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most laborious life, so long as there is any hope of escaping from it; and because moreover, the punishment of death is the most terrible of all penalties.”*
When in addition to all this it is recollected, that convicts when confined in prison, have not unfrequently murdered either their keepers or their fellow-criminals ; when it is remembered that with the best precaution they do not unfrequently make their escape, and are thus again let loose on the community; we are constrained to maintain the position, to which we are happy to find the Prison Discipline Society of our country, after all their extensive investigations on this subject firmly adhere: “ That the punishment of death for murder could not be abolished with safety”+-" that the law of God seems holy, just and good, Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."'t
5. But have human governments according to the light of reason a right to inflict this most effectual penalty ?
In maintaining the negative of this position, the opponents of capital punishments have employed the following argument. The rights of a community, say they, are only those ceded by the individuals composing it. But individuals have no right to take
away their own life or that of others ; therefore they cannot delegate such power to the civil government. Both branches of this syllogism are, if we mistake not, liable to objection. Is it not obvious, that the powers of any agent whether an individual or a community, arise partly from the nature of the agent and partly from the ends which he is obligated to accomplish? But governments are in both these respects different from individuals. Civil governments as such are of divine appointment, have authority from on high to be a terror to evil doers and a praise to them that do well. They are the vicegerents of Jehovah, designed to cooperate with him in the administration of a part of his moral government. As such they must possess
* Was nun die Praxis überhaupt anlangt, so ist mau selbst da, wo man die Todesstrafe aus einseitigem Menschlichkeitsgefühl abschaffer wollte, genötbigt gewesen sich ihrer wiederum zu bedienen, und zwar aus dem grunde, weil nach der herrschenden ansicht des sinnlichen Menschen, der Tod das grösste Ubel ist dem selbst das mühsamste Leben, so lange demslben zu entgehen noch Hoffnung übrig bleibt, vorgezogen zu werdeu pflegt, weil mithin die Todesstrafe die ab schrechendste ist. Conversations Lexicon L. 10, p. 10.
† Prisou Dis, Soc. Report for 1835, p. 911.
I p. 912.
authority to employ the most efficient means to accomplish the legitimate object of their appointment. Hence their powers must be different from those of an individual. And that means which is most efficient in effecting the great moral ends which God appointed for governments, cannot itself be immoral.
But should we concede for argument's sake, that the major proposition in the objection referred to is true, that the powers of government are only the aggregate of those belonging to man in his elementary state ; it is conceded that he has naturally a right to destroy a venomous animal or ravenous beast which threatens his life or that of his family; it is admitted that in selfdefence he may justly take the life of an intended assassin. Since then the actual murderer has proved himself at least as criminal and dangerous a member of society as he who only intended the act, does it not appear to be a natural right of every man (as penitentiaries belong not to a state of nature) to disable by maiming or death the murderer who has indisputably proved himself a dangerous neighbor, for the same reason that he would destroy a serpent or ravenous beast; for the same reason which justifies his destroying the intended murderer in selfdefence ?
Again, it is admitted by all, if we mistake not, that our police officers have a right to preserve the public tranquillity, to suppress riots by force, and to protect our citizens from the midnight assassin, even if necessary by destroying the rioters and murderers. Now, if governments possess no power but those delegated by individuals, and individuals cannot delegate what does not belong to them ; does it not follow that man possesses this power in his elementary state ?
Moreover, if the argument be valid, that because man has no right to take away his own life, civil government cannot possess such right either by delegation from him, or by derivation from the peculiar nature and duties of a government ; will not, by parity of reasoning, our penitentiaries also have to be abandoned ? for man in his individual capacity has no right to confine himself in a dungeon for life, thus necessarily neglecting all his relative duties to his family, the surrounding community and the world ; and having no such right himself he could not delegate it to government. We suppose however that according to the light of reason, man, both as an individual and as a member of the social and civil compact, does indubitably possess whatever right may be necessary for self-defence, protection and se
curity : and if capital punishment be in some cases the best means to accomplish this purpose, it is a legitimate penalty.
6. Does the power of inflicting capital punishment in case of deliberate murder, belong to human governments according to the Old Testament ?
