Peter Garnsey examines the contrasting arguments of the two abolitionists, who drew from different intellectual traditions. Pelli was a devout Catholic influenced by the writings of natural jurists such as Hugo Grotius, whereas Beccaria was inspired by the French Enlightenment philosophers. While Beccaria attacked the criminal justice system as a whole, Pelli focused on the death penalty, composing a critique of considerable depth and sophistication. Garnsey explores how Beccaria’s alternative penalty of forced labor, and its conceptualization as servitude, were embraced in Britain and America, and delves into Pelli’s voluminous diaries, shedding light on Pelli’s intellectual development and painting a vivid portrait of an Enlightenment man of letters and of conscience.
With translations of letters exchanged by the two abolitionists and selections from Beccaria’s writings,Against the Death Penalty provides new insights into eighteenth-century debates about capital punishment and offers vital historical perspectives on one of the most pressing questions of our own time.