Defense Date

31-3-2011

Graduation Date

2011

Availability

Immediate Access

Submission Type

thesis

Degree Name

MA

Department

History

School

McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Holly Mayer

Committee Member

Elaine Parsons

Keywords

Benjamin Rush, Capital punishment, New England, Penitentiary, Prison, Thomas Thatcher

Abstract

Criminal justice reforms of the early American Republic stand as an often examined area of research, but one source of explaining these changes is often neglected. By analyzing New England execution sermons preached from 1674 to 1825 several theological and ideological changes can be demonstrated that contributed to the growing rhetoric of reform. Such changes included opposition to the doctrine of original sin, an expansion in the understanding of salvation, and growing religious pluralism and. Due to these theological and ideological shifts, the sermons also show the movement from near universal religious support for the longstanding public execution ritual to an emerging opposition to this form of punishment. These religious elements were then used by reformers during the first decades of the American Republic to challenge the use of capital punishment. Although the changes present within execution preaching do not entirely explain the numerous calls for the elimination of death as a form of punishment and the embrace of the penitentiary for reform, these shifts were crucial for reformers such as Benjamin Rush, Edward Livingston, Thomas Upham, and Robert Rantoul Jr. This study then demonstrates rhetorical shifts that allowed for the possibility of temporal reformation within a penitentiary to be possible. Sin and crime became discrete ideas, sin a moral failing and crime a deviant act, and although deviancy was no more desired in society than sin, it could be both prevented and potentially reformed.

Format

PDF

Language

English

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