The Death Penalty Debate Essay

1881 words - 8 pages

Few issues have been as hotly argued and controversial as the death penalty, with its many conflicting moral, social and legal implications. Compelling arguments exist in favor of the final punishment, and equally strong arguments exist to end its practice. Furthermore, considering its conflicting history, on the grand scale of the whole world, and in just America, it is unlikely that this issue will be resolved any time soon. In the United States specifically, the issue has great significance to the bill of rights and the 8th amendment, which prevents cruel and unusual punishment. The death sentence, due to the intense debate on its morality and constitutionality, as well as the many conflicting decisions made about it until this day, still is and will likely remain a very controversial issue in the United States.
The death penalty has existed almost as long as civilization itself, established in the Eighteenth Century B.C. in one of the first large societies, by the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon, which prescribed the death penalty for 25 unique crimes. Furthermore, the death penalty continued to be used in early civilization, such as in the Hittite Code, the Draconian Code of Athens and the Roman law of the Twelve Tablets, which spanned hundreds of years. At the time, most death sentences were horrific and painful, including drowning, beating, burning, impalement and crucifixion. Later, in countries such as Britain, hanging became the predominant method of giving capital punishment, and William the Conqueror, who ruled at around that time, abolished the death penalty altogether, then, a dramatic move. However, the death penalty was restarted in the Sixteenth Century under Henry VII, where thousands and thousands of people were executed by burning, drawing and quartering and other similarly painful punishments, most for trivial crimes. In Britain, such punishments lasted until the 1800s, where one could be executed for stealing or cutting down a tree. At around this time, thinkers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Beccaria began to speak against the death penalty, considering it unjustifiable and wrong. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, considered ideas such as the brutalization effect, which states that the death penalty serves to cause more crime rather than deter it. This progression of ideas on the scale of the world began to take root in the minds of the American revolutionaries, who continued to reform the death penalty later in America (Part I).
In the United States, the death penalty has evolved from the cruel punishments of the early world to the more humane ones of today. For example, public hangings were quite common even until 1936 (Banks). However, this particular practice became rarer and rarer, with Pennsylvania and many other states outlawing public executions in 1834, and Michigan essentially abolishing capital punishment itself in 1846. Even so, the Supreme Court in 1879 ruled that public...

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