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what was then esteemed the safeguard of individual and social security? And, indeed, to extricate him from the charge of incongruity, we are driven to the necessity of ascribing his law against murder, to the operation of this fear. The religious sect, of which he was a member, and, at least in his colony, the support and pastor, denied the propriety of defensive war, and consequently could not approve of avenging the wrongs of a murdered man and society, by the deprivation of life in cold blood.
What is there in the character of the people, or in accidental circumstances, to require so cruel and revolting a forfeiture? Experience has not disclosed a hopeless depravity on the part of felons in this state, and according to Mr. Bradford, “ the infliction of death supposes the incorrigibility of the criminal."
Though it may be contended that circumstances hitherto, have required this severity, a new era is commencing, when the penalty of death will be a stain upon our statute-book, which the humanity of our criminal code, in other respects, cannot efface. The new penitentiary, (a hasty draught of which we have attempted in the foregoing chapter,) is surely suitable for all the purposes of rigid and inexorable justice. In a cell large enough to stand, and turn, and sleep, without society, without even the sight of his keeper, can the murderer drag out his long days, and feverish, sleepless nights, without the light of hope to shed a momentary sunshine on his drooping spirits, and with a gnawing at the heart by “that worm which never dies;"—these surely are enough, if any thing is enough, to strike terror, to punish and reform. Mr. Lownes," in the year 1793, relates this remarkable fact: “ some old offenders have rather chosen to run the risk of being hanged in other states, than encounter the certainty of being confined in the penitentiary cells of this.” And after all, perhaps, the certainty of their execution, rather than the severity of laws, strikes the greater terror.
Am I not borne out in the assertion by a very recent event, that this punishment is likely to defeat its object; which, it is presumed, is the suppression of crime? The murderer, after the trial of Greene, may rest secure from the apprehension of death, and, what is more fatal to the purposes of the law, may indulge the hope of impunity.
u Lownes on the Prison, p. 93.
v This trial is reported in the National Gazette of May 26, 1826.
Ingenious counsel impress the minds of the jury with the awful weight of responsibility which they incur, by dooming a fellow creature to the gallows, and they, alarmed at the greatness of the penalty, though his guilt is irrefragably established, by a kind of “pious perjury,” falter an acquittal, or call it an offence foreign to the evidence. And though the sympathies and religious opinions of jurors should form no obstacle to the faithful administration of the law, yet the pernicious influence of public executions more than countervails the terror which they excite. They are pernicious, because, if they do not render the heart callous to tender sentiments, by familiarizing the eye to scenes of death, they are so by the invocation of pity. The murderer, on whom is passed the sentence of death, has the gratification of knowing that he fills a large space in the eye of a sympathizing public—that dreams, whether he has had them or not, will be recorded, to heighten commiseration—that confessions, which he never wrote or dictated, will be bandied among the mob, with all the effrontery of falsehood, in extenuation or denial—that, though he ends his days disgracefully on the gallows, as the guerdon of his deeds, his name will be repeated with a sigh, the recollection of his civic and social virtues will live after his death, and the praises of the people will follow him as a saint! These are sad truths, which reference to instances is not required to elucidate and establish; and these, if not the mistaken tenderness of the jury, if not the exercise of illjudged executive clemency, rob this penalty of the effects which it was intended to inspire.
But I have done. The expurgation of our statute book from this punishment, would be a source of just and laudable pride to Pennsylvanians. They might fancy the hovering spirit of Penn, and the large group of nations composing the world, looking on with approbation; and glancing through the long vista of time, anticipate the praises of future story, in commemoration of an event, alike honourable to the state, and glorious to the cause of humanity.