Life is to be held sacred unless we have the clearest proof of the necessity, the duty of taking it. In the evidence adduced, there must be no doubt; for a doubt of the duty of taking life is a certainty against taking it – as our own laws admit, in regard to the evidence of guilt. Where is that absolute proof that the life of the criminal must be snatched from him? Do you say the law of the self-defence, give the right. I reply; Christianity limits the right of self-defence. It forbids your doing some things even to save life. You may not deny Christ, you may not disobey one of his commands, to save any number of lives , He that will (thus) save his life shall lose it.’ I deny that the law of self-defence extends so far as to permit a violation of the Law, - ‘Thou shall not kill.’ As well might we claim the right to violate the law, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery,’ because, as in the case of Joseph, a refusal to commit the crime would involve us in danger. But this is not the cause of self-defence. We have over-come our enemy, and the question now is, ‘how shall we treat a conquered foe?”
We can restrain him and save society from wrong without taking his life. We may be the means of his conversion and reform, if we will spare his life, and surround him with the kindly influence of Christian love.
The Death Penalty prevents his reform. Do you say he is to depraved to be reformed. It was said so of the drunkard a few years ago. How can we limit God’s grace? David and Paul are illustrious examples, and his mercy can save the chief of sinners. Many illustrations do we have of the power of love and compassion to melt the hardest heart. The lives of Howard, William Penn, Elizabeth Fry, Isaac T. Hooper, Miss Dix, and Captain Pillsbury of the Connecticut State Prison, are full of such proofs of the omnipotence of Love. I urge it as a strong objection to the Gallows that the criminal can be saved and made a good man, a blessing to society, an apostle of virtue and truth.
The Gallows not only robs humanity but robs God of souls that might be garnered into his service. Is it necessary to prevent crime? Look at the history of public executions. They are the hot beds of crime. – Governments are rapidly discovering their demoralizing tendency and abolishing their publicity, and appropriately hiding from the public view, that deed of darkness which kills the defenceless criminal. Rhode Island has done it. Is that act good in its influence on society which you must hide from the sight of the community lest it corrupt them! Did Jesus used to conceal his deeds of love? Are we afraid to have men witness an act of Christian benevolence? No! This hiding the execution from the public eye is a strong argument against its influence on society. The private execution is known, however, and many an imagination will look upon all the horrible particulars of the deed, and perhaps it works no less mischief than if it had been open to the outward eye. Depraved men flock around the Gallows, to witness its slaughter. They love it as they love their cock fights and horse races . The death penalty hardens the public heart, sets an example of life taking before the bad, which they are too liable to copy, and thus cheapens human life.
The influence of witness frequent man killing on the heart, is illustrated in the case of the soldier and the hangman, and also in those men who most eagerly flock to the see public executions. This penalty is more uncertain than a milder one; from its very severity , because it excites the compassion of the humane for the criminal, and often is he permitted to go unpunished; or even restrained because of the cruelty of this penalty. Thus while it promotes the causes, it takes away the barriers to crime. Facts show that where it has been executed the most rigidly it has not prevented, but apparently caused crime. On the other hand history proves that it may be abolished with perfect safety and with most beneficial results. Tuscany, Bombay and the Russia are illustrations of this argument. The statistics from England and France, relative to the abolition of the Death Penalty, for many crimes, show the same result – and those from Belgium, where there have been no executions since 1831 are, when thoroughly examined, strong arguments against this punishment. If there were as few murders without, as with the Death Penalty, it would prove that it should be abolished, but there are fewer, they that kill must be expect the measure they mete will be measured to them again. It is assorted that Justice demands the penalty of death for murder. No more than it does ‘eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ Does Justice require erring and fallible man to inflict that Penalty? How liable we are to mistake! Hundreds of men have fallen victims to this law of vengeance, whose innocence was afterwards proved, and perhaps hundreds more, equally innocent, whose names now bear the infamy of the murderer. How can we know the motive, the provocation, the previous education – the palliating or aggravating circumstances of the criminal even when we are sure of his guilt? And how can we weigh out just his merits? It takes omniscience to do it, and therefore God has said, “Vengeance is mind, I will repay.” Society educates men to murder through such schools as War, Slavery and Intemperance; and then because they have been apt scholars, it kills them. Is this justice? Then it would be justice for a father to kill his son for theft, after he had from infancy taught him to steal. Vengeance is no part of the duty of Human Government. He who alone knows what is just, will see into it, that every one receives what is due “for the deeds done in the body.” Let us leave it to him and not Titian-like attempt to rob the king of Heaven of his thunderbolts, lest our fall should be more fearful than the overthrow of those fabled giants. It is said God commands it. I find it not. If so it must be so clear there can be no mistake about it. The Mosaic code required the death of many criminals, I admit. If we take a part of it we must take the whole, – but the whole judicial code of Moses is swept away by the Christian dispensation.
