INEFFICACY OF DEATH-PUNISHMENT.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
Clapham New Park, Surrey, 28th December 1841.
DEAR Sta—The Spectator of the 25th instant contains an article on "Death Punishments," in which the inconclusive nature of all arguments upon the subject drawn from Scripture is very accurately exposed. If the Christian world were universally agreed as to the interpretation to be applied to the various passages in the sacred writings which bear upon the point, these passages would of course come at once with the stamp of authority, and would be submitted to by all persons professing the Christian faith; but until-this state of things can be attained, it will always be undesirable to bring the words of revelation into a discussion which can be settled by other means.
In stating that the question is one which admits of settlement by the ordinary operations of reason, I wish to remark upon the unnecessary perplexities which have been thrown around it, and to recall your attention to a point which seems to me to be sufficient to convince the most sceptical of the inex- pediency of inflicting death as the penalty for the crime of murder.
Those who will take the trouble to refer to any.considemble number of cases of murder, will be struck by the remarkable fact, that the homicidal is almost invariably accompanied by the suicidal tendency. They will discover, that those who are in the state of mind which lads to the perpetration of that crime, are at the same time desirous of self-destruction ; and that in a proportion of at least two out of three cases, this peculiarity is evidenced either by the circumstance that the individual has attempted suicide previously to the per- petration of the murder—that be has destroyed himself immediately after- wards— that he has given himself up to justice, expressing at the same time a desire to be hanged—or that by his conduct previously to the offence he has evinced the absence of any solicitude to escape from its consequences. Now it
is doubtless a startling conclusion, that the punishment of death, by minister- ing to the- suicidal propensity, operates as a stimulant to the perpetration of the very crime which it Is intended to repress: but startling though it be, it is one to which, by a consideration of the mrenunstances to which I have alluded, we are inevitably led.
In No. 651 of the Spectator, (19th December I840,) I illustrated this point by extracting from the Annual Register an account of all the murders recorded therein as committed in Great Britain during a period of five years from 1830 to 1835 inclusive. They amounted in all to thirty-one. Of these, in ten cases the perpetrators surrendered themselves to justice, expressing in most instances a perfect readiness, and sometimes an eager desire, to meet the fate that awaited them; in three cases the murder was followed by the immediate suicide of the culprit; in two cases suicide had been attempted previously to the perpetration of the homicide ; and in five, the parties showed by,their general conduct the absence of any wish to escape from the consequences of the act ; thus making a total of twenty out of thirty-one cases in which the desire for self-destruction was snore or less clearly manifested. The records from which these details were collected are extremely limited ; and it is probable that if I had been in possession of the full particulars of each transaction, I should have been able to show that in a majority of the remaining eleven cases the union of the suicidal with the homicidal tendency had been no less strongly manifested.
About the middle of last month, when the public mind was excited upon this subject by the recent case of BLAKESLEY, I was induced to look over a file
of the daily papers to see how far my views would be carried out by the ex- perience of the few preceding weeks. I went through a period of little more than two months, and met with the following cases September. " Suicide and Murder.—A policeman at Abergavenny, named Powell, murdered a woman with whom he had cohabited, and immediately after- wards drowned himself. Both bodies were found at the same time." "Murder in Bristol.—On Thursday, a man was stabbed in the public thorough- fare of Bristol. It was dark at the time, and the perpetrator was unknown to the deceased. He escaped into a house ; but immediately upon seeing a police- constable, exclaimed, 'Jam the man who did it."
"Horrible Murder.—The Louisville Tablet contains the particulars of an awful murder by Mrs. Roper, who cut off the heads of three oilier own children with an axe. It was her Intention to have killed two more in the same manner, and afterwards hang herself with a hank of yarn; bat she was prevented by the interference of her husband."
"Murder and Suicide at Haywood.—A poor woman and her child were taken into custody on a charge of stealing half-a-crown. She was locked up ; and on the following morning was found to have murdered her child, and to have terminated her own existence by hanging."