This position admits of but little debate. That capital punishment of murder was commanded by Moses, appears from the bare recital of bis statutes on this subject. • He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall surely be put to death." *
“If a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile, thou shalt take him from mine altar that he may die." +
“ If he (any one v. 15), smite him by throwing a stone, wherewith he may die (i. e. which is of deadly size), and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he smite him with a hand-weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer; when he meeteth him, he shall slay him. But if he thrust him of hatred, or burl at him by lying in wait, that he die; or in enmity smite him with his hand that he die; he that smote him shall surely be put to death ; for he is a murderer : the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him." I
“ If any man hate his neighbor and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and feeth into one of these cities : (of refuge v. 7-9). Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee.” $
From these statutes it will follow, that unless Moses in his civil code commanded some things, which are in their intrinsic nature morally wrong, and sinful, every other government has a right under similar circumstances to punish wilful murder capitally, “ that it may go well with them.” Whether the circumstances of any government and people are ever so materially different from those of the Israelites, as to destroy the applicability of the Mosaic precept and example altogether seems very doubtful.
* Ex. 21:11. ^ v. 14. I Numb. 35: 17-21. Ñ Deut. 19: 11, 12, 13.
But independently of the Mosaic statutes, we find that God explicitly commanded the capital punishment of murder immediately after the flood, and therefore eight hundred years before the time of Moses, in his precepts to Noah, the second progenitor of our race.
“Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall bis blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”*
This command is doubtless general in its nature, its influence has been felt ever since in the four quarters of the globe, which were peopled by Noah's descendants; and it is worthy of remark, that the reason for the law, assigned by Jehovah himself, can have no special reference to any particular nation, but is equally true of all; all other nations were as much formed “in the image of God,” as that people which the Lord subsequently distinguished by his special theocratic guidance. The supposition that hava should be rendered will instead of shall be shed, appears highly improbable. The context indicates the imperative character of this verse. It is in the midst of a series of commands whose preceptive nature is undisputed ; and the form of the word is exactly what it must be, to express a command in the third person. For it need not be remarked, that the Hebrews have
third person in the imperative mood, and that the third person of the future is always used in its stead. We are therefore constrained to regard this passage as a universal sanction for the capital punishment of murder, unless it has since been revoked.
The case of Cain does not bear upon the question, whether civil governments may inflict capital punishment on the murderer ; because there was no civil government in existence at that time, which could have inflicted it; and this was probably the reason why God forbade any person from killing him, because no one was at that time regularly appointed for such purposes ; and the Lord designed to forbid private individuals violating the life of each other as he explicitly did afterwards in the decalogue, which prescribes the duties of individuals, not of governments. But should we adopt the case of Cain as an example for civil governments ; it will follow that the murderer must not be confined in prisons or penitentiaries, nay must not be arrested or prosecuted at all, but be suffered to run at large " as a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth.” Since then the legality of capital punishment of murderers under the Old Testament is indisputable, let us inquire :
# Gen. 9: 6.
7. Whether it is sanctioned or revoked in the New Testament.
It is conceded, that not every precept of the Old Testament is obligatory on us under the New dispensation. These prescriptions remain in force, only so far as they partake of the nature of the moral law, so far as the reason for their enactment continues, and the circumstances are the same. The primary design of the penalty as distinctly indicated in the Mosaic statute, remains in undiminished force, namely, “ that it may go well with us ;" that the welfare of the community may be secured, that the public good may be advanced by supporting the inviolability of the law. The reason assigned in the command given to Noah, “ whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” is likewise general, and fully applicable to all generations, because “in the image of God made he man.” It is true, the penalty of death was also assigned to some minor crimes, which we can suppress by lighter punishments; but the inspired lawgiver having found the terrors of death necessary in his age to suppress the minor offences, had nothing more terrible to prescribe for murder. Death still remains on the records of inspiration as the most powerful of all penalties; and hence governments at the present day, being under obligation to support the influence of the law and suppress murders, are authorized to use this penalty if a less one will not equally well secure the end.
It is conceded too, that the New Testament inculcates the general duty of forgiveness; but we regard that precept as intended totally to prohibit the spirit of revenge, and as primarily applicable to individuals; whilst in the various forms of social government, in the parental, the legislative and executive relations of life, it must be limited by such restrictions as experience and a conscientious judgment prove to be necessary to the public good. If we were to suppose it applicable to governments, it would necessarily abolish all punishment of every grade, and rulers would cease to be “a terror to evil doers.” This precept of the gospel is therefore perfectly consistent with the infiction of such penalty by civil governments, as are best calculated to enforce obedience to the law, and consequently approves of the capital punishment of the murderer, if, as we think has been proved, that penalty is more effective than any other on the whole community.
But there are several passages in the New Testament which