Public Hangings Essay

This essay has a total of 1386 words and 6 pages.

Public Hangings



Capital punishment seemed to have been regenerated from the beginning of mankind, where
beheading was considered an honorable method of meeting death, whereas hanging carried
with it a definite stigma. The era of public hanging was emotionally satisfying even
though the surroundings was emotionally tense. In contrast to private hangings where they
were fewer observers, less theatrical from the accuse and hanging was becoming more of
an inhuman punishment to inflict on those found guilty of their crime. Both forms of
hangings were though to be an effective way of preventing individuals from committing a
crime. Capital punishment seemed morally acceptable, to the public and there were
individuals who were willing to carry out the execution. From the books; "…Hang By the
Neck…", Hanging in the Balance and The trail of the Dinosaur, gives descriptions of public
and private hangings, the responsibilities of the hangman and the general reaction of the
public, who were for and againts hangings.

In the days of public hangings, gallows or scaffolds were rather crude contraptions. Early
contraptions consisted of two post in the ground, with a cross-piece between them from
which the victim swung. As the years passed by a second contraption was invented, a single
stout post with a timber nailed at a right angle at the top, with supporting boards
attached. A third contraption was made which was a platform erected nine or more feet from
the ground, in the middle of which was a trap door which swung upon hinges. This latest
invention was commonly used towards the end of public hangings. In private hangings the
same contraption was used, but the individual were taken down a lot quicker, for their was
no need to display the executed to curious observer.

Public executions were grim and was a disgusting spectacle to the accuses’ family and
close friends, but for most individuals it was a time to rejoice and to celebrate. When a
crowd assembled to witness a public event, they were out in a holiday mood. Hundreds of
people came from long distances to view a hanging, concessionaires had money invested in
trinkets and food to be sold at what they called jamborees. Public hanging were often
imitated in plays, which were seen as despicable form of entertainment towards the victim
and the accuses family. The scenes attending the hangings were for large gatherings from
far and near, mostly bent on idle curiosity or for a grand jollification.

" Hanging day" were during the eighteenth and up to half of the nineteenth century, the
equivalent of national bank holidays, only more frequent. No single event brought more
spectators in those years than a public hanging. People would drive from miles around and
some individual would camp in the vicinity for several days before the event. The
individuals who made a great profit during this period were the vendors, pick-pockets,
promoters, peddlers and medicine men, all would descend upon the town before the fatal
day. Bringing along toy-like gallows, with a miniature person to hang at the same moment
as the real individual was being executed. Other noticeable sight-seers were religious
groups such as the evangelists, the accused family and friends. In most the towns in the
USA the mayor issued proclamations of warnings, making saloons and taverns closed for a
short period of time before and during the hanging. But despite such precautions, brawls
and arguments took place, which led to murders being committed and those individuals later
being hanged. " In 1807 the crowd of forty thousands became so crazed and outraged at the
execution of Holloway and Haggarthy" , it nearly left a hundred dead, dying or lying in
the street when the show was over.

Towards the end of the 19th century a growing public feeling was in favor of privatizing
the hangings. " On February 16 1841, the first motion to abolish public hangings was
introduced into parliament" , and it was greeted with laughter from the public. They
showed no sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness, nothing but
drunkenness and flaunting on their behalf. In the privatized hangings in the early days,
they were done behind the prison gates but outside the jail walls. Where any curious
viewer could climb a tree or sit on top of a roof and still observe the hangings being
performed. But with the growing public some were still getting injured and laws were
starting to be instated to protect the well being on the public during these events. The
laws of 1830 and 1840 were quite similar , it stated that "public opinions were calling
for hangings to be perform inside the county jails or in the state prisons".

The newspaper during the public hanging period often published articles that were treated
as ordinary mundane experiences, it was beginning to be very repetitive, with few
embellishments and some with no colorful headlines. This changed during the private era,
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