Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-2-2021

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis



First Advisor

Jeffrey Watt

Second Advisor

Mary Thurlkill

Third Advisor

Tucker Carrington

Relational Format



Most scholarly work on the history of criticism of the death penalty focuses on Cesare. Beccaria’s famous treatise, On Crimes and Punishments, and its impact on future thinkers and abolition movements. This thesis examines other trends, thinkers, and movements involved in the criticism or abolition of capital punishment in sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century Europe. First, it argues that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries governments carefully orchestrated executions in order to foster acceptance of capital punishment. These attempts, however, were not entirely successful: early writings and trends reveal dissatisfaction with governments’ use of capital punishment. Second, it shows that during the early and middle eighteenth century, several thinkers developed sustained and reasoned criticisms of capital punishment that predated and diverged from those of Beccaria. Third, it demonstrates that late eighteenth-century laws abolishing or restricting the death penalty relied not only on the influential work of Beccaria but also on the innovations of still more historical actors and the circumstances of each reforming state. Thus, although this thesis certainly does not intend to undermine the groundbreaking work of Beccaria, it argues that the history of criticism of the death penalty is far richer and more complex than previously recognized.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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