Publication information

Hamilton Review
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Death Penalty”
Author(s): Naylor, A. H.
Date of publication: December 1901
Volume number: 15
Issue number: 3
Pagination: 75-77

Naylor, A. H. “The Death Penalty.” Hamilton Review Dec. 1901 v15n3: pp. 75-77.
full text
Leon Czolgosz (execution); Leon Czolgosz (execution: personal response); death penalty.
Named persons
Thomas Barrett; Harry H. Bender; Leon Czolgosz; Henry VIII; Marie Joseph Lafayette; Daniel O’Connell; Peter Robinson; Samuel Zephon.

The Death Penalty

     It is the 29th day of October, 1901. Here and there a faint streak of sunlight begins to creep down the walls which loom up on every side, and across the courts. Without, the humdrum rattle and roar of awakening life betokens the advent of another day. Within, the silence is maddening. Far up the corridor appears a strange and solemn procession. As it passes window after window the faces pressed against the cold bars look unusually drawn and white. Not a word, not a sound passes their lips as the little band wends its way to the chamber of official murder. The central figure, straight and firm, eagerly steps forward, stumbles slightly on the mat before the chair and then sinks down into its ghastly apparatus. Swiftly and silently the straps are adjusted, while the [75][76] victim in a low, unbroken tone speaks his last. At a sign from the warden the switch is turned, and like a flash that human form straightens and stiffens until the leather bands which hold it break the awful silence with their sickening creak. Once, twice, thrice, his body stiffens and relaxes. As it is released and laid upon the table, the awe-stricken spectators hasten one by one from the room.
     O, nation, where is thy virtue? Where is thy God? True, a noble man was sacrificed—shot down at the hand of an assassin. And his was a martyr’s death. A nation, a world bowed with terrible heartache over his grave. Men, women and children rose in wrath against the murder. Their frenzy was fearful to behold. The cowardly assassin must be punished.
     Yet now that both have passed beyond this world into the presence of their Maker, we ask whether or not our purpose has been achieved. Have we deterred? Have we reformed? Have we warned?
     We have not prevented murder. The death penalty has slain its thousands and tens of thousands, but still its awful work goes on and its power is defied. The seventy-two thousand executions during the reign of Henry VIII. did not put a check to crime. It even provoked new outrages. The recent execution of Zephon at Philadelphia, did not prevent four other murders near the scene within two days. The hanging of Barrett at Worcester for rape and murder, did not prevent another murder close at hand within ten days. It has been in operation for five thousand years and has done its best. When, O when, will the term of trial end?
     We have not reformed the assassin. The thought of death is not the most terrible. The sick die calmly. Thousands have gone down on the battle-field. Suicides are common. Robinson, of New Jersey, standing on the scaffold called for a band and 20,000 spectators, declaring that he had suffered too much poverty and misery in this life to care very much about leaving it. Czolgosz entered the chamber of death the coolest man of that company. He died with a curse upon his lips, and with the assertion that he was not sorry for his crime. Far from reforming, we launched him into an eternity whence repentance comes too late. We took from him all chance of a better life, of reform, and self-realization. “Thou shalt not kill,” saith Jehovah. Here is an obligation to guard the sanctity of life most scrupulously. Christianity makes the taking of human life doubtful and fearful. For life is the immediate gift of God to man—which neither he can resign nor can it be taken from him, except by the will of Him who gave it.
     On the other hand, official killings have done irrevocable wrong. In their attempts to punish the murderer, they have themselves been slayers of innocent blood. Lafayette said: “I shall ask for [76][77] the abolition of the penalty of death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated.” O’Connell says: “I myself defended three brothers of the name Cremming [sic], within the last ten years. They were indicted for murder. I sat at my window as they passed by after sentence of death had been pronounced. Their mother was there, and she, armed with the strength of affection, broke through the guard. I saw her clasp her eldest son, who was but twenty-two years of age; I saw her hang on the neck of her second, who was not twenty; I saw her faint when she clung to the neck of her youngest boy, who was but eighteen. And I ask, what recompense could be made for such agony? They were executed—and—they were innocent.”
     Let law and religion be supreme. Let the weak be helped, the violent restrained, not destroyed. Let the guilty be punished. They should be punished. Let them know that they will be punished, surely and justly. Let the murderer, the violator of God’s holy law, and the destroyer of man’s sacred life, know that he will suffer—not by his own blood, but by exile and lonely solitude, where repentance and bitter remorse are certain. Let each one of us say with Mr. Bender, who was there on that awful morning, “I want never to see another.”