History of the Death Penalty

(A) – Early Forms of the Death Penalty Ancient China – First established death penalty laws 18th century BCE – Code of king Hammurabi of Babylon – Earliest form of unified system of justice. Death penalty for 25 crimes, including an “eye for an Eye” 16th century BCE – Egypt – first historically recorded death sentence (a man was accused of using magic) 14th century BCE – Hittite code – also prescribed the death penalty 621 BCE – Draconian code of Athens – ‘the death penalty applied for a particularly wide range of crimes”. th century BCE – Roman law of the twelve tables includes the death penalty 3rd century BCE – Jews recorded as using four death penalty methods including: Stoning, Hanging, Beheading, and burning. 0 BCE – Sanhedrin Jewish Courts effectively abolish capital punishment, saying that it is only fitting in finality for g-d 29 AD – crucifixion of jesus – most infamous execution in history 330 AD – Emperor Constantine I (Constantine the Great) abolishes crucifixion and other cruel death penalties in the Roman Empire 438 AD – Code of Theodosius – made more then 80 crimes punishable by death 747 AD – Emperor Taizong of Tang (China) – abolished the death penalty. Up till then there were nearly 40 executions a year. 18 AD – Emperor Saga of Japan abolishes the death penalty Common methods for the early death penalties included: stoning, hanging, beheading, crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, impalement, boiling, and quartering. (B) – Middle ages and the renaissance times (Plus) Around 900 AD – Ling Chi (Slow Slicing), or death by a thousand cuts, was implemented in china. It’s a method in which they would make small paper cut like incisions, until the patient would die due to a loss of blood. 0th century – Hanging becomes the most common method of killing in Britain. 11th century – William the conqueror – Banned hanging and executing for all offenses except during war 1165 – Capital punishment in Japan is reinstated 12th century – Sephardic legal scholar, Moses Maimonides – argued with the death penalty saying “it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent man to death” “Most Barons of the time had a drowning pit as well as a gallows and they were used for major as well as minor crimes”. “During the middle ages, capital punishment was accompanied by torture”] 1279 – two hundred Jews are hanged for supposedly clipping coins 1272-1307 – King Edward I of England – used the death penalty, such as for an “offense” of marrying a Jew (penalty was burning). Known punishments he used for various crimes included: Hanging and quartering. “Beheading was generally accepted for the upper class”. There was also a death punishment for those who would not confess to their crime.

The executioner would place heavy weights on the victim’s chest, and feed him bread and water once daily, until he confessed, or died. 1395 – “The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards” – a book published in England publicly stating opposition to the death penalty 14-15th centuries – During Medieval times, and modern Europe, the death penalty was used as a generalized form of punishment 1492 – The Spanish Inquisition – King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, ordered all Jews in Spain to be expelled.

Other methods of torture used by Spain included a medieval practice known as breaking on the wheel, a punishment in which a felon has every major bone in his body broken, then his arms and legs woven into the spokes of a wagon wheel. The wheel is then mounted atop a pole, with the victim still alive, where he is left to die from exposure and the actions of hungry birds. The remaining Jews were burnt at the stake at ceremonies called ‘Auto de fe’, where a large crowd would gather in the square and have a party while the bodies were being burnt alive. 509-1547 – King Henry the 8th of England- under the reign of Henry VIII, the numbers of those put to death [by the death penalty], are as high as 72,000. 1531 – Boiling to death becomes an approved method of killing. (“Records show [that] some people boiled for up to two hours before death took them”) 17th Century – England prescribes death for 14 offenses, but the American Colonies impose the death sentence for fewer crimes. 608 – Captain George Kendall becomes the first recorded execution in the new colonies, for spying on the British on behalf of the Spanish. 1612 – “Virginia Governor Sir Thomas Dale enacted the ‘Divine, Moral and Martial Laws’ which provided the death penalty for even certain minor offences” 1665 – “The New York colony instituted the so-called Dukes Laws” Early 1700’s (18th Century) – The ‘Bloody Code’ made Britain a hazardous place to live, due to its strict nature of its penal code C – Modern times (1700’s – 2008) Movement toward Abolitionism The Abolitionist movement finds its roots in the writings of European Theorists Montesquieu, Voltaire, Bentham and English Quakers John Bellers, and John Howard” Early 18th century – “Over 100 of the 222 crimes punishable by death in Britain are eliminated”. Late 1700’s – “United states abolitionist movement begins”. 1776-1800 – “Thomas Jefferson and four others, authorized to undertake a complete revision of Virginias laws. They proposed a law that recommended the death penalty for only treason and murder”.

