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Invitation to an Execution

A History of the Death Penalty in the United States

Edited by Gordon Morris Bakken

Publication Year: 2010

Until the early twentieth century, printed invitations to executions issued by lawmen were a vital part of the ritual of death concluding a criminal proceeding in the United States. In this study, Gordon Morris Bakken invites readers to an understanding of the death penalty in America with a collection of essays that trace the history and politics of this highly charged moral, legal, and cultural issue. Bakken has solicited essays from historians, political scientists, and lawyers to ensure a broad treatment of the evolution of American cultural attitudes about crime and capital punishment.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Stamp

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

In November 2004, Evan J. Mandery of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York wrote, “It is meaningless, really, to speak about the death penalty in America without being geographically specific. Each death penalty state, as well as the federal government, has its own system of determining who shall be subject to capital punishment. These systems share ...

Part One

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pp. xi

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Introduction: Invitation to an Execution

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pp. 1-7

Invitations to executions were very much a part of the ritual of death concluding a criminal proceeding in the United States. Until the early twentieth century, lawmen issued printed invitations to executions. These invitations were the last gasp of public executions in death penalty ...

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Chapter 1: Politics and Capital Punishment: The Role of Judicial, Legislative, and Executive Decisions in the Practice of Death

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pp. 9-24

Since the first execution in 1630, America’s use of the death penalty has evolved significantly. From its historical roots to the modernized practices of contemporary society, these changes are seen in the legislative decisions on death eligibility and criminal procedure, to the executive functions of clemency, to the judicial interpretations of constitutional validity. This essay examines the role of the ...

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Chapter 2: Conflicts of Interest: Business, Death, and the Bird Court

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pp. 25-45

Other sections of this accumulated narrative, written by other authors, will delve into several of the individual controversies of the Rose Bird Court—that being, as the title implies, the subject of this book. The main purpose of my contribution is threefold: sections 1 through 3 describe the context in which Rose Bird arrived as the Chief Justice of California’s highest court in early 1977, and dwells primarily on her ...

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Chapter 3: Fear, Capital Punishment, and Order: The Construction and Use of Cap ital Punishment Statutes in Ea rly Modern England and Seventeenth-Century New England

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pp. 47-59

The greatest hopes and greatest fears of a ruling class are reflected in the legal codes that they create to fight disorder. The nature of the threat to society changes in nature over the course of time and is a reflection of the values of that society. The fears of a society evolve over time based on economic and class structures, religious beliefs, and perceived threats ...

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Chapter 4: Murder Most Foul: Native Americans and the Evolution of the Death Penalty

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pp. 61-76

The issue over how to treat native people in the United States was a problem that vexed Europeans since their first attempts at colonization in the sixteenth century. Early settlers who arrived on the shores of what would become America were simultaneously repelled by and curious about the indigenous people they came into contact with. Despite their fascination, however, the assumption of their own cultural ...

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Chapter 5: The Death Penalty in Federal Law

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pp. 77-95

Since the adoption of the Constitution, the Congress of the United States has made a number of crimes punishable by death. The Constitution itself only specifies one crime, treason, but does not specify a penalty. The maximum penalty chosen by Congress for the ultimate federal crime is death. However, many other statutes have been added to the list of federal capital crimes. Due to the nature of the American system ...

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Chapter 6: Ovines and Bovines

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pp. 97-113

There is much to be said about the settlement of the area west of the Mississippi in the middle to latter part of the nineteenth century. The first thing that strikes any visitor who has bothered to tour the land is its vastness. One can drive along the many odd-and ...

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Chapter 7: Amnesty International and the Death Penalty: Toward Global Abolition

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pp. 115-135

Founded in 1961 by a British barrister, Peter Benenson, Amnesty International (AI) has established itself as the world’s largest grassroots human rights organization. With more than 2.2 million members and supporters in 150 countries, no other organization compares in terms of global scope or international recognition.1 Described in one study as a ...

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Chapter 8: The Celluloid Execution: Hollywood Films and Cap ital Punishment

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pp. 137-190

In the darkened movie theater a sequence of familiar images appears on the screen: a murder, an investigation, an arrest, a trial, a conviction, a death sentence, and an execution. Hollywood filmmakers frequently use the device of crime and punishment to draw us into their cinematic storytelling. In fact, these images are ...

Part Two

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pp. 191

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Introduction II: Regional Analysis of the Death Penalty

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pp. 193-201

America developed regionally and much of death penalty practices followed. Regions have histories and much of the literature of state law acknowledges the regional heritage. The essays that follow are regional in nature and develop the most significant themes of death penalty practice in that context. ...

