The Spear Era (1845 - 1917)

Although there had been Death Penalty Abolishment movements through out history, information on the people and groups are vague. In 1845, "The American Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment" was founded. The First English speaking jurisdiction to abolish the death penalty was Michigan (a territory at the time). In 1847 Michigan replaced the death penalty with a life sentence. The Federal government reduced the number of capital crimes down to 3 (treason, murder & rape). Many of the states made only murder and treason a capital crime (some of the southern states retained multiple crimes that were punishable by death).

Although the early abolishment movement was successful, many of the accomplishments were rescinded in the years that followed. Of the 16 states that had abolished the death penalty after 1845, only 7 states continued the ban in 1950 (Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Maine, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Puerto Rico (a territory)).


Charles Spear (May 1, 1803-April 13, 1863)

 Spear took up the idea of abolishing the death penalty at a time when the idea was widely regarded as a hopelessly impractical, even Utopian notion. For years Spear campaigned without stint to change public opinion and the laws, especially in Massachusetts and other New England states, but also throughout the country by means of his newspaper, The Prisoner's Friend (originally called "The Hangman). His long, unremitting and sacrificial efforts had their longed for effect. Application of the death penalty did come to be greatly restricted by law and custom.

In 1845 Charles Spear was appointed General Agent of the newly founded Massachusetts Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. In his Essays on the Punishment of Death, published the previous year, Spear articulated the arguments still used by opponents of capital punishment. He argued that because human life is sacred and capital punishment irremediable, execution is a blasphemous appropriation of divine power. He said a spirit of revenge is unworthy. He considered the horrifying and brutalizing effects upon everyone concerned with an execution—the prisoner, the prisoner's family, and the spectators.

"Spare the criminal," Spear pleaded. "The taking of his life will not bring back his victim; it will not prevent others from the commission of crime."


The Georgia Era (1917 - 1959)

No state abolished the death penalty between the years 1917 - 1957, but 3 had in 1957 and 1958 (Alaska, Hawaii and Delaware). One could speculate that 2 World Wars, the Great Depression and the holocaust, may have contributed to the silence on the abolishment movement. Georgia had more executions than any other state. During this period the constitutionality of the death penalty was not doubted, but that would change in the 60's.


The Furman Era (1960 - 1976)

 The 60"s and early 70's were a time of change and upheaval. Free love was coined during this time, mainly because of the introduction of "The Pill" in 1957. The Counterculture, Anti-war, Civil Rights, Feminism, Gay Rights and other movements were extremely popular and active, and the world left the 60's with a completely different outlook compared to when it entered that turbulent decade. 

The Anti Death movement was no different, Canada began a moratorium that lasted until the DP was abolished in 1976. The UK also abolished the DP during this period. In the United States an "implied" moratorium was enacted in the late 60's, due to all the law suits being filed. Then in 1972 the US Supreme Court heard the FURMAN vs GEORGIA case and ruled that all the death penalty statutes were unconstitutional (as they existed).

The Furman vs Georgia case, implemented an official moratorium. Over 500 death row inmates were spared and given alternate sentences, because of this landmark decision. The moratorium lasted almost 4 and a half years until the GREGG vs GEORGIA case was heard in 1976.

William Henry Furman was released from prison in 1984. In 2004 he was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 20 years at the age of 64.

For more information on click on the link:


The Texas Era (1977 - present)

Executions in the United States resumed in 1977, with execution of Garry Gilmore. Gilmore was executed by the unusual method of a firing squad after asking that all his appeals be dropped. Although Gilmore was executed in Utah, it is interesting that he was born in Texas. Prior to the Furman case Georgia had carried out the most executions, but after the landmark case Texas became the state that executed the most people.

The American Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment is very difficult to find (if it is not defunct), but there are many organizations that oppose the death penalty today. Some of them include (you can click on there name to go to there web sites):

There are also groups working against the death penalty (but the DP is not their mandate), 2 of these groups are:

 Although there has been over 1000 executions since the death penalty was resumed in 1977 in the United States, there has been some success for the Anti Death Penalty movement in this latest era. Executions of minors and mentally challenged people are no longer allowed, it should be noted that the definition of a "mentally retarted" person is difficult to define by many. The Gas chamber is almost a method of the past, many death row inmates have been exonerated and at the time of this writing, most executions have been placed on hold while the Supreme Court examines issues with lethal injection. It is not believed that the Supreme Court will find the method unconstitutional, but for people who are against the death penalty, it must be positive news.