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Opinions Throughout History: The Death Penality


Few subjects are more controversial than capital punishment– an issue that has forced Americans, and people around the world, to confront fundamental questions about morality and the role of the state. This volume of Opinions Throughout History looks at the evolution of this debate within the context of major events in the history of American criminal justice, from the nation’s first execution, in the famed Jamestown Colony of Virginia, to the cells of America’s modern “death rows” in 2018, where more than 2,700 people await state execution.

Tracing this history through the courts, the legislature, and the academic, religious, and popular debates that have surrounded the issue, this volume will reveal how American ideas about execution have evolved and continue to change as the nation moves deeper into the new century. Each chapter includes a valuable introduction and conclusion, a bulleted list of topics covered, a reprint of a particularly significant primary or secondary source document, detailed analysis and commentary of that document, images and photographs, and discussion questions.

Chapters cover:

Royal Traditions - Capital Punishment in the Colonies (1607–1670)

A Competition of Faith - Beginning of the Anti–Death Penalty Movement (1690s)

A Reason for Violence - America and the Ideals of the Enlightment (1764–1790)

Acts of Cruelty - The Origins of Cruel and Unusual Punishment (1641–1790s)

The Roots of Abolition - Early Studies and Laws Against the Death Penalty (1792–1820)

A Private Affair? - “Jacksonian Reform” and Capital Punishment (1800–1850)

Mandating Death - States Struggle with Sentencing (1800s–1840s)

The First Reform - The Debate Begins in Earnest (1840s–1852)

The Second Reform - The Progressive Movement Takes on Capital Punishment (1900s)

Industrial Execution - Invention of the Electric Chair (1880–1890)

A Test of Cruelty - The Evolving Definition of Punishment (1878–1910)

A Deadly Air - The Gas Chamber Is Introduced (1920s)

Execution at War - The Military and Capital Punishment (1775–present)

Crimes Against the Nation - Treason, Sedition, and Espionage (1798–1953)

Random Acts - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1940s–1970s)

The Right to Kill - Ongoing Support for the Death Penalty (1950s–1970s)

A Commitment to Do No Harm - Physician Involvement and Lethal Injection in Capital Punishment (1970s–2000s)

Rational Behavior - Capital Punishment and Insanity (1920s–1980s)

Age of Guilt - Juvenile Offenders and the Criminal Justice System (1800s–2000s)

Wrongful Execution - The Fallibility of the Legal System (1912–1980s)

In the Interest of Survivors - The Victim’s Rights Movement (1950s–present)

Death and Politics - A Rise in Support for the Death Penalty (1980s–1990s)

Extreme Crimes - Assassinations and Terrorist Attacks (1900s–present)

The Ability to Understand - The Death Penalty and Mental Capacity (1800s–present)

States of Execution - The Abolition Movement in Individual States (2000s)

Methods of Execution - Pharmaceutical Companies Become Involved in the Abolition Movement (2010s)

The Question of Deterrence - Societal Effects of the Death Penalty (1800s–present)

The Future of the Death Penalty

Each chapter discusses both primary and secondary documents such as newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, court decisions and other legislation. Accompanied by expert commentary and analysis, this volume will guide the reader through the process of how each document affected the changing attitudes on this important issue of public interest. These important documents are the cornerstone of each chapter, which features:

  • An informative Introduction that sets up the focus of the chapter, highlighting the primary source that is analyzed;
  • A list of Topics Covered in the chapter;
  • The Primary Source Document, clearly indicated and fully cited;
  • Thoughtful Analysis, averaging 1,500 words – that digs into specific sections of the document;
  • Sidebars that offer valuable background information;
  • Photos, cartoons, posters to support the topic and provide informative visuals;
  • A Conclusion that summarizes the chapter and reiterates main points;
  • Discussion Questions to help guide further conversation and debate about these current topics;
  • Works Used to make additional research easy.

In addition, front matter of Opinions Throughout History includes a detailed Timeline of significant events that impacted policy and public opinion, and back matter includes an extensive Historical Snapshot that offers an interesting list of significant firsts, events, books, movies, legislation, trends, offering a snapshot of what was happening in the U.S. while public opinion was evolving, a Glossary of terms related to capital punishment, and a Bibliography. A detailed Index closes the volume.

This new series will be a must-have source for high school and undergraduate libraries, history collections, criminal justice collections, and public libraries of all sizes.


View a Full List of Titles in the Opinions Throughout History Series

Pub. Date: August 2019
Hardcover: 500 pages
ISBN: 978-1-64265-066-2
Price: $195
Includes Free Online Access on the Salem Press Platform
e-ISBN: 978-1-64265-067-9
eBook User Price: $244