Imatges de pàgina

unable to make that solemn preparation for the change, which we are taught to think so necessary.

To inflict capital punishment is, therefore, to depart from the wiselyordered plan of nature, and to cause a physically-speaking unnecessary death. Viewed with reference to the individual against whom it is enforced, it is to terminate all his hopes, pleasures, ties, and relationships; to change the course of his being, and to send his soul, whether prepared or not, to receive its eternal sentence from the Great Judge. And as the expectation of sudden death tortures and maddens the mind, the sentencing a man to die must unfit him for the preparation which he, as a sinful being, should make; so that, in addition to destroying the body, the infliction of capital punishment destroys also, unless God in his infinite mercy prevent, the soul in hell.

Seeing then what an awful thing we do when we take away a fellow creature's life, and what a fearful responsibility we incur in sending a soul to God's judgment-seat, we can have no doubt of the importance of the inquiry into which we are about to enter.

Now, in order to bring the question to a debateable issue, I start with the following query: Is capital punishment justifiable? I assume the negative.

There are three classes of persons who maintain the contrary opinion. 1st, those who conceive capital punishment to be warranted by policy; 2ndly, those who hold it to be sanctioned by morality; and 3rdly, those who imagine it to be supported by religion. To cach of these classes I shall address myself in turn-the present discourse will be devoted to the first.

It may be as well to premise that I shall consider this punishment solely with reference to the crime of murder; I believe that no other offence (high treason, perhaps, only excepted) is generally held to be worthy of death; and besides, murder being universally considered the greatest of all crimes, if it can be proved that the infliction of capital punishment is improper and impolitic for that, of course no meaner offence can deserve it.

The point, then, which it is our present business to consider is this: Is the infliction of death, as a punishment, warranted by policy?

What is the proper policy of the legislator? It is all contained in this answer: the prevention of crime. This is the only legitimate object of punishment, and it is as well to stay for a moment to establish this before we proceed. We have no right to judge of moral guilt. Abstractedly speaking, man is not entitled to judge his fellow man at all. What business is it of A. B.'s that C. D. quarrels with E. F., and avenges himself upon him? It is only because of the requirements and for the protection of society that the ruler or government is invested with this right of judging, and this right extends only so far as the persons, peace, and property of society are concerned. The government of a country has nothing to do with motives or with thought; act and effect are all it has to regard. To prevent evil, not to retaliate upon the offender, is the proper business of all human tribunals.

Let no one say that a government derives the right to retaliate by receiving, as the guardians of the society it governs, the surrender of individual right to revenge. I deny that individual right. I affirm

that revenge is crime; and, if I am asked for my authority, I refer the questioner, if he be a Christian, to the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and if he be not a Christian, to his own heart and conscience. Retaliation is the reproduction of evil; and what code that is just what law that is recognised-permits B. to do evil because A. has done so? There are doubtless some "souls of fire and children of the sun, who deem revenge is virtue;" but as these personages belong, for the most part, to the uncivilized regions of the earth, and are yet unblessed with notions of right and wrong, perhaps the less frequently they are introduced in support of the lex talionis the better. I look in vain for this right in the laws of philosophy or religion, and I affirm, therefore, that a government cannot possess this power by delegation, seeing that the pretended delegator has no right to give it. Bearing in mind then that the whole, sole, and only authorised aim of the legislator should be the prevention of crime, let us now proceed to ask whether the infliction of death upon a murderer is calculated to prevent the recurrence of the crime for which he suffers?

Now, certainly (to use an idea of Bentham's) it effectually prevents the individual on whom it is inflicted from committing the same evil again; and therein the advantage of capital punishment is great; for it at once relieves society from all fear, so far as this particular criminal is concerned; and all alarm that might be expected were the offender let loose, anything that might be dreaded from his evil character, is altogether dispelled. But are there no other equally efficacious and more merciful means that would effect the same desirable end? Because, if there be, then this punishment is so far unnecessary. I reply that there are. Imprisonment would effectually serve the purpose. A madman is likely to do a great deal more mischief than a sane man, however criminal; and yet confinement of the madman relieves us from all fear of him. Why should not confinement of the murderer equally relieve us from fear of him? In his capture, society finds its security, and his detention entirely disarms him for the future. So far, therefore, as preventing the criminal from committing the same offence again goes, the punishment of death is no more useful than imprisonment, and its infliction, on this pretence, is consequently unjustifiable.

