Capital Punishment -- By: Daniel R. Goodwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 004:14 (May 1847)
Article: Capital Punishment
Author: Daniel R. Goodwin


Capital Punishment

Daniel R. Goodwin

Our readers will not be surprised at meeting the title of this Article in a Theological Review; for they must have observed that almost all, whether clergymen or laymen, who have hitherto discussed the subject proposed, have given it more or less of a theological aspect. The principles involved in the range which the discussion has taken, are fundamental in Christian as well as political ethics. We shall, therefore, offer no apology for introducing the subject here.

Yet we cannot dissemble that we have found it a most painful subject to reflect upon. So repulsive is the very thought of inflicting an ignominious death upon a fellow-being; so invidious is the position of defending penal severity, however just and necessary, against the claims of professed philanthropy, however misguided or miscalled; and such are the perfect chaos and furious mêlé in which this question of capital punishment has become involved—old landmarks abandoned, first principles disputed, almost every assertion or argument which is put forth with confidence on one side, challenged and disputed with equal confidence on the other—that our readers will give us credit for sincerity in saying, that the writing of the following pages has been to us not only no pleasant duty, but no easy task. Perhaps there is no subject in whose treatment flippancy, denunciation and personalities are more rife, or more entirely and grossly out of place. Should we be tempted to indulge in them, in any case, we humbly crave pardon of those who may feel thereby aggrieved.

The term “capital punishment,” as generally used in the following pages, will be understood to refer to the penalty of death for murder only. With the infliction of this penalty for other crimes, we are not at present concerned. As to its infliction for murder, our position is affirmative; but, at the same time, our general course of argument will be defensive.

It is proper that it should be so. Here is something which is assailed. Suppose no sufficient reason can be given for its abolition; shall it, then, be abolished? The question is not whether capital punishment shall be instituted. It is instituted. The question is, shall it be abolished? A law exists, has existed these four thousand years. Shall it be abrogated? This is the action which is called for. The abolitionists, therefore, (of course we use the word in its relation to the subject in hand) have the aggressive, and their opponents the defensive side. On the former, therefore, the burden of proof must practically lie.

We say this, not for the purpose of getting any advantage in the argument by any logical trickery ...

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