chapter  9
7 Pages

A peculiar abolition

ByBharat Malkani

On February 6, 1837, Senator James Calhoun described slavery as the "peculiar institution of the South". Calhoun was defending slavery in the face of, in his words, an abolitionist "crusade" which had drawn attention to the fact that the rest of the country, like the rest of the world, had turned its back on involuntary bondage. This chapter argues that just as slavery and capital punishment were, and are, "peculiar institutions", so abolition of the death penalty in America will be "peculiar" because the process and outcome of abolition will be tied to America's particular history of racial subjugation, and efforts to tackle such degradation. It is hardly unusual for a country's path towards the abolition of capital punishment to be paved by that country's unique history. In the context of the death penalty, pragmatic and conservative approaches to abolition risk entrenching the very values that drive support for capital punishment in the first place.