Page images
[ocr errors]

victs. If the objector complains of caprice or wrong motives in the exercise of judicial or discretionary power, we heartily agree with him in condemning them; but we deny that they are necessary—at least to any greater extent than in most other cases of punishment. Like many other objections, this is as applicable to the administration of penalties and of legal remedies generally as to this particular case. Human laws and their execution are necessarily imperfect; but their imperfection need not, and probably, but for the disturbing influence of such objections, as we have been considering, upon public opinion, it would not be (if indeed it actually is,) greater in this case than in any other.

6th Objection. Some of the Abolitionists say that "the punishment of death is needlessly severe;” and others insist upon it that it is “inadequate to the enormity of the crime for which it is inflicted.!” These two objections may offset one another.

7th Objection. “ Capital punishment violates the sacro-sanctity of human life.”

The great motive of capital punishment, the only proper motive is, the protection of human life from violation. It is wonderful to observe by what jugglery its opposers are endeavoring to engross all the credit of this motive to themselves. We profess to have at least as much regard for the sanctity of human life as they; and we retort that it is they who would expose it to violation. They are not distinguished from us by any greater regard for the sanctity of human life, but only for the “sacro-sanctity" of murderers. The Roman tribunes were held to possess this at. tribute of “sacro-sanctity," so that whatever they might do while in office, it was sacrilege to offer them any violence. These men would have the privileges of such a character attach to all mur. derers. They would have every murderer possessed of a charmed existence. And this they call a superlative regard for the "sacro-sanctity' of human life! They might as well deny the right of the magistrate (as indeed some of them do) to seize the property of the thief; and then take to themselves the credit of a superlative regard for the rights of property !2

I Vid. N. A. Rey. Vol. 62. p. 56.

2 It is a remarkable fact that multitudes of the abolitionists—the mass of them, we should think-are friends of war. Is one of their neighbors barbarously murdered ? Such is the sacro-sanctity of human life in their eyes, such the tenderness of their consciences, and such the overflowing exuberance of their Christian sympathies, that they can by no means consent that the villain, who is convicted of having perpetrated the horrible deed, should suffer the pen. 1847.]

Objection from the state of the Convict's Mind.


8th Objection. “When a murderer is executed, he has either repented and is prepared to go into another world—and in that case he is certainly fit to remain in this; or he has not repented, and in that case, by taking his life, men send him unprepared into eternity, and consequently consign him to endless torment." This dilemma seems to be considered by many as conclusive of the question. But we utterly protest against thus appealing to the retributions of eternity. It is getting entirely out of our depth, and setting ourselves about business which does not belong to us. But if such objections must be made then we reply, to the first horn of the dilemma, that we never heard of a murderer confessing and deploring his crime in Christian penitence, who did not, as the apostle Paul said he would do, consent freely to die. He has magnified the law whose penalty he suffered. Nay more; men under the influence of repentance and of the instinctive consciousness of the justice and fitness of capital punishment for murder, have voluntarily confessed their guilt and surrendered themselves to the hand of human justice. So much for the guilty but penitent sufferer. As for society, which is represented as endeavoring to replace the loss of one man, good or bad as the case may be, by voluntarily throwing away another man confessedly good; we say, on the other hand, that society gains more good from the imperturbable execution of its just laws upon one such offender than it could derive from the useful lives of many such if they were spared. But we wish to be understood distinctly to repudiate any argument tending to defend capital punishment as proceeding from any motive of benevolence towards the criminal. We do not believe in any such way of showing kindness. The benevolence of the law in this case is not a private but a public benevolence, a love which prefers the lives of the innocent mass to the life of the guilty murderer.

To the other horn of the dilemma, we answer; that by all

alty of death; such is their fellow-feeling for the criminal, they will move the three worlds to save him from the gallows. But let a foreign people refuse reparation for encroachments or depredations on our property, and they are forth with ready to attack that people with fire and sword, they are willing to spill the best blood of our own citizens, and to cut down thousands of innocent men on the other side-not to speak of helpless women and children! Alas, for the consistency of poor human nature ! We saw not long since, paraded in one of the abolitionists' journals, a list of the great men who had espoused their cause, and among the rest the name of Chancellor M'Coun, Soon afterwards we saw a report of the same distinguished gentleman presiding at a war meet. ing in the city of New York !

[ocr errors]

means a long respite should be given to every convict before his execution. But if, after such respite he is still unprepared to be launched into eternity, his blood is upon his own head. He has in reality destroyed himself. Living under the known laws of God and nature and human society, he committed a crime whose penalty he knew to be death, and he must abide the consequences. It is not so much the hangman that takes his life, as he that kills himself by the hangman's instrumentality. We ought by all means to beware that we do the murderer no injustice in this world. That is our sphere. That is our business. Let us see well to that. And we need not trouble our heads with any fears that God will do him any injustice in the world to come. Let us leave the retributions of the next world in God's hands. They are matters too high for us to meddle with. If it be any injustice to the executed murderer to suffer endless torment hereafter, if it be inconsistent with infinite benevolence, we may be tolerably sure he will not suffer it. Further, we are not aware that this objection is often made or much felt by those who believe in the eternity of future punishment. It is thrust upon them as an argumentum ad hominem, by those who deny such eternal punishment; and, as thus urged is fully answered by the argumentum ad hominem, that, according to the creed of those who urge it, capital punishment, so far from being over-severe or cruel, sends the impenitent murderer from this world, where he night do much harm and could enjoy but little good, directly to eternal blessedness.

