Revisiting Beccaria’s Vision: The Enlightenment, America’s Death Penalty, and the Abolition Movement
134 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2011
Date Written: Fall 2009
In 1764, Cesare Beccaria, a 26-year-old Italian criminologist, penned On Crimes and Punishments. That treatise spoke out against torture and made the first comprehensive argument against state-sanctioned executions. As we near the 250th anniversary of its publication, law professor John Bessler provides a comprehensive review of the abolition movement from before Beccaria's time to the present. Bessler reviews Beccaria's substantial influence on Enlightenment thinkers and on America's Founding Fathers in particular. The Article also provides an extensive review of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and then contrasts it with the trend in international law towards the death penalty's abolition. It then discusses the current state of the death penalty in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Baze v. Rees and concludes that there is every reason to believe that America's death penalty may finally be in its death throes.
Keywords: death penalty, abolition, abolitionist movement, reform, Cesare Beccaria, Enlightenment, torture, execution, capital punishment, international, internet,history,eighth amendment,lethal injection,habeas corpus, Guantanamo detainees,court,cruel & unusual, retentionist, crimes, sentencing, criminology
JEL Classification: K14, K39, K49, H56
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation