Capital Punishment: A World View

By James Avery Joyce | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
Britain Facing Both Ways

"You'll say I've killed a man. Marlborough killed his thousands, and Alexander his millions. I'm a little murderer and must be hanged. Marlborough and Alexander plundered countries: they were great men. I ran in debt with the ale-wife. I must be hanged. How many men were lost in Italy, and upon the Rhine, during the last war for settling a king in Poland? Both sides could not be in the right! They are great men; but I killed a solitary man."--Last speech of GEORGE MANLEY, hanged at Wicklow, Ireland. ( The Newgate Calendar, 1738)

IN 1955, ARTHUR KOESTLER'S REFLECTIONS ON HANGING APPEARED in Britain. When the history of the British abolition movement comes to be written, it may well be seen that this most widely read and discussed book helped to change the course of our social history and completed the process of a century or more, during which Capital Punishment in Britain had been under constant sentence. Within two years of the book's appearance, the Homicide Act was passed--a bad compromise which proved unworkable, even within the three following years, but which, at least, made some significant concessions to the spectacular stand of Koestler and his allies, who formed, in 1955, the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment.

In essence, Koestler asked this question: Why do governments-- one of whose high purposes is to deter people from killing each other--consider it necessary themselves to indulge in legalized killing? This question Koestler proceeded to answer by explaining the nature of public ignorance, an ignorance perpetuated by re-

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