Professor John Bessler contributed an essay today to the Brookings Institution’s Medium blog.
The essay, “The American Death Penalty: a changing legal landscape,” begins:
“The death penalty has long been a fixture of the world’s laws. In Draco’s Athenian code, ancient Mesopotamia’s Code of Hammurabi, and England’s ‘Bloody Code,’ a large number of crimes were punishable by death. Colonial and early American legal codes also made multiple crimes capital offenses.
“The use of capital punishment, however, came under criticism and scrutiny during the Enlightenment. In 1764, the Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria, in his book, Dei delitti e delle pene, openly questioned the efficacy of torture and state-sanctioned killing. That book, a runaway bestseller, was quickly translated into French and then into English in 1767 as On Crimes and Punishments.
“In the two and a half centuries since the publication of Beccaria’s book, an anti-death penalty manifesto carefully read by Sir William Blackstone and Jeremy Bentham and by American founders such as Dr. Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the number of countries utilizing death sentences has gradually dwindled. And that process continues apace in the twenty-first century.”
Brookings recently published Against the Death Penalty, which was written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and edited by Bessler.