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Capital Punishment: Morality, Politics, and Policy

The Death Penalty In America, 1793–1982, Current Status, Capital Crimes, Public Opinion, Administration

Throughout the world, from earliest recorded times, the death penalty has played a prominent role in social control. Abolition of the death penalty became a matter for political discussion in Europe and America beginning in 1764, when the young Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794) published his little book, On Crimes and Punishments. Beccaria's criticism of torture and the death penalty typified the Enlightenment zeal for rational reform of prevailing social practices. Beccaria's alternative to the death penalty was life in prison at hard labor. In short order Catherine of Russia decreed an end to the death penalty, and so did Emporer Leopold in the province of Tuscany in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Maximilien Robespierre, a powerful leader in the French Revolution, attacked the death penalty as murder. In England, by the end of the eighteenth century, Parliament was being petitioned to reduce the number of capital felonies, which numbered in the hundreds; complete abolition was never a serious prospect.


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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law