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own wrath, and no human flame can match them. We are small

source:zoptime:2023-11-29 20:28:07

Indeed statistics prove that the periodic variations of the more serious crimes is independent of the number of condemnations and executions, for they are determined by very different causes. Tuscany, where there has been no death penalty for a century, is one of the provinces with the lowest number of serious crimes; and in France, in spite of the increase of general crime and of population, charges of murder, poisoning, parricide, and homicide, dropped from 560 in 1826 to 430 in 1888, though the number of executions diminished in the same period from 197 to 9.

own wrath, and no human flame can match them. We are small

The death penalty is an easy panacea, but it is far from being capable of solving a problem so complex as that of serious crime. The idea of killing off the incorrigibles and the born criminals is easily conceived, and Diderot, in his Letter to Landois, maintained that it was a natural consequence of the denial of free-will, saying: ``What is the grand distinction between man and man? Doing good and doing harm. The man who does harm ought to be extinguished, not punished.'' But as against this too facile notion we must look to experience, and to the other material and moral conditions of social life, for the necessary balance and completion.

own wrath, and no human flame can match them. We are small

I will not further discuss the death penalty, for it is by this time an exhausted question from the intellectual standpoint, and has passed into the domain of prejudice for or against, and this prejudice is concerned rather with the more or less repugnant method of execution than with the penalty itself. In its favour there is the absolute, irrevocable, and instantaneous elimination from society of an individual who has shown himself absolutely unadaptable, and dangerous to society. But I hold that, if we would draw from the death penalty the only positive utility which it possesses, namely, artificial selection, then we must have courage enough to apply it resolutely in all cases where it is necessary from this point of view, that is to say, to all born criminals, who are the authors of the most serious crimes of violence. In Italy, for example, it would be necessary to execute at least one thousand persons every year, and in France nearly two hundred and fifty, in place of the annual seven or eight.

own wrath, and no human flame can match them. We are small

Otherwise the death penalty must be considered as an unserviceable and neglected means of terror, merely to be printed in the codes; and in that case it would be acting more seriously to abolish it.

So regarded it is too much like those motionless scarecrows which husbandmen set up in their fields, dotted about with the foolish notion that the birds will be frightened away from the corn. They may cause a little alarm at first sight; but by and by the birds, seeing that the scarecrow never moves and cannot hurt them, lose their fear, and even perch on the top of it. So it is with criminals when they see that the death penalty is never or very rarely applied; and one cannot doubt that criminals judge of the law, not by its formulation in the codes, but by its practical and daily application.

Since the deterrent efficacy of punishments in general, including the death penalty, is quite insignificant for the born criminals, who are insensible and improvident, the rare cases of execution will certainly not cure the disease of society. Only the slaughter of several hundred murderers every year would have a sensible result in the way of artificial selection; but that is more easily said than done. And I imagine that, at normal periods, in no modern and civilised State would a series of daily executions of the capital sentence be possible. Public opinion would not endure it, and a reaction would soon set in.[22]

[22] In every case I think that executions should take place in prison, and by means of a poison administered as soon as the sentence takes effect. In North America electricity has been tried, but executions by this process appear to be as horrible and repulsive as those by the guillotine, the garotte, the scaffold, or the rifle. (See the Medico-Legal Journal of New York, March and September, 1889.) From the ``Summarised Information on Capital Punishment,'' published by the Howard Association in 1881, I take the following figures on capital punishment in Europe and America:--

Death State. Sentences. Executions. Austria (1870-9) ... ... ... ... ... 806 ... 16 France (1870-9) ... ... ... ... ... 198 ... 93 Spain (1868-77) ... ... ... ... ... 291 ... 26 Sweden (1869-78) ... ... ... ... ... 32 ... 3 Denmark (1868-77) ... ... ... ... ... 94 ... 1 Bavaria (1870-9) ... ... ... ... ... 240 ... 7 Italy (1867-76) ... ... ... ... ... 392 ... 34 Germany, North (1869-78) ... ... ... 484 ... 1 England (1860 79)... ... ... ... ... 665 ... 372 Ireland (1860-79) ... ... ... ... ... 66 ... 36 Scotland (1860-79 ... ... ... ... ... 40 ... 15 Australia and New Zealand (1870-9... 453 ... 123 United States, about 2,500 murders annually--about 100 executions and 100 lynchings annually.