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Murder, in its higliest degree, has generally been punished with death, and it is for deliberate assassination, if in any case, that this punishment will be justifiable and useful. Existence is the first blessing of Heaven, because all others depend upon
Its protection is the great object of civil society, and governments are bound to adopt every measure which is in any degree essential to its preservation. The life of the deliberate assassin can be of little worth to society, and it were be:ter that ten such atrocious criminals should suffer the penalty of the present system, than that one worthy citizen should perish by its abolition. The crime importsextreme depravity, and adınits of no reparation.
“But why should capital punishments have a more powerful effect on these than on other offenders?" I have already observed, that the fear of death is universal and impressive : and that its beneficial effects are defeated principally hy the hopes of impunity.
We have had no experience what its effect will be when it is applied to a single crime of such a fiature as to exclude the hopes of pardon. In such a case, where an execution would be as rarc as it is dreadful, the wholesome terror of the law would be wonderfully increase] : and this is one reason why a less punishment should be adopted for other crimes.
If we seek a punishment capable of impressing a strong and lasting terror, we shall find it in an execution rarely occurring, solemnly conducted, and inflicted in a case, where the feelings of mankind acquiesce in ils justice and do not revolt at its severity.
But while I contend that this is the most powerful curb of human governments, I do not affirm that it is absolutely necessary, or that a milder one would be insufficient. It is possible that the further diffusion of knowledge and melioration of manners, may render capital punishments unnecessary in all cases : but, until we have had more experience, it is safest to tread with caution on such delicate ground, and to proceed step by step in so great a work. A few years expe+ tience is often of more real use than all the theory and rhetoric in the world. One thing, however, is clear., Whatever be the punishment inflicted on the higher degrees of murder, it ought to be widely different from that of every other crime. If not different in its nature, at least let there be some circumstance in it, calculated to strike the imagination, to impress a respect for life, and to remove the temptation which the villain otherwise has, to prevent the discovery of a loss crime by the commission of a greater.
AN ENQUIRY INTO TILE EFFECTS OP PUBLIC PUNISH. DIENTS UPON CRIMINALS, AND UPON SOCIETY.
READ IN THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING POLITICAL ENQUIRIES, CONVENED AT TIE HOUSE 01 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, ESQ. IN PHILADELPHIA, MARCH 9th, 1757.
PUBLISHED 1.V THE YEAR 1787.
The design of punishment is said to be, Ist, to reform the person who suffers it: 2dly, to prevent the perpetration of crimes, by exciting terror in the minds of spectators: and, 3dly, to remove those persons from society, who have mani. fested, by their tempers and crimes, that they are unfit to live in it.
1. The reformation of a criminal can never be effected by a public punislument, for the following reasons.
Ist. As it is always connected with infamy, it destroys in him the sense of shame, which is one of the strongest out-posts of virtue.
2dly. It is generally of such short duration, as to produce none of those changes in body or mind, which are absolutely necessary to reform obstinate habits of vice.
3dly. Experience proves, that public punishments have increased propensities to crimes. A man who has lost his character at a whipping-post, has nothing valuable left to lose
in society. Pain has begotten insensibility to the whip; and infamy to shame. Added to his old habits of vice, he probably feels a spirit of revenge against the whole community, wisose laws have inflicted his punishment upon him; and hence he is stimulated to add to the number and enormity of his outrages upon society. The long duration of the punishment, when public, by increasing its infamy, serves only to increase the evils that have been mentioned. The criminals, who were sentenced to work in the presence of the City of London, upon the Thames, during the late war, were prepared by it, for the perpetration of every crime, as soon as they were set at liberty from their confinement. I proceed,
II. To shew, that public punishments, so far from preventing crimes by the terror they excite in the minds of spectators, are directly calculated to produce them.
All men, when they suffer, discover either fortitude, insensibility, or distress. Let us inquire into the effects of each of these upon the minds of spectators.
Ist. Fortitude is a virtue*, that seizes so forcibly upon our estcem, that wherever we see it, it never fails to weaken, or
* At the beginning of this month were executed, at Heavetree-Gallows, Exeter, William Snow, for house-breaking, and James Waybourn, for highway-robbery. Snow declared that day to be the happiest of his life; and exhorted the spectators to avoid his errors. Ile had hung but a few seconds, when the rope slipped from the gallows, and he fell to the ground. It is impossible to describe the feelings of the multitude at the thought of his being again suspended; yet was this painful interval loss atlicting to the patient sufferer than to the spectators. $now hcard their sorrowful exclamations, and said, with an air of compassion, “ Good people, be not hurried ; I am not hurricd;
to obliterate, our detestation of the crimes with which it is connected in criminals. “I call upon yon,” said major Andre, at the place of execution to his attendants, “ to bear witness, gentlemen, that “I die like a brave man. The effect of this speech upon the American army is well known. The spy was lost in the hero: and indignation, every where, gave way to admiration and praise.
2dly. If criminals discover insensibility under their punishments, the effect of it must be still more fatal upon society. It removes, instead of exciting terror. In some instances, I conceive it may excite a desire in the ininds of persons whom debt or secret guilt has made miserable, to seek an end of their distresses in the same enviable apathy to cvilt, Should this insensibility be connected with chearfulness, which is sometimes the case, it must produce still more unfriendly effects upon society. But terrible must be the consequence of this insensibility and chearfulness, if they should lead criminals to retaliate upon the inhuman curiosity of spectators, by profane or indecent insults or conversation.
Sdly. The effects of distress in criminals, though less obvious are not less injurious to society, thau fortitude or inseri
I can wait a little.” And, the executioner wishing to lengthon the rope, Soow calmly waited till his companion was dead, when the rope was taken from the deceased's arms, in order to complete the execution of Snow; who was a second time launched from the cart, amidst the tears of thousands.--Historical Magazine, Feb. 1789,
+ His Majesty having granted a pardon to the female convicts in Newgate, whose sentences have been respited, on condition of being transported to the coast of New South Wales, seventeen of thein, with becoming submission, accepted the royal favour; but the other six 'obstinately chose death, rather than a removal from their connections.--Historical Magazine, Feb. 1789."