Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

1847.) Capital Punishment in Massachusetts and England. 465

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

66

of statistical reasoning arrayed against the other. Which should lave prevailed one can hardly say. If either mode of reasoning is good for anything now, it was worth just as much then. This is not all. This very period of five years in which no convictions occurred, Mr. Rantoul is very careful to pack into his first period, so as to get the fewest number of murders possible in that to com. pare with the greatest number possible in the last period. What would have been the result of his comparison if he had taken his starting point five, ten, or fifteen years sooner, we are unable to tell.

But taking the fifty years preceding 1845, and dividing it into two periods of twenty-five years, thus throwing into the first period the five years in which there were the least number of convictions, viz. none at all, and into the last period the five years in which there were the greatest number of convictions which these tables assign to any period of five years; we have the following result. From 1795 to 1820, convictions for murder 14 in 25 years. 1820 “ 1845,

18 The increase of population from 1810 to 1835, was about 43 per cent.; the increase of convictions for murder was only 281 per cent. And this seems to us the most favorable comparison to Mr. Rantoul's side which can fairly be instituted on the basis of his own tables.

If, however, we begin with the "nineteenth century,” as he seems to propose, and take full periods of twenty years, the result is, From 1800 to 1820, convictions for murder 12 in 20 years. 1820 “ 1840,

13 The increase of population was about 30 per cent.; the increase of murders about 8 per cent.

So much for the effect of the unparalleled, barbarous and unchristian severity of penal inflictions in Massachusetts, in increas. ing the frequency of murders; as appears by comparing Massachusetts with herself at successive periods of her history. The increase of population was an element in the comparison which Mr. Rantoul found it very convenient to ignore altogether.

But he is not content with comparing Massachusetts with herself, he points to her unrelenting rigor in executing 60 per cent. of her convicts; while England, whose government he thinks he has a right “justly to denounce as sanguinary,” in a period of twenty one years, from 1813 to 1834, executed but 31 per cent.

66

66

of her convicts for murder. But of what consequence is it for him to prove that Massachusetts is more severe, (or more cruel if you please,) unless he proves that that severity fails to prevent the commission of crime? Let us look to this material point. We take his own premises and carry them out to their results.

By referring to tables of population which are in every body's hands, it will appear, that, for the period of twenty-one years here instanced, there was in England, on an average, one murder for less than every 15,000 inhabitants; while for twenty years, ending in 1835, in Massachusetts, there was but one murder for eve. ry 45,000 inhabitants. From which it appears that the ratio of murders to the population, in England, was about three times as great as in Massachusetts at the same period. In other words, the stern severity with which Massachusetts has ever been accustomed to administer her penal laws, has saved two innocent men from the hand of the assassin for every murderer who has been executed. And, what is more again, has prevented two other men from committing this horrible crime.

But if the comparison with England, though proffered by Mr. Rantoul himself, be thought in any degree unfair, on account of the sanguinary character of her code at the time referred to; then take the comparison with Belgium, whose lenity is so much boasted of; and what is the result? For twenty years, ending in 1834, Mr. Rantoul states that the executions in Belgium were but 27 per cent. of the convictions. But it appears by his tables that the number of convictions for murder in that time was 134; in Massachusetts for twenty years, ending in 1835, the convictions for murder were only twelve. That is to say, under the boasted lenity of Belgium, there was one murder to every 30,000 inhabitants, while under the barbarous severity of Massachusetts there was one murder to every 45,000 inhabitants; in other words, the habitual rigor of Massachusetts diminished the number of murders 50 per cent.

So much for the statistical proof that punishment increases crime, and that the surest way to get rid of crime is to dismiss the criminals with impunity, or at least, not to treat them very harshly! And let it be again observed, we have taken the very issue offered by our opponents, and tried it according to their own principles of evidence, and by cross-questioning their own witnesses. We leave our readers to judge of the result.

We have hitherto considered the statistical argument exclusively in its bearing upon the crime of murder. The abolitionists 1847.)

English Legislation on Capital Punishment.

467

have strongly asserted and fully committed themselves to the doctrine that the abrogation of the penalty of death for other crimes (besides murder) for which it had been before inflicted, has operated not only to the diminution of murders, for which it continued to be inflicted, but also of those very crimes for which it had been abolished. Now, although we have not the least particle of sympathy for that most abominable system of English legislation contrived by the rich in contempt of the poor, by which the poor were first cut off from all honest means of subsistence, and then strung up like dogs if they dared lay hands on anything to satisfy the cravings of nature: though we have no sympathy with any laws which inflict the penalty of death for mere infringements of the right of property; yet that any man should steal simply because he is in danger of being hung for it; while it is what these reasoners seem to assume, is what we find it exceed. ingly difficult to understand or believe. But that fewer murders should be committed after capital punishment has been abolished for other offences not attended with violence, than were committed before, is what we can easily conceive, and what, so far from showing the want of preventive efficacy in this punishment, decidedly and unanswerably establishes it.

