In the following pages, I will discuss the history, debate, past and current public opinion, and how it applies to American ideology and opposing values. Both sides have a fair amount of support and I have included direct quotes and paraphrasing from authors, celebrities, journalists, and ordinary people arguing both sides.
The history of the death penalty goes back to the earliest civilizations where it was used to punish all sorts of crimes from robbery, to murder, to different forms of heresy. In the United States it evolved to just punish murder, treason, and some cases of rape. It has been an issue that has sparked a never ending debate that goes back to colonial times. The general public traditionally supported the death penalty in a majority with only a few politicians speaking out against it (i.e., Benjamin Rush, Ben Franklin and later on Horace Greeley). Once the U.S. gained independence, each state went back and forth in abolishing and reinstating the death penalty and methods of execution.
The 1960s saw many trials concerning capital punishment cases that led to a ten year halt in executions. In 1965, the American Civil Liberties Unions (ACLU) announcement of their anti-death penalty stance was a sign of things to come. It was particularly important because the ACLU had always neglected to have an opinion on the issue because they believed it was not a civil rights issue. They now determined that capital punishment was inconsistent with underlying values of a democratic system. They explained that it discriminated against blacks and other minorities and did not comply with the eighth amendment of the constitution, in other words, it was cruel and unusual punishment (Vila, Morris:127). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples Legal Defense Fund (NAACP-LDF) also began to speak out in the mid-sixties. They agreed that the death penalty discriminated against blacks and launched a campaign against the death penalty around the same time. The LDF poured its resources into aiding death row prisoners which tied up the capital punishment cases for years allowing them to achieve their goal of a moratorium on the death penalty (Vila, Morris:131). From 1967 to 1977, there were no executions anywhere in the United States because of groups like these that rallied to oppose it, the particularly low public support of it, and a number of supreme court cases that decided in the favor of the abolitionist ...