Death Penalty and Electric Chair

Topics: Thomas Edison, Alternating current, Electricity Pages: 3 (995 words) Published: July 29, 2005
When Moran writes that he aims "to demonstrate how our most cherished social values can be manipulated to serve pecuniary interests: the way in which public policy is affected by behind-the-scenes maneuvering of powerful and often ruthless business interests," I think he is talking solely about the death penalty (xviii). There are various aspects within the death penalty that make it a much more dynamic issue. Throughout his book, Moran writes about the inhumanity of the death penalty, including the barbaric methods and public spectacle of the act prior to William Kemmler, and most importantly, the safety and efficacy of direct current versus alternating current in the eventually preferred method of the electric chair. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, along with a few others, were the players who manipulated how the public, and therefore the lawmakers, felt about this social policy.

As it is today, the death penalty was a big debate issue in the early part of the nineteenth century. I think it is interesting that, considering his major public role in this issue, Thomas Edison was initially against capital punishment. When Dr. Southwick solicited Mr. Edison's advice on the electric chair, Edison wrote "as a progressive and a free thinker, he was a lifelong opponent of the death penalty" (74). With further prodding, and deeper review, Edison realized how getting involved with this issue would help his personal business cause. Thomas Edison's light business was quickly losing ground to rival George Westinghouse. He knew he was widely respected as an electrical engineer and claimed not to change his stance on executions, but acknowledged the necessity and offered a humane alternative with electricity. More specifically and strategically, he offered up George Westinghouse's alternating current dynamos as a possibility because he claimed, "the passage of the current from these machines…produces instantaneous death" (75). These statements made their...

Bibliography: Richard, Moran Executioner 's Current: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the
Invention of the Electric Chair. (New York: Vintage Press, 2002), pp 74, 75, 84,
105, 160, 179.
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