out in many barbaric ways which would be completely unacceptable in today's world. These ways of execution were: crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, and impalement. The popular form of execution, hanging, became the accepted form of execution first in Britain in the tenth century. However, methods like boiling, burning at the stake, hanging, beheading, and drawing and quartering were still being used all the way up to the Sixteenth century. Britain finally reformed their policies and eliminated many crimes punishable by death (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
In America, the death penalty was greatly influenced by the British practices. The first recorded execution was the accused spy Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. The death penalty was still being used for less minor offenses like theft or defiance of ones parents, so it was far from being a humane practice. Early opposition towards the death penalty became apparent during the abolitionist movement in the colonies. In 1767, Cesare Beccaria wrote an essay titled, "On Crimes and Punishment," stating that no state has the right to take a person life. More and more opposition and the need for reform were arising in the late 1700s and early 1800s until change finally happened. Capital punishment was limited to a few major crimes like murder and treason and the executions themselves were held in privacy, eliminating the cruelty of making a show out of executions. Execution was now limited to lethal injection, lethal gas, and electrocution. Some states even took it to the extreme completely abolished it even to this day. In the mid 1900s, capital punishment advocates were declining in numbers, to about 42% support nationwide. In 1972, it was actually deemed cruel and unusual and temporarily unconstitutional until it was reinstated not long after (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org). That sums up the origin of capital punishment and how it was developed in the United States of America.
As it is known, there are advocates and there are opponents of the death penalty and how it is practiced. Both sides must be examined to fully understand their plights. Firstly, the supporters, which I am one of, will be heard. Strong advocates of the death penalty have many reasons why it is a necessary measure and why it is good for America. One reason is deterrence. Supporters claim that a potential murderer will think twice before killing somebody when they understand that the consequence means death. They feel that by putting murderers down, they are saving many would-be victims. When states use the death...
41, 1 Stanford Law Review, 11/88, pg. 153
Skeptical Inquirer, July-August 2004 v28 i4 p23 (5)
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