October.—" An inquest was held on the body of a linendraper at Camden Town. Latterly the deceased had bad some difficulty in business, and bad frequently been heard to declare that he 'would murder some one.' Speak-
ing of a person who had offended him, he said, 'The villain has only three days to live ; by God I will murder him.' He repeated this several times, and
added that he had no value for his own lift. Be went out to get some pistols, for the purpose, as he said, of murdering this person ; but he was eventually captured. He was attacked by a fit on the way to the Station-house, and sub- sequently died in the Marylebone Infirmary."
"Shocking occurrence at Gainshorongh.—A young man, named Wilson, in a fit of jealousy attempted to murder the object of his affection. He made a
plunge with a knife at her side; but having hit against a rib, the fatal purpose was not effected. After striking the blow, the assassin ran off; and was never seen afterwards till discovered next morning hanging upon a pear-tree guile dead."
"St. Alban's. Jabez Kirk, private in the Thirty-fourth Regiment, was brought up charged with an attempt to murder Jane Pearce. The prisoner
had passed the night with her at a public-house, and in the morning arose and cut her throat with a razor which he had previously borrowed. He then raised a cry of 'Murder!' and upon the landlord answering his call, he ex- claimed • Send for the police to take me into custody.'" November.—" Thomas Johnson, confined in Beverley Gaol on a charge of poaching, has made a full confession of the murder of a gamekeeper, three years back. Many innocent persons have been from time to time suspected of com- mitting the decd."
"Shocking Tragedy at Burnley.—Robert Morris, private, Sixtieth Rifles, stabbed the Lieutenant of his Regiment, and a girl named Isabella Hadden. He immediately afterwards stabbed himself. All these deeds were perpetrated in about two minutes."
It will be observed that the cases to which I have alluded extend over apecific periods; and they will therefore possess more weight than merely Isolated illustrations. If I were to select cases of the latter description, I could furnish proofs of a still more irresistable kind. Thus, I may allude to a case which is upon record, of a woman at Onolbach, who murdered a girl with whom she
was on the best terms, merely because she wished to die; and she thought that
by committing murder, she would have time allowed for repentance, which she would not have were she to destroy herself. In 1822, a woman murdered her
child in Bethual Green ; exclaiming immediately afterwards, that she wanted to be hanged. Last year, a man shot his wife at Mitcham; and when secured, said, "I have done it—I have done it : I have murdered my wife, and I hope I shall be hung." And at -the commencement of the present year, a woman at Norwich murdered a child to whom she had been much attached, for no other reason than that she herself was "tired of life," and wished to be put to death by the operation of the law. It is from the observation of occurrences of this description that Dr. JAMES JOHNSON has remarked, "There are many instances on record where the mo-
nomaniac lacks courage to commit suicide, or cannot make up the mind as to the means of accomplishing it : under which circumstances, they have com- mitted capital crimes with the view of being capitally punished."
From the above facts it will be seen, that the coincidence of the suicidal with the homicidal propensity is not an accidental circumstance, but one that arises
from some natural law of the human constitution. It will be seen that the class of persons by whom the crime of murder is committed are not affected by the dread of death, but that the so-called "punishment" is actually regarded by them in most cases as a desirable infliction ; and we shall therefore be led to the conclusion, that however unsuitable death-punishment may be for other crimes, it is most especially so for that of murder. If it be true that this class of offenders are animated by a desire for self-destruction, to hold out self-destruction as a consequence of the offence must be as sure a way of
affording a stimulus to its perpetration as would if in cases of theft we were to "punish" every offender by presenting him with a purse of money.
Hence, I do not hesitate to express my belief, that so far from capital punish- ment having ever operated as a preventive of homicide, it has actually in
many cases furnished an additional motive to the perpetration of the crime, and that a remarkable diminution in the number of murders by which our country is annually disgraced would be the immediate consequence of its abolition.