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Chapter 9: The Death Penalty in the South

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pp. 203-214

Capital punishment has been incorporated into southern legal systems since the first surviving English settlement at Jamestown in 1607. Just as the settlers brought their language, customs, and culture to North America, so, too, they sought to transplant their legal code and punishments. While the enforcement and applicability of the death penalty might ...

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Chapter 10: The Death Penalty in the North

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pp. 215-226

The North’s experience with the death penalty evolved from an unquestioning faith during colonial times that capital punishment was divinely sanctioned, to outright abolition in the twentieth century. Its origins were intertwined with English common law which changed in the years after independence. During the early nineteenth century, Americans in the ...

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Chapter 11: The Death Penalty in the Midwest

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pp. 227-242

The history of the Midwest contains fewer stories of violence than those of other regions. Racial lynching, vigilante justice, and capital punishment are seldom associated with states like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Yet, these states have not been without executions and the ...

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Chapter 12: The Death Penalty in the Great Plains

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pp. 243-263

The ten states of the Great Plains run along a regional fault line where North, South, and West intersect. The historical pattern of capital punishment in this vast and open area follows wider regional trends, and therefore divides almost predictably along these invisible geographic boundaries. Although the ...

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Chapter 13: The Death Penalty in the Pacific Northwest

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pp. 265-283

The Pacific Northwest—Oregon and Washington—has historically been a safe place for its white residents. The region was abundant in resources that could be easily tapped by the whites who sought to settle there. The region afforded its citizens, according ...

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Chapter 14: To Do No Harm: Medicine and the Death Penalty in England and Texas

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pp. 285-319

The “medicalization” of the death penalty, by the 1990s and early 2000s, was both a well-developed part of ongoing practice and a leading theme of the perennial debate surrounding the practice. Spurred by legislative debates and continuing litigation over the use of legal injection, advocates of abolition brought greater publicity to the extent of physician participation in the carrying out of ...

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Chapter 15: Means of Death: Methods of Execution in California, 1937–2007

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pp. 321-337

The State of California has continuously used the death penalty as a method of punishment for those lawfully convicted of certain criminal acts. From the day the United States annexed California as a territory in 1846 up until 1937, hanging was the sole officially sanctioned method of execution for condemned prisoners convicted in state courts. ...

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Chapter 16: Capital Punishment and Executions in Montana

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pp. 339-351

Montana has had a death penalty since the first miners trickled into its newly discovered gold fields in the early 1860s. Despite a long history of capital punishment, comprehensive criminological studies have been lacking. Even the compilation of a list of executions in the state, not attempted until ...

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Chapter 17: The Death Penalty in Arizona and New Mexico

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pp. 353-372

The United States purchased much of its modern southwest as a part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which officially ended the Mexican War. Two of the territories carved from this Mexican cession were Arizona and New Mexico. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, both territories served as ...

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Chapter 18: Arkansas and Missouri: The Death Penalty

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pp. 373-388

Changing attitudes and changing standards have been the hallmarks of the death penalty in the United States. Stuart Banner’s The Death Penalty: An American History (2003) exemplified the national debate concerning capital punishment. Mirroring aspects of the dialogue concerning the deterrent and the ...

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Chapter 19: Capital Punishment and Corporal Punishment

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pp. 389-401

Capital punishment carried out by private citizens independently of the courts is usually called murder, if it is executed by an individual, and lynching, if it is the work of a crowd. During the California gold rush, however, the tens of thousands of miners in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada found themselves in a peculiar position: there was at first no government, then a government but no courts, and then for some time a court system so inadequate to the circumstances as to leave the mining ...

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Chapter 20: Vigilantism during the Gold Rush

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pp. 403-411

... California in the 1850s was far from a stable, law-abiding community. The United States had acquired the territory as part of the Mexican Secession in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war with Mexico in 1848. Ironically, John Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill that same year and when the news spread, California’s population exploded with droves of prospectors hoping to make their fortune in the California gold fields. ...

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Chapter 21: The Death Penalty in California: 1857–1970

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pp. 413-430

The definition of murder was determined by the First Session of the California Legislature with the passage of the Criminal Practices Act of 1851. Murder was defined as the unlawful killing of another individual, with malice aforethought either expressed or implied, and “the punishment shall be death.” The Criminal Practices Act of 1851 authorized legal ...

Chapter 22: Capital Punishment Suggested Reading

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pp. 431-448


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pp. 449-451


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pp. 453-467

E-ISBN-13: 9780826348586
E-ISBN-10: 0826348580
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826348562
Print-ISBN-10: 0826348564

Page Count: 480
Illustrations: 1 halftone
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Capital punishment -- United States -- History.
  • Capital punishment -- United States -- States.
  • Executions and executioners -- United States -- States.
  • Executions and executioners -- United States.
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