Capital Punishment in the United States: A Documentary History

By Bryan Vila ; Cynthia Morris | Go to book overview
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Part I
Early Views on Capital Punishment: Colonial Era to Independence

MOTIVATION FOR EARLY EMIGRATION TO THE "NEW WORLD"

From the first colonial settlements until the War for Independence, numerous social, political, economic, demographic, philosophical, and ideological changes took place in North America that contributed to the colonists' revolt. Many of these changes also had an impact on American attitudes toward crime and punishment -- including capital punishment.

To understand how these broad ecological changes eventually affected attitudes about capital punishment, it is important to look first at the historical setting in which the early American colonies were founded.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, Europe experienced an unprecedented period of innovation, growth, and expansion. Innovations in commerce, shipping, and the transmission of information enabled Europeans to conduct long-distance maritime trade on a large scale for the first time. At the same time, agricultural and industrial technology led to marked increases in productivity of food and other essential goods. As a result of these changes, the population grew rapidly, the cost of living rose, and people began to move away from farms to live and work in cities. This combination of factors increased the attractiveness of North America both as a new source of raw materials and as an outlet for excess population. For England in particular, emigration

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