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Crime: Its Cause and Treatment eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 200 pages of information about Crime.

XXII

EVOLUTION OF PUNISHMENT

Among primitive peoples the penal code was always short.  Desire for property had not taken possession of their emotions.  Their lives were simple, their adjustments few, and there was no call for an elaborate code of prohibited acts.  Their punishments were generally simple, direct and severe:  usually death or banishment which often meant death, sometimes maiming and branding, so that the offender might serve as a constant warning to others.

Primitive peoples early asked questions about their origin and destiny.  The unknown filled most of the experiences of their lives.  The realm of the known was very small.  They had no idea of law and system, of cause and effect.  They early began evolving religious ideas.  The manifestations of nature, the mystery of birth, the fear of death, the phenomena of dreams, the growth and harvesting of crops—­all of these were beyond their understanding.  They peopled the earth with gods to be propitiated and appeased.  Everything was the act of a special providence.  From early times religion and witchcraft furnished the chief subjects for the criminal code.

The penalties for the violation of the code were always severe, generally death, and by the most terrorizing ways.  No other crime could be so great as to arouse the anger of the gods, and naturally no other conduct should demand so severe a penalty as calling down the wrath of the gods.  This would fall not only upon the offending man, but upon the community of which he was a part.  Even as man developed in knowledge and civilization, this sort of crime continued to furnish the greater proportion of victims and the most cruel punishments.  Torture of the most fiendish sort was evoked to catch offenders and extort confessions.  Difference of religious opinions was the worst crime.  The inquisition became an established thing.  Sometimes a nation was almost wiped out that heretics should be killed and heresies destroyed.  The heretic was the one who did not accept the prevailing faith.  The list of victims of punishment on account of religion, witchcraft, sorcery and kindred laws has in the past no doubt been larger than for any other charges.

This kind of laws always called out the greatest zeal in their enforcement.  To the religious enthusiast nothing else was of equal importance.  It involved not only the life of man on earth but his life through all eternity.  Our statutes today are replete with such crimes, but the punishments have been lessened and, as a rule, communities will not enforce them.  But laws against blasphemy, working on Sunday, and Sunday amusements of all sorts, are still on the books and enforced in some places.  A large organization and an influential and aggressive part of the Christian Church are insisting that these laws shall be enforced to the limit and that still others shall be placed among the statutes of the several states.

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