The History of Death Penalty

Death Penalty: History and Introduction

Death penalty is also recognized as capital punishment, which is a suction practice by the government where a law offender is put to death as a penalty due to the crime. The crimes which are punished through execution are known as capital offenses, and they are such as war crimes, treason, genocide, crimes against humanity, murder, and espionage. There are different reactions concerning the use of execution as a way of punishing capital crimes. There are some nations which support and retain capital punishment, some have completely abolished it, others still encourage death penalty for specific crimes, while some nations are yet to decide whether to adopt or abolish the death penalty. The following work will help establish when the death penalty was introduced, the various changes the punishment has faced as well as when the punishment is used and its justification.

History of Death Penalty

Death penalty law was first established in the 18th century B.C after King Hammurabi of Babylon authorized the death for 25 different offenses. The Hittite Code of the 15th Century B.C also incorporated capital punishments in its law. The Draconian Code of the Athens used the death penalty for all crimes and the Twelve Tablets of Roman law in 5th Century B.C killed the criminals as a way of punishment. During that period, death sentences were conducted in different ways, such as drowning the offenders, crucifixion, whipping till the criminal died, impalement, and smoldering alive. Britain adopted lynching as the technique of putting to death in the 10th century. Later the law was changed by William the Conqueror and indicated that hanging or execution would only be conducted during the times of war. However, the change did not last as after Henry VIII took over power; there were more than 72,000 people who were executed (Gottfried, 2002). During that period, the common methods used in execution were hanging, boiling, burning at the stake, drawing, beheading, and quartering. The capital crimes which led to execution were such as marrying a Jew, treason, and not confessing a crime. In the next two centuries, the number of the capital crimes increased, and by 1700s, there were about 222 offenses which led to execution which included cutting down of a tree, stealing, or even taking someone's else rabbit. Since the death penalty was taken seriously, it made most judges not to convict the defendants of crimes that were less serious. Later, there were reforms in Britain's death penalty. The death penalty was made exclusively for only 100 crimes out of the 222 offenses that could be punished through execution in 1823 to 1837 (Guernsey, 2010).

Introduction of the Death Penalty in the US

Britain made the US adopt the use of death penalty after the European settlers began to move to other parts of the world such as in the US. In the new colonies, the initial execution was done on Capital George Kendall in 1608 in the Jamestown colony of Virginia. Kendal was found out to be a spy for Spain. Later on, in 1612, moral and martial laws were used by Governor Sir Thomas Dale, indicating that execution would be used even for the minor crimes. Killing chickens, stealing grapes, and conducting trade with the Indians would be punished through killing the offenders. The laws concerning capital punishment were variant in different colonies.

Abolitionist Movements

An era of abolitionist movements came later. For instance, in the colonial times, there were those who believed and advocated for the importance of life, and crime was not a justification for taking another person's life. There were American intellectuals who got their influence from the Beccaria, and they carried out the initial attempts to reform death penalty in the US. Thomas Jefferson came up with a bill which was against the death penalty laws of Virginia. In the 19th century, more movements against the use of death as punishment were formed, and the result was a reduction in the number of the crimes which were punishable by death. Michigan State was the first to stop using execution as a form of punishment in 1846, and later other states followed suit. Since then, more states abolished the death penalty completely, and others reserved it for capital offenses.

When the Punishment is Used

In most nations, such as the United States, the death penalty is generally used for murder crimes. Murder can be defined as the unlawful killing of people due to malicious intentions. Murder can either be manslaughter which in most cases unintentional, for instance, where a person is trying to protect themselves from harm, and they end up killing a person in the process. In such a case, the death penalty is not used, but when a person had malicious intentions, they are punished through death. Treason is an offense against a nation, such as giving out the secrets of the government to an enemy government. Such a person is killed since he/she has the intention of destroying peace and order in the country. Planning to turn and take a government by force is also termed as treason, and it is punishable by death (Guernsey, 2010).

Espionage is spying where a person secretly obtains confidential information without having the permission of the owner. Spies are used by government and influential cooperations to get information from competitors or enemies, which they can use to get them down. It is a common characteristic in the military where enemy groups stage spy soldiers in enemy camps so that they can inform on all attack plans. Spies sabotage the operations of others, and they are punished through death. War crimes are punishable by death, and they are taking hostages, torturing people, rape, strategic bombing, killing civilians or prisoners intentionally, and violation of the distinction principles. The war crimes result in the excessive suffering of the victims, as those performing them, mostly soldiers, violate their duty of protecting civilians, and they begin to harm them (Gottfried, 2002).

