murder, and in reality, and in the sight of God, may not commit as much sin as another person who has merely stolen; because we all know that sin, moral guilt, is made up of two elements,--the light that the individual had, and the criminal wish that he had to violate that light.
God alone can know what light a man has in his own conscience.
Strictly speaking, therefore, the word punishment ought never to be used in this connection.
Society does not, in fact, punish
as we usually make use of that term.
belongs only to that Being who can fathom the heart, and find out motives.
This is a more important principle than it at first appears from this consideration.
Many men approach this subject with the idea that there is some peculiar religious responsibility connected with it. Dr. Cheever
, in his work on capital punishment, has a leading train of thought to the effect that “the land is stained with blood,” in the phrase of the Old Testament, and that society has got something to do to free tile nation from the guilt of blood; but our ideas of civil government are entirely different from this.
There are two objects that society has in inflicting penalties,--that
is the proper word, not “punishment.”
According to Lord Brougham in his letter to Lord Lyndhurst on this very topic, these objects are,--first, to prevent the individual offender from ever repeating his offence; and second, to deter others from imitating his offence.
The primary object of all government is protection,--protection to persons and property.
That protection is to be gained in two ways,--by taking the individual murderer, or the individual thief, and by putting him to death, or shutting him up, to prevent his recommitting his offence; and by so arranging the penalty on that man as to deter others from imitating his example.