9th Objection. “We ought to say to ourselves when a convict is led to execution, There goes my father, or my brother, or my son,' and so feeling, how could we think the infliction of capital punishment to be right ?"

This reasoning, if good for anything, would strike out all penal inflictious. But we reply, it is false. The great, manly heart of the elder Brutus was to be preferred to all this effeminate sentimentality. He loved his sons, but he loved his country more. He preferred her welfare, her liberty and the integrity of her laws to his private affections and personal happiness. The objection derives its force from sheer weakness and selfishness, and not from the precepts of Christianity. Christianity is not inconsistent, we trust, with the keenest sense of justice and the most enlarged benevolence. We admit the fact that we ought to feel as the objector requires, but we deny the inference. Let the cul. prit be a son or a brother-and it might be salutary for us to en1847.1 Objection that Nature condemns Capital Punishment. 443

deavor to feel that every convict were thus nearly related to usstill, if he has committed that crime which by laws human and divine is declared worthy of death, we should not refuse to let him die-he should not himself refuse to die. If it were our own personal selves, and we were possessed of right feelings, we should not refuse to die. We ought not so to refuse; and the experi. ence of others shows that we should not as a matter of fact. Now it is surely enough, if we fulfil the royal law according to the Scriptures, to love our neighbor, not merely as a son or brother, but as ourselves.

10th Objection. “ The voice of nature, as expressed in the uni. versal, instinctive horror of the hangman and his office, condemns capital punishment.” We answer, that this feeling is not directed exclusively against the hangman's office, but the same feeling, though in a less degree, attaches to the office of the police-man and the jailor. Indeed it is shared in some degree by all the ultimate instrumentalities in the infliction of penalty. The more ultimate, the more absolutely necessary any office is, the less honor. able it is. Those external functions in our physical economy which are the most indispensable to our existence are deemed the most base. This is a sufficient answer to those who say, “ if you consider the office of hangman so necessary, why not assume it yourself ?" For the rest, we answer in the words of Diderot, who thought capital punishment inexpedient, and whose views may therefore be considered by our opponents the more impartial. “I have before shown," he says, “how natural it seems that the laws should have ordained death as the punishment for murder, and that the public feeling was in harmony with those laws. The horror which is felt for the executioner by no means proves that the penalty of death is unjust. That horror arises from the pe. culiar compassion which man feels for his suffering fellow-man; and which would be the same if he saw him in that state in which despair does not terminate his woes, but only begins them : [terms by which Beccaria had described the horrors of that imprisonment which he proposed to substitute for the penalty of death). Arm the executioner with chains and scourges; make it his office to render odious the life of the culprit; and the spectacle of the sufferings of which he will be the instrument, will make him equally detested; but the penalty he inflicts upon the convict will be none the less just. It is not therefore nature that inspires the horror which is felt for the executioner, but this is rather an instinctive emotion, a physical repugnance which one man feels in seeing another suffer, and from which I conclude nothing against the goodness of the law."--Beccaria De' delitti e delle pene. Nota 56. Diderot might have added that we are probably irritated by the want of feeling which the executioner commonly exhibits, and disgusted by the barely mercenary motives which induce him to undertake the office. But surely it will not do to abolish all offices in society which are usually exercised from base motives, or which are repulsive to delicate sensibilities, or by which men of respectable standing would feel degraded. In short the paradox we meet with here, is of wider application than the abolitionists seem to suppose. They must find better grounds than this before they can demolish the right of society to inflict capital punishment. We recommend them to make diligent inquisition.

We now turn to the concluding branch of our argument; that which relates to the expediency of the penalty in question.

We do not flatter ourselves that we have answered all objections and opposing arguments which have ever been urged on the question of right; but this we have done-we have honestly and openly met, and refuted as we might, those of the greatest weight,

It is indispensable for the health of our cities that they should be cleansed of the filth that is liable to collect in them. Will these gentlemen volunteer their services ? or will they condemn the scavenger's business as inhuman and unnatural ?

A petition was some time since got up in one of the States, as we under. stand, and numerously signed by the leading abolitionists, praying the Legislature to compel the clergy, who were in favor of capital punishment, to perform the office of executioners. This argument is, of course irrefragable ; it is useless to reason against a practical joke.

These gentlemen complain lustily that their opponents appeal to the odium theologicum! Yet you will sometimes find their beautiful alliterative exclamation : “ THE GALLOWS AND THE GOSPEL,” “ THE GALLOWS AND THE GosPEL,” placarded as the running title of entire articles; and sometimes interspersed in italics or capitals, as the most attractive ornament of successive par. agraphs. This sounds to us very like an appeal to some odium.” If it is not the “odium theologicum" it wants a technical name. What shall it be? The odium evangelicum ?' It may be thought this musical paronomasia of theirs contains some latent argument. If so, we would suggest that the argument might be considerably varied and extended by the exercise of a little verbal ingenuity. We might say, for example, " The Bailiff and the Bible! The Testament and the Turnkey! The Prison and the Parson ! Jesus and Jails! Our Saviour a Sheriff!! We might extend this principle of demonstration to other departments, and exclaim, for instance, Devotion and a Demagogue! or, Philanthropy and Politics ! But, for ourselves, not having the honor to be enrolled in the clerical profession, we are neither hit nor hurt by such arguments, and therefore do not retort them.

« PreviousContinue »