Capital punishment has existed for centuries, but it was not always as quick and humane as it is today. Some early execution methods included boiling a prisoner to death in oil, dismembering a convict (often by having them drawn and quartered-a process in which four separate ropes are tied to a person’s arms and legs and then attached to a horse or other large animal. All four animals are sent running in different directions at the same time, effectively tearing off the prisoner’s limbs and allowing them to bleed to death), or placing the prisoner on a rotating wheel and beating them with clubs, hammers, and other torture devices. Many of these practices could take hours or even days to result in death, and the person being executed would be left in agony. A prisoner would sometimes be dealt a death blow, referred to as the coups de grace, after they had suffered for long enough.
By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the public began to view these brutal practices as barbaric and inhumane. At the start of the 19th century, Britain prohibited some of the more violent methods of execution. The country previously had been well known for their slow and painful execution methods for even very minor crimes. In fact, the laws that Britain had in place for several hundred years so often led to the The Death Penalty that they were later referred to as the “Bloody Code.” As courts revised the laws, certain acts remained still punishable by death, but the number of crimes was greatly reduced. The procedure for carrying out the sentence also became more humane.
In the late 1700s, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin had proposed a swift method of execution in the form of a machine that would quickly decapitate a person. The guillotine, invented in France right before the French Revolution, was a tall machine with a razor sharp blade placed inside of a wooden structure. An executioner would raise the blade and place the condemned person’s head underneath it. When the time had come, the blade would be released with enough force to bring about an instant death.
Another popular method of execution became more humane around the same time. While hanging had been a popular method of execution for years, they were often a long and agonizing process. The new, humane procedure called for inmates to be dropped at full speed after a noose was placed around their necks. Their deaths would be over in an instant.
The United States is responsible for introducing two types of execution that are considered to be among the most humane options available. The first is the electric chair, upon which the convict would be strapped and given an electric shock with enough power to kill them quickly. Another is the gas chamber, built to execute criminals quickly and without pain. A gas chamber consists of a small room completely sealed off once the prisoner is secured inside. Lethal gasses are then pumped into the room to carry out the sentence. A similar method of injecting poisons into the human body was also designed, called lethal injection, but many argue that this is a less humane and more painful experience than other options.
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