The Horrible History of The Death Penalty


A capital crime as you probably know is an
offense that is punishable by death. The term comes from the Latin word “caput”,
which means head, and capital punishment originally meant literally losing your head. This controversial kind of punishment is still
retained in 58 countries, while 102 countries have it but don’t use it. 32 countries have abolished it altogether,
with another eight countries saving it for only special crimes – an example would be
genocide. In most countries it’s saved for the most
heinous of crimes, such as murder, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, but if we look
at the ever-progressive Saudi Arabia, you could lose your head over there for adultery,
robbery, witchcraft, homosexuality, and according to the BBC, even repeated drug use- though
we guess even just being a journalist will do it nowadays. But if you think that’s crazy, well listen
to this episode of the Infographics Show, Capital crimes of the past. We’ll start with Europe and move on to the
USA later. If we look at the UK, a place where once upon
a time you could have your limbs pulled off, your internal organs ripped out, and any other
manner of awful punishments happen to you, you could say things have vastly improved. The last time they had an execution in the
UK was on 13 August, 1964, and that was the hanging of two men, Gwynne Evans and Peter
Allen, for stealing a few quid from a man and bludgeoning him to death in the process. The Guardian writes that there was no public
outcry and the event only got a couple of lines in the British press. Nonetheless, that was that. The Labor government wanted the end of capital
punishment in the UK and it was abolished in 1965. It remained somewhat legal for certain punishments
such as treason until 1998, but no one was hanged during that time frame. Believe it or not, when England introduced
drop-hanging in 1783 it was seen as quite humanitarian and a move forward in terms of
morals. It was the same in France when it introduced
the guillotine for capital crimes in 1792. The reason for that of course is that it was
supposed to be quick and painless, rather than a long, drawn-out (excuse the pun) torture
that ended in death. It wasn’t until then that hanging replaced
burning at the stake as the punishment for treason in England, while the Scots burned
their supposed witches for a while longer. This was progress! Times were moving on, and historians tell
us that the English were not so frivolous in their executing. We are told that during King Henry the VIII’s
reign there were ten executions every week in London. The writer Steven Pinker writes that people
in those days might be executed for as little as stealing someone’s cabbages. If we look at the list of UK capital punishments
in England as late as 1822, the barbarity of present day Saudi Arabia comes to mind. That year saw the very last hanging for shoplifting
in the country – how many of you have lifted candy bar in your lifetime – and execution
for witchcraft was no more. Still, you might find yourself in the gallows
after a minutes-long trial with the judge telling you that you will “be hanged by
the neck until dead” for what might seem today minor offenses. Of the 222 capital offenses there was cutting
down a tree, poaching, robbing a rabbit warren, begging if you were a soldier or sailor, damaging
Westminster Bridge, pick-pocketing, stealing from a shipwreck, maiming cattle on purpose,
being in the company of gypsies for more than a month, strong evidence of malice in a child
aged 7-14, being out at night with a blackened face, stealing horses or sheep, arson, forgery,
fraud, letter stealing, rioting and sacrilege. We can find only one person who was hanged
for the latter from 1723 to 1820. We should add that the U.S. National Institutes
of Health tells us that across England, Wales and Scotland there were contrasts in how this
punishment was applied. It seems by far the South and South West of
England saw the highest rate of hangings. Property offenses such as burglary ended with
thousands of executions in England over a few decades, but few in Scotland and Wales. We might also add that of course murder was
a capital offense, but that is a given. Not everyone convicted of a capital offense
went to the gallows. We are told that there was a golden age of
what is called “The Bloody Code” and this was from 1816-1820. 5,583 sentences of death were handed down
and yet only 518 people were hanged. It’s said that many were pardoned, while
others joined the army or navy or were sent to Australia to eke out an existence there. Thankfully, from 1822 and through to the 1830s
many of these capital offenses were removed. One of the reasons for the change was the
introduction of police forces, which were supposed to help reduce crime rather than
the old tactic of just preventing crime by scaring people with the consequences. By 1861 there were just four capital offenses,
and they were murder, high treason, piracy with violence and arson in the royal dockyards. We are not exactly sure, though, what would
have happened to you then if you went out robbing rabbits from warrens with your close
gypsy buddies. We might also remember, in view of what we
see as absolutely heinous and despicable today, is that in England during the 19th century
there was still a capital crime of committing “the detestable and abominable vice of buggery
with mankind or beast.” Yes, that includes mere homosexuality. The last Brits hanged for this were James