November 30, 1786 – “Grand Duke Leopold II, Emperor of Austria, Promulgated the reform of the penal code that abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all the instruments for capital punishment in his land. “(“It was the first permanent abolition in modern times”). There is even a holiday to commemorate this day, called ‘Cities for Life Day’. It is celebrated in 300 cities worldwide. September 5, 1793 – July 28, 1794 – The Reign of Terror – Under the rule of Maximilian Robespierre, an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 people were executed by the guillotine.

These people were suspected of being “enemies of the [French] revolution” 1833-1849 – U. S. executions – Due to excessive and uncontrollable spectators at public hangings, many states enact laws providing private hangings. March 1, 1847 – “In the United States, Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty”. “The 160-year ban on capital punishment has never been repealed” 1849 – Roman Republic bans the capital punishment 1863 – Venezuela abolishes death penalty 1867 – Portugal abolishes death penalty 890 – Murderer William Kemmler becomes first person executed by the electric chair, at New York’s Auburn Prison. 1900’s – “Beginning of the ‘progressive period’ of reform in the united states 1905 – China abolishes death penalty 1924 – “The use of Cyanide gas introduced as an execution”. 1921 – Attempting to slow banditry, Afghanistan enforced their laws with harsh forms of capital punishment. Thieves would be imprisoned in suspended cages and left to die 1930’s – “U. S. executions reach an all-time high, averaging 167 per year. 939-45 – The Holocaust – genocide of approximately six million European jews during World war II, by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) regime in Germany led by Adolph Hitler. Although many groups were also persecuted and killed, most scholars, however, define the Holocaust as genocide of European Jewry alone. Taking into account all the victims of Nazi persecution, the total number of victims would be between nine and 11 million. The persecution and genocide were accomplished in stages.

Concentration camps were established in which inmates were used as slave labor until they died of exhaustion or disease. A specialized units called Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews and political opponents in mass shootings. Jews were crammed into ghettos before being transported hundreds of miles by freight train to extermination camps, where if they survived the journey, the majority of them were killed in gas chambers. Every arm of Nazi Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the Logistics of the mass murder, turning the country into what one Holocaust scholar has called “a genocidal state. 16 October 1946 – Nuremberg Trials – ten Nazi officials are tried and hanged 1948 – “The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaiming a ‘right to life’. May 31, 1962 – Eichmann trial – He was captured by Israeli Mossad agents in Argentina and tried in Israeli court on fifteen criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was convicted and hanged in Israel 1960’s – “Before then, the fifth, eighth, and fourteenth amendments were interpreted as permitting the death penalty.

However, in the early 1960’s, it was suggested that the death penalty was a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, and therefore unconstitutional under the eighth amendment”. “By the end of the 1960’s, all but ten states had laws authorizing capital punishment, but strong pressure by forces opposed to the death penalty resulted in an unofficial moratorium on executions for several years, with the last execution during this period taking place in 1967. Prior to this, an average of 130 executions per year occurred”. 1965 – “Iowa, New York,

West Virginia, and Vermont ended the death Penalty” 1966 – “Support of capital punishment reaches all-time low”. A Gallup poll in the U. S. shows support of the death penalty at only 42%. 1969 – “Vatican city abolished its capital punishment statute”. 1976 – Canada abolishes their death penalty statute 1977 – “The United Nations Assembly affirmed in a formal resolution that throughout the world, it is desirable to ‘progressively restrict the number of offences for which the death penalty night be imposed, with a view to the desirability to abolishing this punishment” 1981 – France abolished death penalty 982 – Charles Brooks becomes the first person executed by lethal injection in the United States 1985 – Australia abolishes death penalty September 13, 1994 – “President Clinton signs bill making dozens of federal crimes subject to death” In the US. 1998 – United Kingdom abolished death penalty 2008 – Today, a total of 86 countries have effectively abolished capital punishment and the death penalty. Although many countries still retain capital punishment statutes, they may not actually be carrying out any executions.

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