Cover image for Rites of execution : capital punishment and the transformation of American culture, 1776-1865
Title:
Rites of execution : capital punishment and the transformation of American culture, 1776-1865
Author:
Masur, Louis P.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1989.
Physical Description:
viii, 208 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780195048995

9780195066630
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, Western societies abandoned public executions in favor of private punishments, primarily confinement in penitentiaries and private executions. The transition, guided by a reconceptualization of the causes of crime, the nature of authority, and the purposes of punishment, embodied the triumph of new sensibilities and the reconstitution of cultural values throughout the Western world. This study examines the conflict over capital punishment in the United States and the way it transformed American culture between the Revolution and the Civil War. Relating the gradual shift in rituals of punishment and attitudes toward discipline to the emergence of a middle class culture that valued internal restraints and private punishments, Masur traces the changing configuration of American criminal justice. He examines the design of execution day in the Revolutionary era as a spectacle of civil and religious order, the origins of organized opposition to the death penalty and the invention of the penitentiary, the creation of private executions, reform organizations' commitment to social activism, and the competing visions of humanity and society lodged at the core of the debate over capital punishment. A fascinating and thoughtful look at a topic that remains of burning interest today, Rites of Execution will attract a wide range of scholarly and general readers.


Summary

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, Western societies abandoned public executions in favor of private punishments, primarily confinement in penitentiaries and private executions. The transition, guided by a reconceptualization of the causes of crime, the nature of authority, andthe purposes of punishment, embodied the triumph of new sensibilities and the reconstitution of cultural values throughout the Western world. This study examines the conflict over capital punishment in the United States and the way it transformed American culture between the Revolution and theCivil War. Relating the gradual shift in rituals of punishment and attitudes toward discipline to the emergence of a middle class culture that valued internal restraints and private punishments, Masur traces the changing configuration of American criminal justice. He examines the design ofexecution day in the Revolutionary era as a spectacle of civil and religious order, the origins of organized opposition to the death penalty and the invention of the penitentiary, the creation of private executions, reform organizations' commitment to social activism, and the competing visions ofhumanity and society lodged at the core of the debate over capital punishment. A fascinating and thoughtful look at a topic that remains of burning interest today, Rites of Execution will attract a wide range of scholarly and general readers.


Author Notes

Louis P.Masur, a professor of history at the City University of New York and the editor of Reviews in American History, is the author of Rites of Execution: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of American Culture, 1776-1865. He lives in New Jersey.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Louis P.Masur, a professor of history at the City University of New York and the editor of Reviews in American History, is the author of Rites of Execution: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of American Culture, 1776-1865. He lives in New Jersey.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 1

Choice Review

Masur (University of California, Riverside) traces the intellectual, moral, and political considerations that altered American attitudes toward execution during the first century of our national life. Growing sensitivity, due in large part to the 18th-century Enlightenment, led to the elimination of the death penalty for a whole range of crimes and its restriction principally to cases of first-degree murder. Another major theme in Masur's presentation concerns the transformation in sentiment that led by the 1830s to the elimination of public hangings. Masur recounts a number of celebrated executions and discusses a number of figures who played a prominent part in the campaign to abolish the practice altogether, from Dr. Benjamin Rush, the prominent Philadelphia physician, to the Reverend Charles Spear. Sometimes the dispute became entangled in the theological warfare of the 19th century, the orthodox tending to favor the permanent elimination of the criminal, while the liberal religionists, with their more optimistic view of human nature, stressed the sanctity of human life and the possibilities of rehabilitation. One might quarrel with Masur's sometimes-too-facile summaries of reasons for transformations in public sentiment, but such a reservation does not detract from the value of this intelligent, informative, nonpartisan, and eminently readable discussion of this life-or-death matter in American history. College, university, and public libraries. -E. Cassara, George Mason University


Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
1. Ritual and Reform in Antebellum Americap. 9
2. The Design of Public Executions in the Early American Republicp. 25
3. The Opposition to Capital Punishment in Post-Revolutionary Americap. 50
4. The Dream of Reformation and the Limits of Reformp. 71
5. The Origins of Private Executions in Americap. 93
6. Anti-Gallows Activists and the Commitment to Moral Reformp. 117
7. The Conflict over Capital Punishment in Antebellum Americap. 141
Epiloguep. 160
Notesp. 165
Indexp. 199