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iable. The reverend gentlemen who have appeared before you in opposition to the petitioners, would not allow for a moment that I have the right to commit suicide; but if I have not the right to take my own life, how can I give that right to Governor Gardner, or to a jury of twelve men? Beccaria, Dr. Rush, and all the most eminent writers on this subject deny the right of society to take life, on the ground that it conflicts with the republican form of government. These gentlemen escape fromling that anybody should take out as much as he pleases, and leave the rest as binding upon us. If this is a law of God, Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, --if that is the whole of it,--you have no right to give Governor Gardner the pardoning power, because God does not recognize that power. There was an old lawyer who used to say that he could make a flaw in any statute large enough to drive a coach through. How large a flaw must you make in this statute before y
Benjamin Franklin (search for this): chapter 10
ave common schools; we are a people with a high moral tone; we have a homogeneous population; it is easy to get a living here, and poverty, therefore, does not drive to crime, as in some other places,--our circumstances are all favorable to morality. We are in a better condition to try such an experiment than Michigan, far better than Belgium, Tuscany, or Russia; yet they tried it and were successful, and why will not we try it also? All the great lights of jurisprudence are on our side,--Franklin, Livingston, Rush, Lafayette, Beccaria, Grotius, -I might mention forty eminent names, all throwing their testimony against the gallows. Lafayette said, I shall demand the abolition of the penalty of death, until you show me the infallibility of human testimony. He thought it was enough to discredit the gallows, that men might be hung by mistake. There have been two or three scores of such cases in the history of jurisprudence. Now, with all this experience on our side, with the fact
rmed. It is proved by English history that just so fast as you take the death-penalty from a crime, the crime diminishes. Experience is all that way, and not the other. I hold that you cannot oblige us to show that taking away the gallows is better than to keep it. It is acknowledged that as regards the prevention of crime the gallows is a failure. You do not prevent crime by hanging the criminal,--it increases. Attorney-General Austin asked the legislature, in a report made, I think, in 1843, to give up capital punishment, because it did not restrain murder. Remember, this is Attorney-General Austin,--a man not suspected of any exceeding humanity, a man who did not look at this subject from any sentimental point of view, but simply as a lawyer. Here is what he said:-- Whether the punishment of death should be abolished in any of the few cases to which it is now applied [the capital penalty of robbery and burglary had been done away with in 1839] has often been a subject of
March 16th, 1855 AD (search for this): chapter 10
Capital punishment (1855) Plea before a Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, March 16, 1855. I have not been able, Mr. Chairman, to attend any of the hearings of this Committee, and therefore I cannot be said to know accurately the ground taken by those who have supported the proposition that the gallows should be retained; but I presume I know it in general, and therefore, a general reply will not wander far from the points which the committee would like to have treated. I have always found that before the House of Representatives this subject had, in fact, but two points of difficulty, and, indeed, one was of far more importance to the committee than the other. The first point is, the authority for capital punishment; and the second, the necessity or expediency of preserving it. I will say a few words on both. In the first place, Mr. Chairman, what is the object of all punishment, in a civil community? Of course, it is not to revenge any act committed. The idea
it is not safe for an individual to kill the murderer, perhaps they have changed so much that you and I can get rid of the gallows altogether. Suppose you had made a statute for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; suppose you had passed the Maine Liquor Law, and six months afterwards the authorities in some town in the Commonwealth should refuse to execute it, should make exceptions to it, and when they were remonstrated with they should say, Yes, certainly, those were the circumstances in March, but in November they have changed, and we are going to change the statute, the legislature would undoubtedly like to have it done, --what would you think of their reasoning? If this is a statute at all, it is a statute until God alters it. If one man has a right to say that circumstances have dispensed with one half of it, another individual has a right to say that circumstances have dispensed with it altogether. Mr. Jefferson, you know, cut out all the parts of the New Testament to whi
ok the life of anybody who killed his relative; and in the second place, it shows, what I have stated to you, that there is no distinction in this passage between murder and manslaughter. Moses institutes a distinction, and says that if a man has committed homicide,--has killed a man unawares,--and shall go to a city of refuge, and shall stay in this city a year and a day, he is not to be punished. The two statutes interpret each other. That second statute, which makes a limitation on the first, shows what the first meant, and shows that Moses thought that, according to this passage in Genesis, the blood of the murderer (whether the act were committed with malice aforethought or not) should be taken by the nearest of kin of the murdered person. Gentlemen, that is what a lawyer would call an interpretation from contemporaneous practice. Here is the practice of fifteen hundred years under that statute, and the man who commits murder, with aforethought or unawares, is to be slain b
for an individual to kill the murderer, perhaps they have changed so much that you and I can get rid of the gallows altogether. Suppose you had made a statute for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; suppose you had passed the Maine Liquor Law, and six months afterwards the authorities in some town in the Commonwealth should refuse to execute it, should make exceptions to it, and when they were remonstrated with they should say, Yes, certainly, those were the circumstances in March, but in November they have changed, and we are going to change the statute, the legislature would undoubtedly like to have it done, --what would you think of their reasoning? If this is a statute at all, it is a statute until God alters it. If one man has a right to say that circumstances have dispensed with one half of it, another individual has a right to say that circumstances have dispensed with it altogether. Mr. Jefferson, you know, cut out all the parts of the New Testament to which he objected,
Capital punishment (1855) Plea before a Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, March 16, 1855. I have not been able, Mr. Chairman, to attend any of the hearings of this Committee, and therefore I cannot be said to know accurately the ground taken by those who have supported the proposition that the gallows should be retained; but I presume I know it in general, and therefore, a general reply will not wander far from the points which the committee would like to have treated. I have always found that before the House of Representatives this subject had, in fact, but two points of difficulty, and, indeed, one was of far more importance to the committee than the other. The first point is, the authority for capital punishment; and the second, the necessity or expediency of preserving it. I will say a few words on both. In the first place, Mr. Chairman, what is the object of all punishment, in a civil community? Of course, it is not to revenge any act committed. The idea
n a report made, I think, in 1843, to give up capital punishment, because it did not restrain murder. Remember, this is Attorney-General Austin,--a man not suspected of any exceeding humanity, a man who did not look at this subject from any sentimental point of view, but simply as a lawyer. Here is what he said:-- Whether the punishment of death should be abolished in any of the few cases to which it is now applied [the capital penalty of robbery and burglary had been done away with in 1839] has often been a subject of legislative inquiry. It does not belong to me to enter upon an argument that is nearly exhausted; but I deem it within my province in this connection respectfully to submit to the legislature that, in the present state of society, it is no longer an abstract question, whether capital punishment is right, but whether it be practicable; and that there is good reason to believe that punishment for crime would more certainly follow its commission if the legislature s
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