Corporal and capital punishment were, and in many parts of the world still are, part of legal processes. Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the purposeful infliction of pain for a crime. Capital punishment is the legal process where someone is put to death as punishment for a crime. The pain inflicted in corporal punishment can take on many forms; some examples include, paddling, whipping, flogging, and other forms resembling torture. Capital punishment on the other hand, involves the judicial sanction of killing and can be accomplished by, hanging, crucifixion, drowning, beheading, firing squad, lethal injection, and there can be countless other methods.
Corporal punishment can be traced back to the earliest of civilizations. In the Book of Proverbs it was written by Solomon to be proper to punish a child for his wrongdoings by beating him with a rod. The church encouraged the use of corporal punishment in medieval Europe; this lead to the widespread use of this form of punishment in schools as schools and the church were closely related. However, early on the use of corporal punishment had its critics. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Anselm, spoke out against the excessive use of corporal punishment towards children in school (Lambert, 2012).
In the 16th century the use of corporal punishment became public events. The theory behind this method was that if people saw these public beatings, they would feel less inclined to commit crimes for themselves. The English philosopher, John Locke, wrote “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” in 1693. In this work he strongly criticized the use of corporal punishment in schools. His work was extremely influential, and lead to the Polish government banning the use of corporal punishment in schools in 1783; it was the first country in the world to do so (Wiki).
During the 1870’s, the judicial system in the United States overruled the practice of a husband having the right to physically beat his disobedient wife. This practice was also abolished in the United Kingdom by 1891. By 1948 the use of corporal punishment was abolished altogether in the United Kingdom, except for extreme cases; most other European countries abolished the use of corporal punishment earlier on in the 20th century or even earlier. Corporal punishment, including the use of a cane or paddle in school remained in common use in the United States and in the UK until the 1980’s. Finally, it was not until the late 20th century that the United Nations and other national governments created laws and legislations to prohibit the use of corporal punishment.
Capital punishment, like corporal punishment, has its roots in the earliest of civilizations. One of the most basic ways of dealing with crimes throughout history has been “a life for a life”. As civilizations were built, capital punishment was used for punishment for crimes such as, sexual assault, treason, and military offenses. One of the earliest written documents supporting the use of capital punishment was the Code of Hammurabi written in 1760 B.C (Death Penalty, 2013); other ancient documents that supported the use of capital punishment included, the Torah, the Old Testament, and the writings of Draco, an Athenian legislator who advocated the punishment by the use of the death penalty for a great deal of crimes in ancient Greece (Death Penalty, 2013).
In ancient times, the death penalty was meant to be a slow and excruciatingly painful process. Lawbreakers were put to death by stoning, crucifixion, being burned alive, and in some cultures being stomped by a heard of elephants. As civilizations and cultures developed, the process of a slow and painful death was thought to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment, and people changed the practice so it would be more humane, at least as humane as one could be when putting someone to death. In the 18th and 19th century the preferred method of putting someone to death included, hanging or beheading by guillotine. These methods were much faster and less painful then the earlier forms. As with corporal punishment, these killings were done in full view of the public, with large crowds so that people would be deterred from committing such crimes that warranted being put to death.
The earliest colonies in the United States used the death penalty for a number of crimes including, murder, burglary, arson, and counterfeiting. It was not until the American Revolution, that the lawmakers in the United States began to revise policies of the use of capital punishment. In 1791, the 8th amendment of the U.S. constitution was written which prohibited the use of cruel and unusual punishment (Reggie, n.d). This did not abolish the use of capital punishment, but it did create a movement towards less painful and faster methods, similar to the movement in the use of corporal punishment. Thomas Edison in the late 1800’s, created the electric chair to be “nicer” form of execution. It was not until the 1970’s that the use of lethal injection was another option (Reggie, n.d).
Both methods of punishment, whether it is corporal or capital punishment, have caused much controversy. People that disagree with the use of the death penalty have stated that it is still a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Many states in the United States have stopped the use of the death penalty, and many countries have stopped the practice completely.
Death Penalty (2013, August 13) ProCon. Retrieved from: http://deathpenalty.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000025
Lamber, T (2012) A brief history of corporal punishment. Retrieved from: http://www.localhistories.org/corporal.html
Corporal Punishment (n.d) Retrieved: September 11, 2013. Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporal_punishment
Reggie, M. (n.d.) History of the death penalty. pbs. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/readings/history.html