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Executing Democracy

Volume Two: Capital Punishment and the Making of America, 1835-1843

Stephen Hartnett

Publication Year: 2012

This eye-opening and well-researched companion to the first volume of Executing Democracy enters the death-penalty discussion during the debates of 1835 and 1843, when pro-death penalty Calvinist minister George Barrell Cheever faced off against abolitionist magazine editor John O’Sullivan. In contrast to the macro-historical overview presented in volume 1, volume 2 provides micro-historical case studies, using these debates as springboards into the discussion of the death penalty in America at large. Incorporating a wide range of sources, including political poems, newspaper editorials, and warring manifestos, this second volume highlights a variety of perspectives, thus demonstrating the centrality of public debates about crime, violence, and punishment to the history of American democracy. Hartnett’s insightful assessment bears witness to a complex national discussion about the political, metaphysical, and cultural significance of the death penalty.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Series: Rhetoric & Public Affairs


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

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Preface: “What Follies and Monstrous Barbarities”

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pp. xi-xvii

In 1841, fourteen years before he would announce himself to the world as the no-holds Bard of All Things, young Walter Whitman began plying the rough-and-tumble world of New York’s newspaper scene with gritty articles depicting life in the Big Bad City. Competing ...

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pp. xix-xxiv

The idea for this book was hatched on a windswept and hard-raining night in the spring of 1999, when I found myself standing with thousands of other death penalty abolitionists outside California’s San Quentin Prison, where we were protesting the execution that was ...

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Chapter One. The Second Great Awakening and the “Grotesque Sublime” of Antebellum America

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pp. 1-62

The winter and spring of 1843 found politically minded New Yorkers in an uproar. While the pros and cons of Texas annexation, Martin Van Buren’s anticipated return from oblivion to presidential contention, possible war with Britain over Oregon, the “cold water” frenzy of ...

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Chapter Two. O’Sullivan and Cheever’s Death Penalty Debate, 1835–1842, and “The Highest Interests of Humanity”

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pp. 63-128

The first stage of the New York death penalty debates began in 1835, when Governor William Learned Marcy, perhaps recalling the complexities of the death penalty cases he adjudicated while serving on the New York Supreme Court from 1829 to 1831, appointed a committee ...

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Chapter Three. O’Sullivan and Cheever’s Death Penalty Debate of 1843 and “The Great Merciless Machine of Modernity”

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pp. 129-209

In the spring of 1842, following the New York state legislature’s second rejection of John L. O’Sullivan’s “Proposed Act” to abolish the death penalty, both O’Sullivan and George B. Cheever returned from Albany to New York City, where O’Sullivan resumed his editorship of ...

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Conclusion. Capital Punishment and the Dilemmas of Antebellum Modernity

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pp. 211-222

In 1852 Herman Melville published one of his strangest books, Pierre, or the Ambiguities. Apparently intended to be a best-selling romance novel, something went so wrong that the Boston Post railed that “the amount of utter trash” in the novel was “almost infinite.” The Albion chastised ...

Appendix. The Liberator Attacks the Death Penalty, 1842–1843

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pp. 223-227


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pp. 229-280


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pp. 281-306


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pp. 307-342

E-ISBN-13: 9781609173456
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860474

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Rhetoric & Public Affairs