CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. Punishment by death. It is generally considered to be the severest penalty which the courts may prescribe, and the number of offenses for which it is in flicted is everywhere diminishing. Indeed, this extreme penalty, notwithstanding the practice of the world front the remotest times down to the present day, has frequently been opposed by phi losophers and philanthropists upon religious and ethical grounds, as well as upon those of ex pediency. Mr. Bentham points out that the death penalty naturally suggests itself in the infancy of a State as the best method of pre venting crime, inasmuch as it extirpates the criminals. Such Scripture passages as the words, "Whoso sheddeth a man's blood, by man shall his blood he shed" (Gen. ix. 6), are urged in justification of the death penalty for murder. Beccaria, probably the first modern author of eminence to combat capital punishment, denies the right of government to take human life under any circumstances and maintains that it is a less efficacious method of deterring others than the continued example of a living culprit condemned to repair, by laboring as a slave, the injury he has done to society. The principles of punish ment hi general have been thus clearly stated by Plato (Gorgias, § 525) : "Every one who under goes punishment, if that punishment be rightly inflicted, ought either to be made better thereby and profit by it, or serve as an example to the rest of mankind, that others, seeing the sufferings he endures, may he brought by fear to amend ment of life." The question arises, then, does capital punishment deter men from committing those crimes for which it is inflicted? This question can be answered only relatively; for statistics seem to show that the same answer will not he always and everywhere the true one. Death was in former times, in England. the ordi nary punishment for all felonies. Blackstone re fers to IGO offenses as punishable with death. sonic of them of a nature which appears to us almost trivial, e.g. cutting down a tree or personating a Greenwich pensioner. Thanks to the exertions of Sir Samuel Romilly, this severe criminal code gave way toward the end of the reign of George III. to more humane conceptions. Since the statute of 18'61 there remain in Eng land only four crimes punishable by death—set ting fire to the royal dockyards or arsenals, piracy with violence, treason, and murder.
In William Penn's code of laws for Pennsyl vania, murder and treason were the only crimes punishable by death, while in the Colony of Massachusetts there were twelve capital of fenses. Under the present government, each State has jurisdiction over its own territory, and the laws punishing crime differ in several re spects. Capital punishment may be inflicted for treason. murder, arson, rape, piracy, robbery of the mails with jeopardy to the lives of persons in charge, rescue of a convict going to execution, burning a vessel of war, and corruptly destroy ing a private vessel. In some States, as Michi gan, Wisconsi H. Rhode Island, and Maine, capi tal punishment has been abolished. In the States of New York and Iowa, the legislatures, having once abolished the death penalty, felt con strained by the consequent increase of crimes of violence to restore it. Capital punishment has, moreover, been done away with in Ilolland, Rumania, and Portugal. and since 1363 has been practically abandoned in Belgium. In Switzer land it was totally abolished in 1874, but owing to a marked increase in the number of murders, the cantons in 1379 recovered the right to re establish it in their respective territories. Seven cantons again introduced it, although for a number of years no death-sentence was passed. In the remaining fifteeJt cantons, including more than four-fifths of the population, the death penalty remains totally abolished. In many European countries which still enforce this pen alty, only a very small per cent. of those con demned are actually executed.
The method of execution is by hanging in Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and the great majority of commonwealths in the United States; by beheading in Germany and France; and in Spain by means of the garrote. Execution by electricity was introduced in New York by the law of June 4, ISSS; it has been adopted in Massachusetts, and will doubtless extend to most of the States. In military law, owing to the necessity for enforcing strict discipline, capital punishment holds a more important place than in the ordinary criminal code. Consult: Copin ger, An Essay on the Abolition of Capital Punish ment (London, 1376) ; Berner, Die Absehaffung der Toeless/rale (Dresden, ISGO) ; Moir, Capital Punishment (London, 1365) . See PUNISHMENT; PENOLOGY.