Rogues, Thieves, and the Rule of Law: The Problem of Law Enforcement in North-East England, 1718-1800

By Gwenda Morgan; Peter Rushton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX

Learning their lesson: the use of public punishments

Eighteenth-century law relied on the use of bodily punishments inflicted in public for maximum effect. The demonstration that justice had been done, and the criminal punished, was made possible only by such public spectacles. Criminals' bodies were the object of damage, mutilation or destruction through the use of whipping, branding or hanging. Only gradually were alternatives to these corporal punishments explored: policies of reforming the convicts by changing their minds through using reformative imprisonment were a late development (see Ch. 3). Opposition to corporal punishment was rare, criticism being confined to what might be called technical aspects of the process such as crowd control or the location of the event. Few late-eighteenth-century reformers rejected flogging or hanging as such: much of the discussion centred on the need to make them more effective. Others emphasized the need for public performance as a means of political accountability, an essential check on the state when it killed: otherwise, there would be secret killings or private reprieves. 1 While alternatives might be praised, there were few criticisms of corporal punishment on humanitarian grounds. It was not obvious to all eighteenth-century commentators that, as a later reformer put it, it was “absurd to suppose that by tormenting the body” the law could “reform and render virtuous the mind”. 2 While sensibilities slowly changed, there were no reforms in England to match those of Pennsylvania, which in 1786 abolished the public whipping-post and, in 1794, confined capital punishment to those convicted of first-degree murder. By contrast, the English clung to what John Howard called “the gothic mode of correction, viz., the rigorous severity which

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Rogues, Thieves, and the Rule of Law: The Problem of Law Enforcement in North-East England, 1718-1800
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Glossary ix
  • List of Tables xi
  • List of Illustrations xii
  • North-East England xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - The Character of North-East England 9
  • Chapter Two - Enforcing the Law 27
  • Chapter Three - The Patterns of Crimes and Punishments 47
  • Chapter Four - The Social Organization of Crime 77
  • Chapter Five - Common and Unnatural Crimes: Women and North-East Crime 97
  • Chapter Six - Learning Their Lesson: the Use of Public Punishments 125
  • Chapter Seven - Transportation 153
  • Chapter Eight - Correction and Imprisonment 171
  • Chapter Nine - Law and Disorder 191
  • Conclusion 215
  • Notes 219
  • Bibliography 261
  • Index 277
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