Pratt and John Smith. Their execution was on 27 November, 1835. The reforms after 1822 weren’t exactly humanitarian
across the board. Our American viewers must now be thinking
that those Brits were a brutal lot, but those living in the new world were not always that
far removed from such brutality. America had its own terrible laws. While it’s hard to find exactly how many
homosexuals were executed in the U.S., even after its Independence from Great Britain
and the creation of new laws, it seems the country wasn’t all that progressive. One academic that wrote a paper on this says,
“It appears that in 1776 male homosexuals in the original 13 colonies were universally
subject to the death penalty, and that in earlier times, for a brief period in one colony,
lesbians had been liable to the same punishment for relations with other women.” We just can’t find any instances of the
death penalty being applied for homosexuality back then. We do know that Thomas Jefferson thought he
was being forward-thinking when in 1779 he tried to create a law in Virginia which meant
men convicted of sodomy would be castrated rather than executed, but his idea was rejected. Ok, on to the USA and it’s past capital
punishments, but first of all, what are the present capital offenses as the country hasn’t
given up the ghost just yet on killing people for crimes they committed. We are told that there are currently 41 such
offenses, and you all know the obvious, such as murder. The list contains many instances of how such
a murder can happen, such as murder at an airport, or in a drive-by shooting. But you can add to that list, “Destruction
of aircraft, motor vehicles, or related facilities resulting in death”, “Espionage”, “Death
resulting in destruction of government property”, “Genocide”, “Mailing of injurious articles
with intent to kill or resulting in death”, “Large-scale drug trafficking”, “Treason.” All of the others just about are related to
the willful taking of life. Even today people may receive the death penalty,
but many of those people are not executed. We are told that since 1976, 7,800 people
in the USA have been sentenced to death and just over 1,400 people have been executed. As of April, 2018, there are 2,743 people
residing on Death Row. We should add that some states, 20 at time
of writing, have abolished the death penalty altogether. Back in Colonial Times before America gained
its Independence you can of course compare capital offenses to those of Great Britain. Historians tell us that you might be sent
to the gallows in the 1600s and 1700s in the U.S. for witchcraft, stealing food, heresy,
trading with the local Indians, or when slaves killed their masters or master’s wives or
family, traitorous denial of the king’s rights, kidnapping, perjury in a capital trial, or
striking one’s mother or father (upon complaint of both). Another historian tells us you can add to
that horse theft, counterfeiting, adultery, arson, bestiality, piracy, slave revolt, concealing
birth, and burglary. From 1600 to 1700 the execution rate for crimes
other than murder kept dropping, but even after 1776 (when the U.S. gained it Independence)
there were still quite a lot of people being killed for their crimes when those crimes
were not murder. Not all states were the same. We are told that some states were much more
lenient, but then we found a list of capital crimes in North Carolina in 1937. These included many crimes we have already
listed, but also: highway robbery, dueling where death occurs, castration, hiding a slave
with intent to free him, bigamy (that’s marrying while married), circulating seditious
literature among slaves, inciting slaves to rebel, taking a free Negro out of state to
sell him, and also the vague crime of causing mayhem. Some states were way more progressive, having
heeded the writings of European enlightenment writers of the past. Things were changing, such as many social
critics writing that public hangings should be ended. Like in the UK, these live executions drew
in large, sometimes rowdy crowds. Then in 1846, Michigan became the first state
to abolish capital punishment. Wisconsin followed a year later. There were caveats, though, such as you won’t
get executed as long as you don’t perpetrate treason against the state. There was a kind of breakthrough in 1972 when
the Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was a cruel and unusual punishment, and for
three years it looked like an end to such punishment. Of course, things changed. From the beginning of 2018 to December 5th
2018 a total of twenty two people in the USA were executed for their crime. The last one was in Texas and the now dead
man’s name was Joseph Christopher Garcia. He’d escaped from prison in the year 2000
and he was accused of going on a crime spree after the escape with six of his fellow escapees. During that spree he was said to have killed
a police officer during a robbery on Christmas Eve. He denied this, but all men – except one
that committed suicide – were handed the death penalty. Only two are still alive and awaiting execution. After hearing all this, what is your take
on the death penalty? Should there still be one, or should it be
abolished. If not abolished, which crimes deserve to
be a capital offense? Tell us in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other show
Worst Punishments In The History of Mankind. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

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