War and Economic Depression Overshadow Capital Punishment, 1918-1959
Comparatively little public attention was paid to capital punishment during the tumultuous four decades from 1918 to 1959. Following World War I, the United States struggled to adapt to fundamental demographic change as it surged from economic boom to prolonged depression to global war to another depression, another war, andfinally -- economic recovery and prosperity.
The reform movement in the United States declined during the second decade of the twentieth century as Americans were more occupied with external than domestic affairs. Although many had envisioned World War I as extending the ideals of progressivism to the world at large, the war itself actually deepened ethnic divisions, threatened civil liberties, and sapped the idealism of a generation ( Wade 1993). While abolition of capital punishment remained on many reformers' agendas, it tended to rank well below priorities such as relief programs for the poor and unemployed, civil rights, and political reform. Oftentimes, as we discuss later, it appeared that only the occasional celebrity case kept capital punishment from receding entirely from public view.
An important consequence of the urban growth that had begun a decade earlier was felt in 1920 as, for the first time, more than 50 percent of Americans lived in urban areas. The consequences of this