Crimes against Humanity and Genocide

Crimes against humanity are the attacks staged against innocent civilians, and since they lead to a violation of human rights, such cases are handled by the International Court of Justice. The crimes against humanity law developed through the changes in the customary international law. These crimes take place whether there is war or peace in a nation. Such offenses include abusing human rights, religious prosecutions, torture, enslavement, death squads, using children in military, political repression, terrorisms in the state, massacres, unethical human experimentation, racial discrimination, cannibalism, kidnappings, and unjust imprisonments.

Genocide is another crime punishable by death which is the act of wiping out people depending on their religious, ethnic, racial, or national group. It mostly takes place in a nation where the superior ethnic groups wipe out the inferior groups through killing all the members mercilessly. Such mass killing is punished through death.

Is it Justified?

There are some people who support the death penalty as it is seen as the best way to get back those who have done wrong in the society. There are those who are against it since killing other people as punishment due to crime is considered immoral. Those who support capital punishment indicate that it is a way of deterring crime. When a person kills another, it would only be fair to receive the same measure of punishment. The phrase used in justification to killing people is "an eye for an eye" where the law indicates that a person who kills another would only get the same measures as they require the same severity. Other measures would be unjust as the victim of the murder will not receive the justice they require. In addition, if death was used as the only immediate and only punishment for murder, then it would reduce the number of murders since all people would fear death. When people are not punished, the probability of committing the same crime again is very high (Hood and Hoyle, 2014). Imprisonment would only harden the criminals, and they can commit other killings to their colleague inmates and after being released. Considering that there is an over-accumulation of inmates in the prisons, it could be reduced by the execution of the hardened people, especially those who have committed capital crimes. In that way, the government is able to save money since it does not have to spend on maintaining the excess inmates in the jail, water, food, and paying the wardens as well as catering for the rehabilitation programs. The pain which is inflicted on the victims is excess, especially when the evidence is overwhelming. The offender should experience the same pain, and imprisonment cannot be half of it, and thus death is the only way to go.

Those who are against the death penalty as a way of punishment indicate that criminals should be set free despite the mistake they have committed. There is no person who deserves to die, even the criminals. They should just be made to suffer so that they can pay for the crimes they committed, even if it means being put in jail for life. When the criminal is sent to jail, they pass through hardships as they are deprived off their freedom and being close to their family members. There is nothing worse than being denied access to the world since the law offenders abandon their family and life and have to stay locked for the rest of their lives. Justification for this is the following religious saying. Jesus indicated that when a person slaps your cheek, you should give them the other. It explains that when a person kills, he/she should not be killed as it would be carrying out revenge and it is wrong. Only God can revenge for people as only he knows the just measures. Therefore, a murderer should be confined as they await their judgment by God. Killing is morally wrong whether the person being killed is a criminal or not. When the law being used to set law and order in the society is encouraging immorality, it is an indication that it is not the best to use since it is showing the civilians that it is based on the immoral basis. The pain being inflicted on the murderer is also wrong. It is necessary to act humanely to all people whether they have committed any crimes or not. Execution is usually painful, and inflicting it on the inmates would be immoral. The law which supports killing a person since they killed another is hypocritical and unjust. The act does not bring the victim back. It only adds grief to other people, such as the family members of the person who committed the murder. Despite the person being evil, they are still loved by someone, and the person will end up suffering (Hood and Hoyle, 2014). The murder does not satisfy the conscience of a person. It is undermining of the criminal rehabilitation principles, and it is not the right thing to do. Therefore, it is wrong to kill the criminal who committed murder.


The death penalty is advisable in some serious cases while still considered as an immoral act in other cases. When a person kills another, it would only be fair to receive the same measure of punishment since even the Bible supports the eye for an eye saying. The offender should experience the same pain, and imprisonment cannot be half of it, and thus death is the only way to go. However, there is no satisfaction achieved from killing a person as he/she killed another. Furthermore, the act will not bring back the person who lost their lives in the process. Life suffering, however, would act as a lesson to the murderer and other criminals.


Gottfried, T. (2002). Death penalty. Brookfield, Conn, 21st Century Bks.

Guernsey, J. B. (2010). Death penalty: fair solution or moral failure? Minneapolis, Twenty-First Century Books.

Hood, R., " Hoyle, C. (2014). The death penalty: a worldwide perspective. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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