The precept to Noah is not certainly a command. Christianity teaches to reform the sinner, not to kill – to love
We understand that the young gentlemen of Harvard College, charged with incendiarism, having confessed the offence before the case was presented to the grand jury, have received a college sentence instead of the more rigorous one which the offended laws of the Commonwealth would inflict.
—Bunker Hill, Aurora
If they had been hod-carriers instead of College Alumni, their fate would have been very different.
Society has not yet learned that it is cheaper to prevent crime than to punish it, yet the fact seems hardly to need proof. The prison, the school-house and the church stand side by side in all our Christian communities. – there are thousands, aye, millions in this land of Christian Republicanism, to whom the doors of the school-house and the church are as effectually closed as if they were barred and bolted, and guarded by an armed police, but the prison is open to them. Is it a matter of wonder that they enter it?
Read the following paragraph from the pen of Charles Spear, the Philanthropist and Prisoner’s Friend, and ask yourself if the picture is not true to nature.
“How dreadful is the thought that children should suffer so much from the neglect of society! Just look at a group. See them, on a summer day, in the blessed sunshine, and warm air. Misery itself will sing. You hear the merry laugh and the hearty shout. – You see them careering over the open ground, here a leg out and there an arm. All indicates that God made children to be happy and that even misery will forget itself. You converse with one of these boys. His feet are red, swollen, and ulcerated with the cold. His clothes are thread-worn. Look beneath his shaggy bush of hair. You see a face sharp with want, yet beaming with intelligence. He has learned the arts. He can lie, beg, and steal. He must beg, or steal, or starve. He goes as regularly to his work each morning as the merchant to his calling. He, with his associates, are turned out, like sheep to the hills, or cattle to the field. A certain supply must be brought home, or a brutal beating awaits them. Who wonders at the rapid growth of crime? Such children cannot pay for an education, nor avail themselves of a gratis one, if offered. There is no asylum to receive them, no schoolmaster to instruct them. Let us no longer denounce the Rajpoor and the Chinese for the barbarous practice of exposing infants.”
“When you steal, steal in handsome clothes. ‘Two ladies,’ says the Devonshire Independent, ‘stole some tea from a grocer, but they were allowed to depart, with a severe lecture.’ Had they stole in rags, they would have departed with a police constable.”
It is to Punch’s humor with a purpose that many an instructive lesson is attributable. Under the hunch of the merry cripple, who is plagiarized and altered from the Italians, lies a heart which impels a warm and steady current to a brain whose thoughts are as profound and as appreciative as those which animate the first divine or the most eminent statesmen. Punch’s endeavors do not tend solely to make one laugh. His sallies, while they create a smile, suggest beneficent reflection. He squibs an abuse into rectification; he puns a folly out of existence; he jests with a serious and highly moral aim, and the strokes of his baton have driven more than many uncouth and intolerable evils from the rocky path of the multitude. The above advice is founded on the customs of society, and applies as well in this region as elsewhere. No longer ago than last week a “respectable” man went into an oyster cellar in Brooklyn, and after destroying the property and breaking the peace, attempted to murder the proprietor. He was taken before a magistrate, and, in consideration of his fine coat and aristocratircal connections, was shielded from merited disgrace by the reporters for the press. They withheld his name, and for reason presented his “respectability” of which he had given such convincing proof. Let a barefoot woman with half a dozen starving children, pilfer a loaf of bread, in desperation, from a grocer, and she goes to prison with a mob and their execrations after her. But let a female attired “respectably,” perpetrate the same crime. The sympathies of the grocer, and o f the people, are enlisted in her behalf, and she walks off unmolested, with “unfortunate woman, and she so respectable!” greeting her auricular faculties.
