New Book on Nation’s Founders Debunks One More Death Penalty Myth

The average American could be forgiven for not knowing the name Cesare Beccaria, or his impact on this nation’s laws. John Bessler’s new book The Birth of American Law (Carolina Academic Press, 2014), however, seeks to change that by highlighting Beccaria’s influence upon America’s founders. Bessler’s recent Op-Ed in The National Law Journal (a free read by logging in) details Beccaria’s specific influence upon Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and others through his little-known work, On Crime and Punishments. The Italian philosopher deeply opposed the death penalty, and his work, once published into English in 1767, gained a foothold among the leaders of the burgeoning nation.

Nearly 250 years after the publishing of Beccaria’s English edition, criminal justice reform, of which the death penalty is a key part, reemerges as a major issue within American politics. None other than former President Bill Clinton recently claimed that candidates in the 2016 Presidential election would have to address these issues. In recent years, the Constitution has been a wedge in modern politics, yet Bessler’s work is a timely addition to the ongoing debate on the Founders’ intentions for the nation. Regardless, this book debunks yet another myth about the death penalty in America.

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