Otherwise the death penalty must be considered as an unserviceable and neglected means of terror, merely to be printed in the codes; and in that case it would be acting more seriously to abolish it.
So regarded it is too much like those motionless scarecrows which husbandmen set up in their fields, dotted about with the foolish notion that the birds will be frightened away from the corn. They may cause a little alarm at first sight; but by and by the birds, seeing that the scarecrow never moves and cannot hurt them, lose their fear, and even perch on the top of it. So it is with criminals when they see that the death penalty is never or very rarely applied; and one cannot doubt that criminals judge of the law, not by its formulation in the codes, but by its practical and daily application.
Since the deterrent efficacy of punishments in general, including the death penalty, is quite insignificant for the born criminals, who are insensible and improvident, the rare cases of execution will certainly not cure the disease of society. Only the slaughter of several hundred murderers every year would have a sensible result in the way of artificial selection; but that is more easily said than done. And I imagine that, at normal periods, in no modern and civilised State would a series of daily executions of the capital sentence be possible. Public opinion would not endure it, and a reaction would soon set in.
 In every case I think that executions should take place in prison, and by means of a poison administered as soon as the sentence takes effect. In North America electricity has been tried, but executions by this process appear to be as horrible and repulsive as those by the guillotine, the garotte, the scaffold, or the rifle. (See the Medico-Legal Journal of New York, March and September, 1889.) From the ``Summarised Information on Capital Punishment,'' published by the Howard Association in 1881, I take the following figures on capital punishment in Europe and America:--
Death State. Sentences. Executions. Austria (1870-9) ... ... ... ... ... 806 ... 16 France (1870-9) ... ... ... ... ... 198 ... 93 Spain (1868-77) ... ... ... ... ... 291 ... 26 Sweden (1869-78) ... ... ... ... ... 32 ... 3 Denmark (1868-77) ... ... ... ... ... 94 ... 1 Bavaria (1870-9) ... ... ... ... ... 240 ... 7 Italy (1867-76) ... ... ... ... ... 392 ... 34 Germany, North (1869-78) ... ... ... 484 ... 1 England (1860 79)... ... ... ... ... 665 ... 372 Ireland (1860-79) ... ... ... ... ... 66 ... 36 Scotland (1860-79 ... ... ... ... ... 40 ... 15 Australia and New Zealand (1870-9... 453 ... 123 United States, about 2,500 murders annually--about 100 executions and 100 lynchings annually.
In Finland, between 1824 and 1880 there was no execution. In Holland, Portugal, Roumania, and Italy, capital punishment is abolished by law; and in Belgium virtually. Switzerland also has abolished it, but a few cantons, under the influence of a few atrocious and recurrent crimes, revived it in their codes, but did not carry it out. In the United States it has been abolished in Michigan, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Maine. An inquiry into the legislation and statistics relating to murder in Europe and America was instituted by Lord Granville in July, 1880 and the results were published in 1881. (``Reports on the Laws of Foreign Countries respecting Homicidal Crime.'')
In a manuscript register of executions in the Duchy of Ferrara between 970 and 1870, I found that, excluding the nineteenth century, there were 5,627 executions in 800 years (3,981 for theft, and 1,009 for homicide), that is an average of 700 in each century, in the city of Ferrara alone. And at Rome, according to the records of the Convent of St. John the Beheaded, between 1500 and 1770 there were 5,280 executions, or 1,955 in each century, in the city of Rome alone. Now, if we consider the proportion of population in Ferrara and Rome to that of Italy as a whole, we reach an enormous number of executions in former centuries, which can scarcely have been fewer than four hundred every year.
These were serious applications of the death penalty, to which we certainly owe in some degree the purification of society by the elimination of individuals who would otherwise have swelled their criminal posterity.