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date: 22 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Although the death penalty often appears a timeless question, the last three centuries have witnessed dramatic changes in the frequency and organization of capital punishment in Europe and America. This essay examines the history of the death penalty and how it has reflected changing social and judicial ideas. The punishment became a target of intense complaint in the eighteenth century, which led to a dramatic decline in its use and its disappearance from public view. Yet while abolition excited passionate commitment, other groups remained committed to the retention of the death penalty, seeing it as vital to the security of society as well as a legitimate expression of a healthy emotion. The fortunes of abolition or retention have been shaped by political developments in particular nations at different times, and the penalty retains a unique ability to condense and channel powerful sentiments about the nature and goals of state power.

Keywords: death penalty, abolition, retention, execution, humanity, retribution

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