But then, we have to consider that it is the duty of a government to adopt such punishments as will deter, as far as possible, other persons from committing the crime; punishments that will operate as warnings and checks to the community. The question then arises; whether the public infliction of death upon a murderer is calculated to effect this? I boldly, and without fear, answer-No!

How, or upon what principle, is it supposed that it can act as a preventive? Is it this: that it operates upon our fears, and restrains us from committing the crime at which it aims, because of the dreadful consequences it will entail upon us ?-that by saying to a man who is about to commit a murder "If you perpetrate the deed you shall suffer death," it will so work upon his dread of suffering as to stay his hand? You answer, Yes! Well then, I ask, how is it, if this be so, that murders are committed at all? What has become of your restraining power? Is it that this power does not act in some cases? Then how do you show that it acts in any? If we find that day

after day murders the most frightful are committed in despite of this restraining power-nay, as I shall hereafter show, in greater numbers as the said power is more frequently exhibited in exercise-what is the fair and reasonable presumption? Why, that it does not restrain at all. And if we come to look into the rationale of the matter, we shall soon see that it must be ineffectual. Murder is committed either upon impulse or upon calculation; if upon impulse, it is an act which nothing-no human enactment at all events-can control; and if upon calculation, then it is shown that the fear of the punishment is not so great as the motive for committing the crime, or the hope of escape from its consequences.

I say the hope of escape from its consequences; for this has no little to do with the matter, inasmuch as this hope is mainly caused by the peculiar nature of the punishment itself. In the first place, the criminal hopes to escape apprehension; the deed was one which but two persons knew, himself and his victim, and "dead men tell no tales." Or if apprehended, he hopes to escape detection, for who can be evidence against him? Or if detected, he hopes to escape conviction, because the awfulness of the punishment awarded to his crime makes men glad to avoid inflicting it. Or even if convicted, he yet hopes to escape from the execution of his sentence. Yes! He yet hopes to escape. Why? Because there are real, substantial, reasonable grounds for believing so? No! The fiat is gone forth; the day is fixed. Yet in despite of all-up to the very last-he still hopes to escape! I ask again, why? Here is the reason: because the expectation of death is too tremendous a thing to realize. "All men think all men mortal but themselves," and the man who is in full possession of his strength and faculties, cannot-I repeat it, cannot-bring himself to believe that death is threatening him. Even the mortally ill do not believe they shall die, in most cases; and will the man in full health believe it when the man dying will not? No! There is in our bosoms, counteracting the fear of death, a principle of self-love and hope which spreads a delusion over the mind, and whispers to us-ay, even at the last moment-" Thou shalt not surely die." Our legislators have not distinguished between the dread of death and the fear of death; and they have never seen that in proportion to the fear is the delusion of hope. Death is a thing which we cannot bring ourselves to realize, and though we may fear it, we do not apprehend it. Here lies the secret which they have failed to discover. They have thought that as men have a horror of death, that therefore they may be made to dread-that is, expect it; but there is a law of nature to the contrary, a law stronger and holier than human enactments, a law which, working on man's sense of immortality, teaches him to disbelieve in and to laugh at Death, and renders it impossible for him to realize it.

So far, therefore, from capital punishment so operating upon our fears as to prevent our committing the crime at which it aims, it incites, from its very nature, numerous hopes of escape, which, aided by the calculations of reason, and the delusion which our fears excite, conspire to render its infliction utterly inefficient for the sole end of punishment-which is to present to all a stronger motive for abstaining from crime than the ordinary motives for committing it.

And when this punishment is praised for its exemplarity, let us not forget that, in the very nature of things, it must lose somewhat of its effect every time it is repeated. Every one knows that a horrible sight which disgusts at first, may soon become an object contempleted without the slightest emotion, as butchers and surgeons in myriads would testify. So it is with public executions. The first time one is beheld, a sensation of horror is felt by the spectator, but on the second occasion, he does not feel it by any means so keenly, and still less on every succeeding one. An instance of this occurred at the execution of Thistlewood and his associates. When the execu

tioner held up the severed head of the first, a thrill of horror went through the multitude. A slighter effect was produced at sight of the second. At the third, the crowd began to comment on the features of the dead man. At the next, the remarks were transferred to the business-like coolness of the executioner. Presently the audience began to look amused by the scene, and so excellent and effective was this moral lesson at its conclusion, that when the executioner by chance let the ninth head fall from his hand, the wretches indulged in a coarse jest on his awkwardness!

We have seen, then, that the restraining power claimed for capital punishment is a chimera, a mere fancy-no such thing exists. I will now proceed to show that it not only does not restrain, but that it actually incites men to the commission of the crime at which it pretends to aim. We cannot shut our eyes to these facts, viz., that where capital punishment the most obtains, there crimes of blood are the most frequent; that where capital punishment the least obtains, there sanguinary crimes are the most rare; and that in proportion as capital punishment is discontinued, crimes of violence and blood decrease. These facts I shall, for the present, merely assume. It is my intention to enlarge upon them on a future occasion, when I mean to present the statistical argument against capital punishment, and then I shall be able to prove, by the strongest of all evidence, the positions I have assumed.

Taking them for granted then, and they will not be denied, what do they show? Why, that capital inflictions produce capital crimes. That the shedding of blood causes the shedding of more blood, and this is just what reason would lead us to expect. There is an evident tendency in the very nature of this punishment to increase sanguinary crimes; it inures the spectator to the taking away of life, and therefore diminishes his regard for life. Look at the plain common sense of the thing! You destroy life for the purpose of urging and impressing upon men's minds that life should not be destroyed. Does not that seem strange? To kill in order to say "Thou shall not kill ;” to let your means of prevention be the commission of the very act which you wish to prevent! Why, does it not stand to reason that, instead of restraining from deeds of blood, public executions must, by hardening the mind of the spectator, familiarizing him with scenes of death, and saying to him that there are occasions which justify the invasion of life, have an exactly opposite tendency? And certainly, if we look at the scene which a public execution always presents, the depravity, the brutality, the disgusting levity and jocular indifference which invariably belong to such spectacles, we shall bring experience

to the aid of reason, and have positive proof that such exhibitions, instead of restraining the spectator from the commission of crime, deprave and brutalize him, and render him more capable of perpetrating the offence against which they are directed.

There is in the human mind a mysterious desire to imitate and reproduce whatever is vividly placed in its view. Who is there that has not felt this desire? No matter what the scene may be that we thus behold, we long to be the actors in it. We desire to do what we see others do. May not this in some measure explain the unquestionable fact, that whenever a murder is committed, several similar crimes invariably follow it, and that one execution is almost uniformly the herald of others. The idea of blood is suggested, the thought is originated; and they are dangerous thoughts and ideas to arouse. They are unfit for contemplation; they never fail to strain and disorder and unstring the mind; and as from mere terror it sometimes happens that men throw themselves from a dizzy height, though the path be firm and the footing secure, so the terrible contemplation to which the mind is led by the awful scene of an execution, sometimes drives it into the abyss of crime, from which in its healthy state it would have shrunk in horror. It is upon some such principle as this that we must account for the strange manias for self-destruction that sometimes seize the community. An individual jumps off Blackfriars Bridge and drowns himself; and lo! in a week he has a dozen imitators! The week following a man leaps trom Waterloo Bridge; straightway Blackfriars is deserted, and a host of people drown from the new locality. Now, why is this? for there must be a reason. It seems to me that this is the reason; there is a fascinating power in horror. The mind is shocked, unstrung, overturned, put off its guard, and thus is lured, nay irresistibly drawn, towards the deed it dreads.

But now let me urge some other considerations which our legislators should bear in mind; they are plain but they are important.

First, by executing a man, a productive labourer is lost to society. "The worst use you can make of a man is to hang him," says some really wise philosopher whose name I do not recollect. By preserving his life you might make him labour for the advantage of the community; this is of course foregone by dispatching him. I know that there are some persons who consider death an economical punishment, and who say, Oh! "it costs us a good deal to feed and clothe a man; it is better to hang him and save the expense;" but as this argument would apply to paupers as well as to murderers, it is not necessary to inquire into it here. I may, however, perhaps be pardoned for saying that human blood is rather heavier than gold.

Again, capital punishment destroys testimonial proof. "What a fine thing the gallows is!" says Mr. Fagin in "Oliver Twist ;" "dead men can't speak." There is a forcible argument in Mr. Fagin's reflection. How many a criminal has remained undiscovered, because his partner in guilt has been removed from the opportunity of revealing his companions in iniquity! This is really a very important consideration; for, looking at the knowledge which the man must possess, the light which he could throw on many-without him-dark and inexplicable matters, it is worth the thought whether it is not wiser to preserve him, in order,

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