When, for example, the punishment of death for highway robbery, committed without violence, was abolished and reserved for murder only; it was found that the number of murders sensibly decreased; for the plain reason that the robber could now pursue his trade without running the risk of being hung, provided he abstained from committing murder. Whereas, before, he of ten preferred to murder those whom he robbed, perhaps because it might increase the probability of concealment? At all events his moral sense, his horror of murder, was not sufficient to prevent his adding this crime to the other. But, after the change in the law, his exposure to death as an additional punishment did prevent the additional crime; and that, although the temptation to commit it, as a means of diminishing the probability of discovery ' If they explain by saying that thieves count on the probability of escaping all punishment when the penalty is too severe; we answer, that their assertion here controverted is that the number of convictions is greater when the punishment is capital, than after it is changed.

25 A la Chine, les voleurs cruels sont coupés en morceaux, les autres non: cette difference fait que l'on y vole, mais que l'on n'y assassine pas."

“ En Moscovie où la peine des voleurs et cette des assassins sont les mêmes, on assassine toujours. Les morts, y dit-on ne racontent rien.” Esprit des Loix, Liv. 6. ch. 16.

for the other crime, remained the same as before. We point to this fact as a perfect, practical demonstration of the preventive power of capital punishment. Yet the abolitionists appeal to this very fact as being in their favor, showing, say they, that in proportion as you have restrained the application of capital punishment, murders have diminished. We trust there are few unprejudiced minds which cannot see the absurdity of such an appeal.

But, notwithstanding all à priori reasoning to the contrary, they insist upon it as a matter of fact, that, in England for example, where capital punishment has been abolished for most other crimes besides murder, the frequency of these very crimes has diminish. ed as well as that of murder-that men have not only ceased to murder when they rob, but have also ceased to rob, now that there is no danger of being hung for it. Mr. Rantoul enters at length into the demonstration of this point; but as we have access to statistics of equal authority with his, and much more to our purpose, we shall not follow his lead

any

further. We extract the following from the London Law Magazine for August, 1846; and we venture to say no higher English authority can be found; besides it will be seen the facts are from official returns.

“We proved, say they, (in a former number,) by the extracts from the Home Office returns that the modern repeal of penal acts imposing capital punishments had, in each case, been follow. ed by an enormous increase of the crimes previously punished by death; and, in order that there might be no sort of doubt left in rational minds on the subject, no peg whereon to hang cavil or criticism and escape the plain inference of the facts, we gave the annual amount of committals for these very crimes, through a period of no less than ten years, beginning in 1835, three years before the abolition took place and extending down to the then last published returns for 1844.”

“ The result of these tables was conclusive. In comparing the crimes committed before and after the abolition, we took care to avoid laying stress on the years immediately following the change in the law, for the obvious reason, that the real effects of such changes never immediately follow them. It takes some time for a new law to become known and to develop its results. We therefore compared the three last years preceding the change of the law in 1837 with the three last years of which the results were known. Thus compared the returns of committals showed an increase in attempts to murder, stabbing, etc. of 98 per cent.; 1847.)

Increase of Crime in England.

469

[ocr errors]

in burglaries, 115 per cent.; in robberies, 33 per cent.; in arsons, 124 per cent; in rapes, 102 per cent.; comparing in this last instance the offences preceding 1841, when that law was altered."

“ This precise classification was quite immaterial to the general fact of a large and fearful increase of these sanguinary and fiendish crimes.”

The writer then gives a comparative table, including the year 1845, in which year it seems there was a marked diminution in England of crimes of all sorts and however punished-and this fact, by the way, is directly in the teeth of Mr. Rantoul's main argument in his 6th letter.

According to this table of the returns of the Home Office, comparing the period of five years ending 1840 with the period ending 1845, attempts to murder, stabbing, etc. had increased more than 37 per cent.; burglaries, more than 50 per cent.; robberies, more than 26 per cent.; setting fire to dwellings, etc., more than 119 per cent.; rape, etc., 81 per cent.

" Here is an increase of 45 per cent at any rate in these crimes, of which nearly all ceased to be punished capitally during the five years ending in 1840. It is useless to struggle with these facts. Any blockhead or quibbler may distort or garble; but, fairly stated, the fact is, that the practical result of the abolition of capital punishment has been an immense increase of crime; and it is no sort of answer to say that in 1845 these crimes were less in number than in 1844. Granted that they were, but so were all other crimes. No one held or holds that crimes once punished capitally are incapable of the fluctuations incidental to crime at large. Besides, staticians and statesmen, if they deserve either designation, deal with periods of years and not with isolated years, which are obviously insufficient to mark the phases of social condition. As well may we measure the ebb or flow of the tide by the comparative height of successive waves."

“This result is not confined to any one single class of offences, but with slight variations extended to the whole number of those which ceased to be punished capitally; whilst the same increase did not take place in other classes of offence to which capital punishment still attached; as, for instance, in the case of murder, attempts to murder attended with dangerous injuries, both capitally punishable in England) and some others; in which, though there has been some increase since 1837, it has been no more than proportioned to the general increase of crime, and bears no comparison to the enormous increase of those crimes which have

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »