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agonies, who heard at that solemn moment, his fruitless asseverations of innocence; what would they not all give to have yet within their reach, the means of repairing the wrongs they had witnessed dr inflicted?
Instances of this kind are not unfrequent; many of them are on record ; several have taken place in our own day, and a very remarkable example which was given but a few years since, in one of the northern states, shews, in a striking manner, the danger of those punishments which cannot be recalled or compensated, even though the innocence of the sufferer is rendered clear to demonstration. A few such instances, even in a century, are sufficient to counteract the best effects that could be derived from example. There is no spectacle that takes such hold on the feelings, as that of an innocent man suffering by an unjust sentence ; one such example is remembered, when twenty of merited punishment are forgotten; the best passions take part against the laws, and arraign their operation as iniquitous and inhuman. This consideration alone, then, if there were no others, would be a most powerful argument for the abolition of capital punishments; but there are others no less cogent.
To see a human being in the full enjoyment of all the faculties of his mind, and all the energies of his body; his vital powers attacked by no disease; injured by no accident; the pulse beating high with youth and health ; to see him doomed by the cool calculation of his fellow-men, to certain destruction, which no courage can repel, no art or
persuasion avert; to see a mortal distribute the most awful dispensations of the Deity, usurp hiş attributes, and fix; by his own decree, an inevitable limit to that existence which Almighty power alone can give, and which its sentence alone should destroy; must give rise to solemn reflections, which the imposing spectacle of a human sacrifice naturally produces, until its frequent recurrence renders the inind insensible to the impression. But in a country where the punishment of death is rarely inflicted, this sensation operates in all its force; the people are always strongly excited by every trial for a capital offence; they neglect their business, and crowd round the court; the accused, the witnesses, the counsel, every thing connected with the investigation becomes a matter of interest and curiosity; when the public mind is screwed up to this pitch, it will take a tone from the circumstances of the case, which will rarely be found to accord with the impartiality required by justice.
If the accused excite an interest from his youth, his good character, his connections, or even his countenance and appearance, the dreadful consequences of conviction, and that too, in the case of great crimes, as well as minor offences, lead prosecutors to relax their severity; witnesses to appear with reluctance, jurors to acquit against evidence, and the pardoning power improperly to interpose. If the public excitement take another turn, the consequences are worse ; indignation against the crime is converted into a ferocious thirst of vengeance; and if the real culprit cannot be found, the
innocent suffers on the slightest presumption of guilt; when public zeal requires a victim, the innocent lamb is laid on the altar, while the scapes goat is suffered to fly to the mountain. This savage disposition increases with the severity and the frequency of capital inflictions, so that, in atrocious, as well as in lighter offences, this species of punishment leads sometimes to the escape of the guilty, often to the conviction of the innocent. : Whoever has at all observed the course of criminal proceedings, must have witnessed what I have just endeavoured to describe; undeserved indulgence, unjust severity ; opposite effects proceeding from the same cause; the unnecessary harshness of the punishment.
But when no such fatal consequences are to be the result, the course of justice is rarely influenced by passion' or prejudice. The evidence is produced without difficulty, and given without reluctance ; it has its due effect on the minds of jurors, who are under no terrors of pronouncing an irremediable sentence: and pardons need not be granted, unless innocence is ascertained, or reformation becomes unequivocal.
Another consequence of the infliction of death is, that if frequent it loses its effect; the people become too much familiarized with it, to consider it as an example; it is changed into a spectacle, which must frequently be repeated to satisfy the ferocious taste it has forined. It would be extremely useful in legislation, if the true cause could be discovered of this atrocious passion for witness
ing human agonies and beholding the slaughter of human beings. It has disgraced the history of all nations; in some it gave rise to permanent institutions, like that of the gladiators in Rome; in others it has shewn itself like a moral epidemic, which raged with a violence proportioned to the density of population, for a limited time, and then yielded to the influence of reason and humanity. Every people has given us instances of this delirium ; but the religious massacre of St. Bartholomew, and the political slaughters during the reign of terror in France, exemplify, in a striking manner, the idea I mean to convey. The history of our own country, young as it is, is not free from this stain. The judicial murder of the wizards and witches of New-England, and of a great number of poor wretches, during, what was called, the Negro plot at New-York, furnish us with domestic lessons on this subject. The human sacrifices which we find in the early history of almost every nation, proceeded from another cause, the idea of vicarious atonement for sins; but they were attended with the same heart-hardening effect. Human sufferings are never beheld, for the first time, but with aversion, terror, and disgust. Nature has strongly implanted this repugnance on our minds; for the wisest purposes : but this once conquered, it happens in the intellectual taste, as it does in that of the senses : in relation to which last, it is observed, that we become most fond of those - enjoyments which required, in the beginning, some effort to overcome the disgust produced by their first use;
and that our attachment to them is in proportion to the difficulty which was conquered in becoming familiarised to them. Whatever may be the cause of this striking fact, in the history of the human mind, its effects ought to be studied by the legislator who desires to form a wise and permanent system. If the sight of one capital execution creates an inhuman taste to behold another; if a curiosity, satisfied at first with terror, increases with its gratification, and becomes a passion by indulgence, we ought to be extremely careful, how, by sanctioning the frequency of capital punishments, we lay the foundation for a depravity, the more to be dreaded, because, in our government, popular opinion must have the greatest influence on all its departments, and this vitiated taste would soon be discovered, in the decisions of our courts and the verdicts of our juries.
But if this punishment be kept for great occasions, and the people are seldom treated with the gratification of seeing one of their fellow-creatures expire by the sentence of the law, a most singular effect is produced; the sufferer, whatever be his crime, becomes a hero or a saint; he is the object of public attention, curiosity, admiration, and pity. Charity supplies all his wants, and religion proves her power, by exhibiting the outcast and murderer, though unworthy to enjoy existence upon earth, yet purified from the stain of his vices and crimes, converted by her agency into an accepted candidate for the happiness of heaven; he is listed