It has been debated, defeated, passed, vetoed and in 2012 it was finally signed into law. I am talking about the repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut. If you thought it was a new debate, I can tell you it is not. It was a hot topic 200 years ago. I know because we recently acquired a pamphlet published in 1812 in which Philanthropos responds to objections raised against his first article on the subject published in 1803. Those objections were printed in Connecticut newspapers, leading me to suppose Philanthropos was a Connecticut person.
Philanthropos it turns out was opposed to capital punishment. One of his detractors referred to the Book of Romans for a quote: “Civil rulers are of divine appointment and vested with full power to execute justice among their subjects”. Philanthropos counters: “It would make but little difference with the sufferer, whether the punishment of death were inflicted by a rule of divine, or human appointment.” He continues: “We reverence and respect our good rulers; but we do not ascribe to them the divine attribution of infallibility.” Interesting that he seems to advocate for some form of separation of church and state, although his arguments make many references to Bible passages and to God.
In another refutation, I swear he must have seen the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise, because Philanthropos refers to punishing people before they have even committed a crime. “I believe that our lives are continually in more danger from some who have never committed murder, than from all those who have. Perhaps it would not be amiss to add, that in common cases, ‘to condemn a man, and put him to death for the preservation of the lives of others’ would be to anticipate crime! In such case, the capital punishment would be inflicted before the commission of the crime.”
In 2009 and again in 2012 when the death penalty was debated in the General Assembly, it was a passionate discussion. One blog post I found refers directly to the Bible and the conflicting passages found there. Many people have objected to capital punishment on moral or religious grounds. I think those people would find similar arguments in An Appendix to the Essays on Capital Punishments, 1812, which will be cataloged to our World Imprints collection.