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Capital punishment debate in the united states

The meaning of «capital punishment debate in the united states»

The debate over capital punishment in the United States existed as early as the colonial period.[1] As of June 2021, it remains a legal penalty within 27 states, the federal government, and military criminal justice systems. The states of Colorado,[2] Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Washington abolished the death penalty within the last decade alone.[3]

Gallup, Inc. has monitored support for the death penalty in the United States since 1937 by asking "Are you in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?" Opposition to the death penalty peaked in 1966, with 47% of Americans opposing it;[4] by comparison, 42% supported the death penalty and 11% had "no opinion." The death penalty increased in popularity throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when crime went up and politicians campaigned on fighting crime and drugs; in 1994, the opposition rate was less than 20%, less than in any other year. Since then, the crime rate has fallen and opposition to the death penalty has strengthened again. In the October 2020 poll, 55% of respondents said they were in favor and 43% were opposed.[5]

Abolitionists gathered support for their claims from writings by European Enlightenment philosophers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire (who became convinced the death penalty was cruel and unnecessary[6]) and Bentham. In addition to various philosophers, many members of Quakers, Mennonites and other peace churches opposed the death penalty as well. Perhaps the most influential essay for the anti-death penalty movement was Cesare Beccaria's 1767 essay, On Crimes and Punishment. Beccaria's strongly opposed the state's right to take lives and criticized the death penalty as having very little deterrent effect. After the American Revolution, influential and well-known Americans, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and Benjamin Franklin made efforts to reform or abolish the death penalty in the United States. All three joined the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, which opposed capital punishment. Following colonial times, the anti-death penalty movement has risen and fallen throughout history. In Against Capital Punishment: Anti-Death Penalty Movement in America, Herbert H. Haines describes the presence of the anti-death penalty movement as existing in four different eras.[7]

The anti-death penalty movement began to pick up pace in the 1830s and many Americans called for abolition of the death penalty. Anti-death penalty sentiment rose as a result of the Jacksonian era, which condemned gallows and advocated for better treatment of orphans, criminals, poor people, and the mentally ill. In addition, this era also produced various enlightened individuals who were believed to possess the capacity to reform deviants.

Although some called for complete abolition of the death penalty, the elimination of public hangings was the main focus. Initially, abolitionists opposed public hangings because they threatened public order, caused sympathy for the condemned, and were bad for the community to watch. However, after multiple states restricted executions to prisons or prison yards, the anti-death penalty movement could no longer capitalize on the horrible details of execution.

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