An Abolitionist's Survey of the
Death Penalty in America Today
Hugo Adam Bedau
Lest there be any doubt in the reader's mind, let me declare at the outset that I strongly oppose the death penalty no matter what the crime or the criminal. This will be evident enough later as this essay unfolds and especially when I offer an argument against capital punishment. My position to the side, perhaps the best place to begin this discussion of the death penalty in America and the controversies it has provoked is by summarizing its history in our country. That history is largely a story of efforts to limit and abolish it.
The first European colonist whose execution on these shores has been recorded is George Kendall, in Virginia's Jamestown colony. He was hanged in 1608 for the crime of “spying for the Spanish.” 1 In the subsequent four centuries an uncounted number—perhaps twenty thousand or more—of convicted murderers, rapists, horse thieves, spies, witches, and kidnappers, among others, have met a similar fate. No