An emaciated, ragged thief stands no chance of mercy. A thief in the broadcloths commands his own terms of punishment or disgrace.
An ill clad drunkard is “Dammed to everlasting fame;”
But a wealthy, well-conditioned guzzler is respected.
Punch’s advice to felons cannot be surpassed. It is advice for which they should vote him a silver medal. If they fellow it, stripes and dungeons will seldom or never be palpable to their experience. Ho! Then, ye thieves! Dress well and get up a reputation for “respectability.” Do this and flourish. Of a verity we think that if distressed and ragged felons, ill-looking brutes, whose countenances are said to betray their evil propensities – patronize a choice, tailor and a fashionable barber, police magistrates will have become sinecures, and the Court of Sessions entirely obsolete. Glory to Punch, in the name of society, for that plain blunt and natural advice – “When you steal, steal in handsome clothes.”
Human nature is primitively rugged and obdurate; but it is smoothed and softened by inconsistencies quicker than by any other means. What reason, cries a moralist, can a well-dressed person have for stealing? None: it is simply a practical joke – a mere freak. Those who steal to avert starvation have a reason. Punish them severely. If they won’t get handsome clothes, flay them alive – anything to teach them policy and a knowledge of society’s foibles.
—Noah’s Sunday Times
It came to pass on a certain evening, that a paper known as the "Prisoner's Friend, was placed in my hands. Having read and re-read its contents, my thoughts assumed a new train. I wandered in imagination , over the whole earth, to find some who had been placed benefited by that law, which, as a punishment, takes the life of a man ; that life which they can never restore; which none but God my could ever give, I asked if it improved society—lessened crime, or had reformed the guilty, and the very mountains echoed, No. But to the question, will it ever be abolished, no answer came, and I have retired to rest. I vainly tried to collect my wandering thoughts; but alas! over my mind there was no control, and I wandered. First, stood beside an extensive building, near which was erected a scaffold. The hoarse creaking of the massive doors upon their hinges a told too plainly, that the scene within was even more dreadful n than that without. Soon three men are led out for execution. They’d ascend the steps. One speaks, confesses his guilt, relates the circumstances of a murder, which, it seemed, had been committed. and declared that his two friends who were to die with him were innocent.
They, also, plead not guilty. But it was of no avail, and they were together, hurled into eternity. As I turned to leave this heart- rending scene, I beheld two objects which had before escaped my observation. The one was clothed in the purest white, and on his forehead, in letters of gold, were inscribed, "They know not what they say." The other held in his hand a sword, reeking with blood, while on this brow were the words, "Kill them, kill them, they deserve it." Next I stood in a humble cottage, where it seemed intemperance had dwelt. The mother had just drawn a sword from her husband's heart, and he lay struggling in the agonies of death. The children slept on, unconscious of what had passed. The two objects of my especial notice, too, were there. The motto on the one was, "Sin shall not go unpunished." On the other, "Make more rigid the laws of the land."—
The scene changed, and I stood in a court room. The word guilty, echoed through the apartment. The solemn sentence of death passed upon her who had perpetrated the awful deed. The two stranger guests were there, and upon the brow of the one might be seen the words, "I am the prisoner's friend." Upon the other, "You killed him and we'll kill you." The former followed her to the prison, spoke words of consolation to her wounded heart, and, when at last, she hung upon the gallows, he heaved a sigh, and turned away, saying, it aught not so to be.
I was about to enquire, what were his resolutions, when this scene passed away, and I found myself wandering in search of her child. Years had fled since I had seen him. Great was the change. He stood in the "Legislative hall."
Before the house was the great question, "Shall the death penalty be abolished." In one corner of the room, reclining on a couch, was the object who had so often been seen with the sword. Near him, sat the one with garment white like snow. Powerfully the speakers "wielded the sword of argument." And when at last the question was decided, the former sank back, and, with a groan, expired.
The countenance of the latter brightened, and he said, "let all the earth rejoice." Behold I saw, and understood not; and I said, who are thou, and who is this that now lieth dead in his bed. He answered, "has thou been so long time in the world, and yet does not know us." Immediately I understood. And he said, "be faithful." "Write, these things are true." "For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem."