Charles Lucas: “End the horrible spectacle of human murder” (1827)

Source : Charles Lucas. On the abnormal state of repression in France…, Paris, 1885, p. 151-153.

Extract of Charles Lucas. On the abnormal state of repression in France regarding capital crimes and the ways to remediate them, Paris, G. Pedone, 1885, p. 151-153. Charles Lucas (1803-1889) is a key figure in French penitentiary reform. Born to an upper-class family, he was a lawyer and a member of the liberal opposition to the end of the Restauration. In 1827, he published his first essay that quickly made him famous: On the penal system and on the system of repression in general and on the death penalty in particular. Named General Inspector of Prisons after the revolution of July 1830, he became one of the masters of what was called “penitentiary science” when he published On prison reform or the theory of imprisonment in 1836-1838. He strived, philanthropically, for a prison that would protect society, educate the inmates and allow them to reenter society. To reach this goal, he proposed a classification of penal institutions adapted to the diverse population of inmates, the development of prison education and the organization of useful training and work. He was against the death penalty, not so much for moral and religious reasons (ie life is a sacred right) as for the idea that it was a step towards progress. He thought that the establishment of organized prisons would help reeducate inmates, and thus attack criminality at its roots and prevent repeat offences. For more information:Bibliography on Criminocorpus.

Victor Hugo: The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1892)

Source : Collection of the museum of living history (Musée d’histoire vivante), Montreuil, France. Collection of the National Museum of Prisons.

A young Victor Hugo in “Victor Hugo” by Hippolyte Castille, collection Portraits Politiques, ed 185, Collection of the Museum of Living History (Musée d’histoire vivant – Montreuil) and the first page of The Last Day of a Condemned Man (National Museum of Prisons). Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was an ardent supporter of abolishing the death penalty all his life. The preface to the 1832 edition of The Last Day of a Condemned Man (first printed in 1829) explains the point of the book and vehemently denounced the death penalty, evoking the failed hopes of abolition the day after the Revolution of 1830. Extract from the preface to the 1832 edition: “As is seen, at the time when this book was first published, the author did not deem fit to give publicity to the full extent of his thoughts. He preferred to wait in order to see whether the work would be fully understood. It has been. The author may now, therefore, unmask the political and social ideas, which he wished to render popular under this harmless literary guise. He avows openly, that The Last Day of a Condemned Man is only a plea, direct or indirect, for the abolition of the penalty of death. His design herein and what he would wish posterity to see in his work, if its attention should ever be given to so slight a production, is, not to make out the special defense of any particular criminal, such defense being transitory as it is easy; he would plead generally and permanently for all accused persons, present and future; it is the great point of human right, stated and pleaded before society at large, that highest judicial court; it is the sombre and fatal question which breathes obscurely in the depths of each capital offense, under the triple envelopes of pathos in which legal eloquence wraps them; it is the question of life and death, I say, laid bare, denuded and despoiled of the sonorous twistings of the bar, revealed in daylight, and placed where it should be seen; in its true and hideous position, not in the law courts, but on the scaffold, not among the judges, but with the executioner! This is what he has desired to effect. If futurity should award him the glory of having succeeded, which he dares not hope, he desires no other crown.

He proclaims and repeats it, then, in the name of all accused persons, innocent or guilty, before all courts, all juries, and ail judges. And in order that his pleading should be as universal as his cause, he has been careful, while writing The Last Day of a Condemned, to omit anything of a special, individual, contingent, relative, or modifiable nature, as also any episode, anecdote, known event, or real name, keeping to the limit (if “limit” it may be termed!) of pleading the cause of any condemned prisoner whatever, executed at any time, for any offense. Happy if, with no other aid than his thoughts, he has investigated the subject in sufficient depth to make a heart bleed, under the œs triplex of a magistrate! Happy if he could render merciful those who consider themselves just! Happy if, penetrating sufficiently deep within the judge, he has sometimes reached the man… The author found the idea of The Last Day of a Condemned, not in a book, for he is not accustomed to seek his ideas so far afield, but where you all might find it, where perhaps you may all have found it, (for who is there that has not reflected and had reveries of The Last Day of a Condemned,) there, on the public walk, on the Place de Grève.

It was there, while passing casually during an execution, that this forcible idea occurred to him; and, since then, after those funereal Thursdays of the Court of Cassation, which send forth through Paris the intelligence of an approaching execution, the hoarse voices of the spectators going to the Grève, as they hurried past his windows, filled his mind with the prolonged misery of the person about to suffer, which he pictured to himself from hour to hour, according to what he conceived was its actual progress. It was a torture that commenced from daybreak and lasted, like that of the miserable being who was tortured at the same moment, until four o’clock. Then only, when once the ponens caput expiravit was announced by the heavy toll of the clock bell, he breathed again freely, and regained comparative peace of mind. Finally, one day, he thinks it was after the execution of Ulbach, he commenced writing this work; and since then he has felt relieved. When one of those public crimes, called legal executions, is committed, his conscience now acquits him of participation therein. All this, however, is not sufficient; it is well to be freed from self-accusation, but it would be still better to endeavor to save human life.

Also, he does not know any aim more elevated, more holy, than that of seeking the abolition of capital punishment; with sincere devotion he concurs with the wishes and efforts of those philanthropic men of all nations, who have labored, of late years, to abolish the sinister gibbet, the only tree which revolution fails to uproot! It is with pleasure that he takes his turn, to give his feeble stroke, after the all-powerful blow which, sixty-seven years ago, Beccaria gave to the ancient gibbet which had been standing during so many centuries of Christianity.” (Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man, transl. Eugenia De B., published by the University of Adelaide) For more information: Read the full English text of The Last Day of a Condemned online Read the biographical article on Victor Hugo on Wikipedia or the bibliography on Criminocorpus. Jérôme Picon, Isabel Violante. Victor Hugo contre la peine de mort, Paris, Les Editions Textuels, 2001, 191 p.

Lamartine: Ode against the death penalty (1830)

Source : Lamartine, Ode against the death penalty, October 19th 1830.

Alphonse de Lamartine, Ode against the death penalty, October 19th 1830 (Complete works of Lamartine published unedited, tome 3, author’s publication, MDCCLX, p. 299-307). Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) wrote this poem after the Revolution of July 1830 when the deposed ministers of Charles X were put on trial and the question of capital punishment for political figures was on the table. The population of Paris feared that the accused ex-ministers would receive clemency, and they demanded the death penalty. Louis-Philippe, however, made it clear that he did not want to apply capital punishment. Lamartine’s abolitionist politics evolved in the Chamber of representatives. On May 15th, 1834, he suggested that the crime of having weapons or war equipment should no longer be punished with the death penalty: Alphonse de Lamartine. Parliamentary France (1834-1851). Oral and written works, tome I, Paris, A. Lacroix, 1864. P. 85-87 Chamber of representatives, session of May 15th 1834. “Law regarding those who hold weapons or other war materials punishes with death those who would have used such arms. Mr. de Lamartine wishes for an amendment that would take out the death penalty from this proposed law. ‘Gentlemen, I have been accused by M. Dumon (the rapporteur) of having criticized this law for dispensing the death penalty. I was wrong to use the expression “to dispense” (prodiguer), because the death penalty is only written one time. But once is still too much, and I am here to support an amendment that would take it away altogether, not out of interest in the factions that oppose it, but for the honor of our society, that doesn’t need it and is dishonored by its continued use. I will not address the question of the death penalty itself. I will not examine whether society has the right to take what it cannot give back, this gift of life that the Creator alone holds. In nature, man has received the tragic power of giving death; and society, as a necessity, has probably all the necessary rights to its own existence. This was true as long as the dogma of the necessity of the death penalty was universally received. But this dogma has been shaken in many people’s consciousness. The death penalty, accepted by some and rejected by others, is controversial for everyone. There is thus doubt, irreparable doubt! Doubt about human life! From the moment that this terrible doubt emerged, society must abstain, otherwise it will run the risk of reproaching itself tomorrow, like it would for a crime, what it should have accomplished today as a justice! If it’s true in civilian penal law, how can it not be even more true in political penal law! How much more true for us who, before having reached full maturity, already saw our own political crimes or virtues change, and the ashes of our friends or colleagues go three times from the Panthéon to the sewers, and back again from the sewers to the Panthéon! Political justice, gentlemen, is sometimes an apotheosis, it’s sometimes vengeance, and it’s always passion. Keep us on guard against ourselves, we that wish always to be just! By a strange coincidence, a request from the heirs of Maréchal Ney to restore his memory was distributed to us this morning…Gentlemen, in 1815 I was still quite young, and I had the sort of loyalty that unhappiness breeds for those princes who had returned from exile, I detested, as I do today, treason and betrayal; the Maréchal Ney was judged, the Maréchal Ney who was innocent faced with his glory, was guilty before the law; I was empassioned and demanded his death; the training was intense; it was said that mercy was considered a weakness, that the monarchy would fall under the weight of all of the pardons it gave; oh well! I felt like we never fell onto an act of munificence, of national recognition and that, even as the monarchy fell, it was better for it to fall than for it to be stained with the blood of this man! These bloodstains, invisible at first because of the political passion, spread and grow instead of fading with time, and they thus dirty the whole regime. Who wouldn’t give the story of Napoleon to erase the blood of Vincennes! These examples are useful to us, Gentlemen! Make this century one that is known among others by abolishing the death penalty. When the death penalty is wrong, it’s a crime; when it is just, it’s still a stigma. This law of retribution is a law from a time of savagery. In these types of trials, justice is a victory, the sentence is a defeat, and vengeance is a pardon. And us, gentlemen, in the middle of these muddled opinions and the fortunes in which we are tossed about, where it’s useless to tell us to not be led astray at the end of our political careers, at the end of a legislature which has almost ended and which, for many among us, will be our last, give us at least the peace of mind, this tranquility of conscience, that our hand will have never thrown a stone onto the scale where the life of one of our own is weighed. Many princes made the vow to never use the death penalty as they stepped upon the throne; the prince that you elected made the same vow, if only the people who also reign via their representatives accomplish their own part of this vow of mercy! And give this precedent to humanity!” (trans. P. Bass) In this same book, there are two other speeches by Lamartine made at the Hôtel de Ville (Parisian town hall) in 1836 and 1837 in favor of the abolition of the death penalty (in French): “Sur l’abolition de la peine de mort, premier discours pronounce à l’Hôtel de ville de Paris, le 18 avril 1836”, in Alphonse de Lamartine. La France parlementaire (1834-1851). Oeuvres oratoires et écrits politiques, tome 1, Paris, A. Lacroix, 1864, p.250-236 (competition of the Society of Christian morals, for which he was the rapporteur). “Sur l’abolition de la peine de mort, premier discours prononcé à l’Hôtel de ville, le 17 avril 1837 », in Alphonse de Lamartine. La France parlementaire (1834-1851). Oeuvres oratoires et écrits politiques, tome 1, Paris, A. Lacroix, 1864, p.325-337 (response to the objections raised in response to his first speech). He also spoke on the same subject at the Chamber of Representatives on March 17th, 1838 (extracts): “The systematic abolition of the death penalty from all our laws would be a deterrent and a more powerful example to prevent crime than the drops of blood that are spilled from time to time, in such a sterile way, before the people, that they maintain a taste for it. There was a material, brutal and bloody punishment that you call the law of retribution, which punished men in their flesh, which wounded because others wounded, which threw one body on top of another body, which washed blood off with blood. This punishment led to the death penalty; what am I saying? It didn’t stop there; it led all the way to torture, all the way to the many deaths that mutilation kill, one hundred times over, the guilty or the condemned; and that you must reinstate if you truly believe in the consequences of your principle of “intimidation by death”. But there is one new punishment, a moral punishment; a punishment that is not in the flesh, not in life or death, not in blood, but just as powerful, and in fact a thousand times more powerful than your own punishment; this new punishment is one that society will gradually substitute for the other as society becomes more spiritual and more moral. This punishment consists of making the criminal powerless to commit new crimes through the reform that it inflicts, through the solitude that forces the guilty to reflect, through the work that tames their passions, through the education that enlightens them, through the religion that changes their hearts, and finally through the entirety of these defensive and corrective measures that protect society and better the criminal. Between these two systems, there were all the stages of butchers and tortures and penal systems. Ah yes! We say that you’ve arrived at a certain amount of spirituality and of social morality that you should take the last step, and abolish the death penalty that already you hardly apply anymore at all. From the moment that you recognize the principle of the moral regeneration of man, and that you apply it to the penal system, the death penalty will become impertinent and a sin” (trans. P. Bass). For more information: See the biographical article on Lamartine on Wikipedia.

Lamartine: Ode against the death penalty (1830) (continued)

Source : Lamartine, Ode against the death penalty, October 19th 1830.

Lamartine: Ode against the death penalty (1830) (end)

Source : Lamartine, Ode against the death penalty, October 19th 1830.

Victor Hugo: “Tip over the guillotine” (1848)

Source : Moniteur universel, September 16th 1848, p.52-53.

Victor Hugo, Speech at the National Assembly, September 15th 1848, Moniteur universel, p.52-53. This speech was made during a discussion of the new constitution, which would be ratified on November 4th 1848. Article 5 abolished capital punishment in political crimes: “The death penalty is abolished in political matters”. Victor Hugo describes how after February, in the fraternal and idyllic spring of 1848, the people wanted to abolish the guillotine, which was thought of as inextricably linked to tyranny.

Victor Hugo: “We’ll explode the chopping block” (1862)

Source : Collection of the museum of living history (Musée d’histoire vivante), Montreuil, France.

Victor Hugo, engraving from the 1890S, Collection of the Museum of Living History (Musée d’histoire vivant – Montreuil), and extracts from Actes et Paroles II. Pendant l’exil, 1862. Genève et la peine de mort, Lettre du 17 novembre 1862. When the Republic of Geneva revised their constitution in 1862, the death penalty was on the table. Those in favor won a first vote, and the abolitionists (notably the republicans) thought of soliciting the help of Victor Hugo. On November 17th 1862, Hugo responded to a letter from a member of the reformed church, M Bost, who had asked him to help the Geneva abolitionists’ cause. Extracts from the letter: “As you ask for my help, sir, I owe to you. But do not deceive yourselves about my share in the success should you succeed. For thirty-five years, I repeat it, I have been trying to raise obstacles against murder in the public highways. I have incessantly denounced this beaten track of the lower law against the higher. I have pushed to rebellion the universal conscience of mankind. I have attacked both by logic and by appealing to pity,this most supreme logic. I have combated, both in its totality and in detail, against that blind and immoderate penalty which kills. Sometimes I have considered the general subject, trying to reach and to wound the fact in its inmost principles, and trying to overthrow, once for all, not a single scaffold, but scaffolds in general. Sometimes I have taken up a particular case, my aim then being simply to save the life of a man. I have occasionally succeeded, but more frequently have failed…. The writers of the eighteenth century caused torture to be abolished: the writers of the nineteenth will, I cannot doubt, cause the abolition of the penalty of death. They have already in France obtained the suppression of mutilation and branding. They have got rid of civil death, and have suggested the admirable expedient of attenuating circumstances. ' It is to execrable books such as The Last Day of a Convict,’ said the Deputy Salverte, 'that we owe the detestable introduction of attenuating circumstances.’ This is, in fact, the commencement of the abolition; for these attenuating circumstances once admitted into the practice of the law is the thin edge of the wedge fixed in the plank. Let us seize the divine hammer; let us strike on the wedge without ceasing; let us strike the great strokes of truth, and we shall shiver the block into atoms. … What ideas, then, do men entertain of murder? Is it that when I wear an ordinary coat, I may not kill; but when I put on a robe, I may? Like Richelieu's cassock, the toga covers all. Public vengeance! Ah, I pray you, do not revenge me; it is murder, it is murder I tell you. Except in the case of legitimate self-defence, taken in its strictest sense (for if you have once wounded your adversary, and he has fallen, you are in duty bound to assist him), can homicide ever be permitted? Can that which is forbidden to the individual, be allowed to a member of individuals? The executioner is a sinister kind of assassin; the official assassin, the licensed assassin; kept, hired, required on certain days, working publicly, killing in the full light of day, having for machines the weapons of justice, the recognized State assassin, the official assassin, the assassin who has a recognized legal position, the assassin in the name of society; he has my warrant and yours, too, to kill. He either strangles or cuts the throat, and then taps, in a friendly way, on the shoulder of society, and says, I have done your work, pay me. He is the assassin cumprivilegio legis, the assassin whose assassination is decreed by the legislator, deliberated on by the jury, ordered by the judge, consented to by the priest, guarded by the soldier, contemplated by the populace. He is the assassin, who sometimes has the assassinated person on his side, for I myself have discussed the subject with a convict named Marquis, who was in theory a partisan of the penalty of death. So also, two years before a celebrated lawsuit, I had discussed the subject with a magistrate named Teste, who was a partisan of ignominious punishment. Let civilization consider the matter: it is answerable for the executioner. Ah! You so detest assassination, that you would kill the assassin; I so detest murder, that I would prevent you from becoming a murderer. All against one, social power condensed into the guillotine, collective strength employed in causing death. What can there be that is more odious! One man killed by another man is shocking to the idea, but one man killed by society is to create a wholesome feeling of dread. What has become of your consciences, and what are your views as to good and evil? He is a criminal, say you. What are you? Must I repeat it, again and again? This man, in order to know himself thoroughly, and amend his life, and also in order to extricate himself from the overwhelming responsibility, which weighs down his soul, needs every moment of that life which remains to him. You give him but a few minutes, and why? How dare you take on yourselves this formidable abbreviation of the varied phenomena of repentance? Do you know what an account you will have to give of this responsible being condemned to all eternity through your agency, who falls back upon you, and becomes your responsibility? You do more than kill a man; you destroy a conscience. By what right do you constitute God a Judge before the time He has allotted? What right have you to shorten that time? Is it that His justice is only a step beyond yours? Is there an inclined plane from your bar to His? Is it that after M. Troplong comes God? You must accept one or other alternative: either you are a believer or you are not. If you are a believer, how can you venture to launch an immortal creature into eternity? If you are not, how dare you condemn a fellow-creature to nonentity? … The penalty of death has two kinds of partisans, those who explain it, and those who apply it; in other words, those who devote themselves to the theory and those who attend to the practice. Now, the practice and the theory do not agree, and argue strangely together. In order to abolish the penalty of death, it is only necessary to open the question between theory and practice. For example: both insist on the penalty being carried into execution. Why do they do so? Is it for the sake of example? Theory says yes; Practice says no. For she conceals the scaffold as well as she can; she destroys Montfaucon; suppresses the public crier; avoids market-days; she erects her machinery at dead of night; and, finally, she sacrifices her victim at early dawn. In certain countries, in America and Prussia, they hang and decapitate privately. "And, again, is it because the penalty is just?' Yes/ says Theory; 'the man was guilty, he is punished/ ' No/ says Practice; 'The man must be punished that is quite right. He is punished therefore he is dead. But what of that woman? She is his widow. And what of her children? They are orphans. Death has left them behind; but the widow and orphans are punished, though innocent. Where, then, is the justice to be found?' But if the penalty of death cannot be called just, is it of any use? If Yes/ says Theory ' The carcase will do us no more harm.' ' No/ says Practice, 'for this carcase bequeathes to you a family, a fatherless family, a family wanting bread; and in consequence of this, in order to gain her livelihood, the widow becomes a prostitute and the orphans learn to stealin order to get food to eat/ "Dumolard, a thief from the age of five years, was the orphan child of a man who had been guillotined ; and some months ago I was abused for having ventured to say that this was an ' attenuating circumstance/ You see plainly, however, that the penalty of death is neither good for example, nor is it just, nor is it useful. What is it, then? It exists, sum qui sum. Its reason lies in itself. But why so? The guillotine on account of the guillotine, that is, art on account of art.” (original spelling and grammar kept) (Victor Hugo, Victor Hugo: a life related by one who has witnessed it, transl. unknown, London: W.H. Allen, p228-239: available at For more information: the full text is available in English in the book Victor Hugo: a life related by one who has witnessed it on the Open Library website ( The full text of the letter in the original French is available on the site Victor Hugo contre la peine de mort by Danielle Girard (académie de Rouen).

Jules Favre: “this barbarous law” (1865)

Source : Collection of the museum of living history (Musée d’histoire vivante), Montreuil, France.

Jules Favre, lithography, from the ‘Gallery of Representatives in 1848’, Collection of the Museum of Living History (Musée d’histoire vivant – Montreuil), and extract from Jules Favre, Discours parlementaires, Paris, E. Plon, tome 2, 1881, p.508) Jules Favre (1809-1880), a republican lawyer, was in charge of defending the accused during the political trials under the July monarchy. He adopted a moderate position during the Revolution of 1848 and was against the coup d’état of December 2nd, 1851. In 1858, he was elected to the legislative body with four other republicans. His role was to speak in favor of establishing individual and political freedoms, and when the “address” (the legislative body’s response to the governmental program) was discussed in April 1865, he took the opportunity to call for the abolition of the death penalty. He had already argued for this the previous year during a debate on Penal Code reform. His arguments referred to a historical evolution in which this “barbarous” punishment would decline. He also argued that the death penalty contradicted the principles of good penal philosophy because it could not be adapted according to the crime (like imprisonment) and because it did not have any moralizing value. Above all, in reference to the Doize case that occurred in 1861-1862 (when a judicial error almost cost the life of a young woman), Jules Favre argued that the death penalty was irreparable which was, alone, a justification for its abolition. For more information: See the biographical article on Jules Favre on Wikipedia.

Jules Simon: the proposed law of 1870

Source : Collection of the museum of living history (Musée d’histoire vivante), Montreuil, France.

Jules Simon, Album “Contemporary Gallery”, Collection of the Museum of Living History (Musée d’histoire vivant – Montreuil), and Proposed law regarding the abolition of the death penalty, January 24th 1870 (Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/141). Jules Simon (1814-1896), a moderate republican in 1848 and philosophy professor, was dismissed after the coup d’état on December 2nd 1851. A representative in the legislative body starting in 1863, he was one of the members of the republican opposition to the imperial regime. This opposition was part of his agenda to abolish capital punishment, even if this abolition was not emphasized in his electoral manifestos (it is notably absent from the famous programme de Belleville when Gambetta ran for legislative election in 1869). This proposition includes a comprehensive argument for abolition: the risk of judicial error (recognized by the law of 1867 reforming the procedure of judicial revision), the absence of a deterrent effect on many crimes (confirmed by the example of countries that abolished the death penalty), the use of mitigating circumstances by juries in order to avoid using capital punishment, the growing disgust for public executions, etc. All of these reasons justified but one article in the proposed law: “the death penalty will be abolished”. In his book, The Death Penalty, published in 1869, Jules Simon tells the story of the Nayl case, in the early 1830s, when a judicial error was detected just before the death penalty was applied. The preface of the book shows the author’s position against the death penalty through a conversation he had with the abbot Moisan in the town of Auray, where he lived at this time. Extract from the preface: Jules Simon, La peine de mort, Paris, A. Lacroix, 1869, p.33-48 “The death penalty was one of our most controversial topics, because he had given his good graces to my conversion, and often told me, with a big sigh and putting his hands on my shoulders: ‘You are lost!’ I never tired of questioning him about the condemned that he had helped as they approached death, and above all about those that I knew before their execution; there were more than one. He had a unique sickness of the spirit; his heartfelt belif was that they were all innocent. I even believe that he thought that those who had confessed their crimes to him benefited from this same universal absolution. He found some way to transform them into martyrs; they were all at least victims of their education, or of their circumstances, or of society; because the Abbot Moisan, who thundered on every morning against the Saint-Simoniens was, after reading the Gazette de France, doubtlessly a radical socialist. Here, I’m of course talking about those sentenced for ordinary crimes; when it comes to those sentenced for political issues, he didn’t just find them innocent, he considered them heroes; I, who do not share any of his political ideas, I’m not far from believing that he’s not all wrong. We understand that he was the declared enemy of the guillotine; he was also the enemy of the straightjacket, branding, the galleys and even long prison sentences. He would have cursed the prison, if the administration had used (in that time) its supposed right to kill the intellectual and moral man to leave just his physical self. He dreamed of short sentences, sentences adapted to the case at hand, always with the goal of moral regeneration and after which the most redoubtable inmates could be taken to a penal colony where the state would free them under certain conditions. He did not deny society the right to kill in cases of legitimate defense and he easily accepted the death penalty for political crimes, like for a party member who had risked capital punishment a hundred times. It wasn’t anything, according to him, if not a part of battle. But what he contested in ordinary crimes was the case of legitimate defense. He thought that to maintain order and to guarantee the safety of all, Society didn’t need to, and could never need to, spill blood. In his eyes, the death penalty was barbaric because it was useless. It wasn’t only useless. It treated those who spoke of “deterrence” and who saw public executions as a moral lesson as sophists and simpletons. On the contrary, he believed that the cruelty of punishment engendered bloodthirsty morals. ‘Believe in my experience’, he sometimes said, ‘blood calls for more blood. Those who watch an execution with bad instincts and who don’t go home terrified, go home demoralized.’ His big argument was the unreliability of human judgment; he was inexhaustible on this subject. He piled on the examples, some with crushing force, and all taken from his own personal memories. His stories were about long trials of judges. He only saw them as party men, who had the guillotine as an argument. It must be said that he had seen the high courts. He said, among other things, that political justice served their sentences as if they were obeying directions. Yet, loyal to his principles, he added that it was established for that purpose and that it was in its role when it punished its enemies and even suspects. ‘What do you want a judge to do, who is he himself a part of government, who owes the government his job and who asks the government each time he wants to move up professionally, who acts like the government because he uses the government, when the government tells him, showing him a political prisoner ‘I’m in danger, defend me.’’ I was, on this last point, in complete agreement with Mr. Moisan. It’s clearly not me who would have thought of abolishing the death penalty for political matters, while letting it exist for ordinary crimes. When I read the history of the Revolution, I was shocked, like all noble-hearted, by the mass executions, with no trial and no guilt, but I still found some death sentences to be fair and I felt that I would have supported them. Now I know why we thought that way, Mr. Moisan and I, regarding political justice. He had lived under the “terreur rouge” (the Reign of Terror), the empire, and the “terreur blanche” (late 18th/ early 19th century massacre of Jacobins by royalists), myself, I had been surrounded by people who had lost their friends to the gallows, or who had been sentenced to death and who had miraculously escaped. All forms of bloody repression engender retaliation; it’s against our nature to wait for peace. The political guillotine doesn’t just make murderers like the other guillotine: it makes political judges. I would like to say that, at least I agreed with the ideas of the former prison chaplain in terms of common crimes; yet, born in 1815, between the cursed terror and the blessed terror, I know times of blood all too well. Those around me only spoke in order to answer to death with death. Mr. Alphonse, who was later a friend of mine, once famously summarized all the arguments with which the death penalty could be defended, and it stayed with me: “let the gentlemen who do the murders take the first step.” We repeated the same speeches to each other, with the same passion and the same success, during our walks to Sainte-Anne and to Quiberon and during our excursions to Vannes or to the headland of Saint-Gildas. When the Abbot didn’t know what else to say, he left me speechless with the trial of the Nayl brothers, a story that you’ll soon read. The trial was still fresh in our memory and troubled both of us. We let our canoe drift alongside the rocks, not uttering a word and thinking of the terrible events we had so recently witnessed. It was during one of these trips that he asked me to write the story of our three friends. I wrote it from start to finish the next morning, not to prove (as we can see from the text above), but to tell the story and to give form to our shared memories. The poor Abbot Moisan made me promise to publish it one day, adding “if ever you become an author”. Here it is. This story hibernated for a quarter of a century, buried under my other books during that time, with the manuscripts that I accumulated obsessively. When I reread these naïve yet truthful stories after twenty years, I felt like a woman who having reached a certain age accidentally finds a dried flower, a wilted souvenir, at the bottom of a drawer. I couldn’t resist the desire to publish one or two copies, hiding myself with care behind a name that those who don’t want to be recognized use, one after another. I’m letting it be published today under my true name, with the title The Death Penalty, because sometimes a story is worth just as much as an argument. I can’t finish this preface without saying that my ideas on this one main point have entirely changed by my work. I now think that the death penalty, and all life sentences, can, and thus must be, taken out of our codes. In one word, I deny to man, whether for political or other reasons, the right to inflict irrevocable suffering or pain on another. I believe neither in the infallibility of the judge, nor in the permanent perversity of a guilty man. For a time after the founding of the Republic, I was involved in the administration of criminal justice; I visited a great number of prisons all over Europe, from Mazas to Millbanks. I went to Portland, to understand how the English replace the death penalty once they had abolished it. What I’ve above all taken away from these long studies is the fear of the irreparable. There was a house in Brittany which would have done the trick, and which would have saved me from going so far, but I was steadfast in my desire to never replace reason with emotion. It’s no longer a question of humanity for me today. When I ask if we should give society the means to repair a mistake, I think a lot about the victim, but even more about society itself. I’m less frightened of the wrong that a judicial error does to a man than the wrong that it does to justice itself. I’m less fervent than the Abbot Moisan and I were in 1833, and I don’t know, although he’s very straight-forward and Breton to the bone, if he committed the horrifying act of letting a new punishment replace the death penalty for the losers while abolishing it for murderers. As for me, I’m converted on both points. In Nuremberg, I saw a museum of swords for decapitation, of blades, of machines that cut off your hand or your thumb, or take off your ears or make you blind. Death wasn’t only represented as atrocious but, in certain tortures, because of some refined genius of the torturers, it was represented as ridiculous. Tangentially, that’s where our sinister guillotine with its grooved poles, its wood handles to attach the neck, its blade dropped by a spring which decapitates by its weight alone, without human, manual intervention, that’s where our sinister guillotine was invented long before the French Revolution. In every corner of the civilized world, we should bring the latest guillotines, the latest garrotes, and the latest gallows; and I firmly believe that, after just one day, the race of “Gentlemen the murderers” as Alphonse Karr put it, would leave and shut it all down. Politics would win, as would morality. Civil wars might not be less frequent, but at least they would be less atrocious. Of Mr. Moisan’s opinions on this last point, what I’ve held onto is an ardent desire to see political justice (which is the name we must give it) entirely separated from ordinary justice. The judges must not be the same, nor the places of incarceration. Of course, in politics, I’m certain that there’s one just cause and other detestable ones; but in every political sentence, it is the conqueror who decides whether he will represent justice or a violation of justice. When luck changes, the accused will switch places with the judge. The same code works. It’s thus true that political justice is a battle, and that ordinary justice is a doctrine. In the first, it’s a question of victory and defeat; in the second, it’s a question of good and of evil. The proof that a political condemnation only wrongs the victim and not morality, is that when there’s no violence between the two sides, the proscription never dishonored anyone” (trans. P. Bass).

For more information: See the biographical article on Jules Simon on Wikipedia. Read the complete text of Jules Simon (in French) on the website Victor Hugo contre la peine de mort by Danielle Girard (académie de Rouen).

Jules Simon: the proposed law of 1870 (continued)

Source : Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/141.

Jules Simon: the proposed law of 1870 (end)

Source : Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/141.

The Communards: the guillotine to the butcher (April 1870)

Source : Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/142.

Extracts from the newspaper La Liberté, April 10th 1871 and the Univers, April 12th 1871 (Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/142) During the Revolution of 1848, the people had already considered burning the guillotine, as Victor Hugo reminds us during discussions on the Republican constitution. Via a local initiative, in a nearly “communal” movement, a committee of the Federation of the National Guard of the eleventh arrondissement decided to burn the guillotine in Place Voltaire on April 6th 1871. The instrument of “monarchical domination” was reduced to ashes at the feet of a statue of the defender of Calas and La Barre, and Henri Rochefort reinforced this symbolism, adding that the time “was no longer for chopping off heads, but for broadening people's minds.”

Victor Schoelcher: a proposed law (1873)

Source : Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/141.

A proposed law to abolish the death penalty, December 13th 1873 (Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/141) Starting at the fall of the empire, propositions to abolish capital punishment multiplied, first, from the radical far-leftists, and then even from more moderate republicans. Victor Schoelcher (1804-1893) was one of the primary actors in the abolition of slavery in France and French colonies (decree of April 27, 1848). He was a left-wing representative of Guadaloupe and Martinique in the Second Republic assemblies, until the day after the coup d’état of December 2nd 1851, when he was banished and took exile in England. He came back to France after the fall of the empire, and was elected as a representative of Martinique in 1871, before becoming senator for life in 1875. For more information: See the biographical article on Victor Schoelcher on Wikipedia.

Louis Blanc: a proposed law (1878)

Source : Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/141.

A proposed law to abolish the death penalty, May 13th 1878 (Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/141) Louis Blanc (1811-1882), a socialist journalist, defended a particular organization of national workshops under the Second Republic. When a workers’ insurrection erupted in June 1848, many blamed him, and he took exile in England. Once he returned to France after the fall of the Empire, he sat on the extreme-left benches of the National Assembly, but nevertheless spoke against the Commune of Paris. His proposition combines multiple abolitionist arguments: because justice is fallible, capital punishment implies possible irreparable judicial mistakes; executions are not an efficient deterrent and furthermore prevent “the softening of mores”; abolition does not cause problems in other countries; and he called upon the moral authority of philosophers and criminal scientists. For more information: See the biographical article on Louis Blanc on Wikipedia.

Caricature against capital punishment (1879)

Source : Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/616.

Drawing titled “Down with the death penalty”, Chignol and Gnafron, Journal des Gones de Lyon, May 31st 1879 (Archives of the Parisian Police Prefecture, DB/616). This drawing is nearly a caricature given the way that the execution is presented: from the condemned man sticking his tongue out, to the horse eyeing the basket full of hay, all the way to the executioner waiting for the magistrate’s holy orders and the official sentence before letting the blade drop. The artist emphasizes the guillotine at the moment that it will accomplish its deadly deed by representing it alone, without spectators (except the face of a woman, a reminder of the common criticism that a largely-female crowd often frequented these spectacles). His position regarding capital punishment is made clear both by the title of the engraving and by the words marked on the top of the guillotine: “A Qui le tour” (Who’s Next?).

Jules Jouy: “The widower’s gone to sleep off all that blood” (1887)

Source : Poem by Jules Jouy, The Widower, 1887.

Jules Jouey (1855-1897), a singer in the neighborhood of Montmartre, wrote such a prolific amount of songs that he was nicknamed "song-made man" (“la chanson faite homme”) and was said to be capable of writing a song a day. He published his work, most typically criticizing clericalism and injustice, in satirical newspapers like Le Tintammarre and Sans-culotte. He also wrote hundreds of café-concert songs, sung by the stars of his time. It was said that he was truly fascinated by the guillotine. This poem, which uses one of the popular nicknames of the guillotine (La Veuve), is a violent criticism of capital punishment, which is described using a metaphor of the victim “marrying the widower”. For more information: See the biographical article about Jules Jouy on Wikipedia and the article provided by the website To hear this poem put to music by P. Larrieu and sung by Damia, see the website Du Temps des cerises aux Feuilles mortes.

Clemenceau: “You’re bringing back brutality”

Source : Georges Clemenceau, Le grand Pan, Paris, 1896, p.307-313.

Extract from Georges Clemenceau, Le grand Pan [The Great Pan], Paris, G. Charpentier and E. Fasquelle, 1896. Autour de l’échafaud [Around the guillotine], p.307-313. Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) was first a doctor and then, at the end of the Second Empire, began a political career. He was elected as a deputy in Paris in 1876, and he was the head of the radical opposition, whose platform included abolishing capital punishment. He lost his seat in Parliament in 1893 when he was embroiled in the Panama scandal. The Dreyfus affaire gave him the opportunity as a polemist (with the famous “J’accuse”) to reenter politics. Elected senator of the department of Var in 1902, he became Minister of the Interior in March 1906 and then head of government in October of the same year. During his ministry (October 1906 through July 1909), he cracked down on social movements, reformed the police, and gained the reputation of being a “strike-breaker” and the “first cop of France”. During his ministry, a significant parliamentary debate was held on the death penalty in accordance with the radical platform the government supported, but Clemenceau barely intervened at all. In this chapter, Clemenceau describes the execution of Abbot Bruneau, vicar of Entrammes, in Laval on August 30th 1894. Bruneau was sentenced to death by the Assizes court of Mayenne for having murdered the village priest, Abbot Fricot. The case was nationally-known and an incident occurred before the execution which is the starting point of Clemenceau’s text: Louis Deibler, who had arrived on August 27th, had to wait for a response to Bruneau’s lawyer who, against the traditions of the day, had not been heard by the President of the Republic as he had requested. This delay gave journalists the opportunity to describe the behavior of the crowd, which was accused of ferocity and brutality. This is the basis of Clemenceau’s criticism of capital punishment: the true “Barbarians” were the authorities and the political personnel (including republicans) who used the guillotine as an “instrument of order”. The “refined savagery”, that of the legislator, was far worse than the “popular savagery”. Here is the full text of the chapter. Around the guillotine: “The Guillotine. I. Around the guillotine. If there’s one crook who is worthy of interest, it’s the abbot Bruneau. There’s no reason to give him more torture than the law normally permits. When the head of statistics, who is responsible for asking for pity from the Commission of Pardons, declared that he didn’t have his head count, Deibler obligingly took the train. He reached Laval with his whole family – his machine. In the countryside, people get bored. The whole village was at the train station to meet him. People pushed one another, laughed and made jokes: it was a party. The news spread to the whole department. All the roads leading to Laval were full of carts of happy people. Men, women, children – because, remember, it was the holiday season – the whole rural population wanted to see the priest guillotined. So here were three thousand people camping on the site, eating, drinking, yelling, and singing. How many of them would have gone out of their way to think about a noble artist, or an old wise man, the honor of humanity? Up til then, however, there’s not much to say. Everyone played his and her role. Since we all know that the death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent, we can say that three thousand people came in order to learn their lesson. So, a certain need was felt. It’s true that the executioner’s assistants were not all there. Poor humanity! The crowd's mood became angry: certain formalities were missing. According to custom, before the blade falls, the President of the Republic should give audience to the condemned man’s lawyer. That’s decorum. When the criminal was taken here and there, the upper classes said: “At least this one won’t complain.” However, the President, who was in the countryside, had forgotten about the lawyer. On learning this news, Deibler sheathed his knife and declared that he’d go fishing for crawfish with his son-in-law and his son. But while the executioner was off having fun, the villagers and the city-dwellers in front of the prison revolted. They had come from far away, they were hungry for blood, and they had to wait. Uproar, screams, and fights ensued. “We want his head! Oh! Oh!” The poor man, on the other side of the wall, heard the cries for blood coming from the savage crowd who were like plebeians at a circus. This extra suffering was not part of his sentence. To be honest, I have to admit that the crowd was right. Why postpone their pleasure? The grave was already dug. Were they going to fill it back up? The President had signed the sentence. Was he going to erase his signature? Could he thus admit that he signed death sentences with a light hand? It was better to let Bruneau’s head fall than to weaken the prestige of authority. If things were so, why cheat us of this sinister comedy? Jurors, magistrates, the president and the executioner want to execute. The crowd wants to see an execution. Execute, then, and don’t pretend to represent justice when all you are is vengeance and ferocity, the hereditary prolongation of atavist blood. The moderate newspapers denounce these exuberant manifestations of naïve savagery. Yet they don’t think to examine their own consciences. These sweet and peaceful men who spent eight days killing thirty thousand prisoners in the streets of Paris twenty years ago are not ferocious. In Versailles, their wives teased the wounds of the chained men who paraded before their eyes, others spit in their faces, or just insulted them. Their fathers fired through the basement windows onto the wounded inside. “Terreur blanche” [late 18th/ early 19th century massacre of Jacobins by royalists] or “terreur rouge” [The Reign of Terror], our forebears were bloodthirsty. Yesterday, Gallifet, whose appetite was piqued by Deibler, announced that the national army needed to be used for a huge massacre of French citizens, and all the reactionaries – republicans and others – nodded their heads as if to say: “Maybe!” This isn’t ferocity, because it’s done light-heartedly, between two honeymoons, because all these people have covered their primitive savagery with a thick gloss of nice manners, because they’re old, church-going, and because they only deserted the throne in order to better defend the altar. Former Republicans and converts become cousins in front of the guillotine, incapable of understanding a society that doesn’t kill. There they are, at the Palais-Bourbon, bickering, pretending to be angry, but in reality supporting the arguments and resolute, whatever happens, to change absolutely nothing. They support the death penalty, but with beautiful expressions, a rhetoric taken from higher education, and arguments that the State provides for young normaliens (students at Ecole Normale Supérieure) who want to make their way in the world. They don’t consider themselves mean, because many among them love something or someone; they consider themselves quite cultivated, because some of them know what others among them have said; they consider themselves very free-spirited, because they’re not solidly attached to anything; and they even consider themselves virtuous because of a few francs they’ve given to a crying beggar or because of their church donations. Comfortably blanketed in this strong self-esteem, they’re perfectly happy to express their disdain with the howling mob in the public square of Laval. Truly! The word “barbarians” will soon be used. What these “barbarians” have come looking for is the spectacle of blood spilled by you. This blade is your instrument for maintaining order. This executioner is your civil servant. This blood is spilled on your orders. Why would people who didn’t order anything, turn their heads away from your act? Why would they have the decency that is lacking in you? They’re vulgar and repugnant, it’s true; but they, at least, are not responsible. You, you proclaim that without this sacred act of destroying human life methodically with the social machine, society would be in danger. Then let the people revel in the lessons of this sacred act. The people don’t know! They don’t make the laws. They don’t try to practice philosophy. What animates them, even in the public square of Laval, is a need for justice. A serious crime was committed: they want catharsis. They’ll take the catharsis that you give them. Long live justice! Yelled one of them. This justice is obviously rudimentary, because the law of retaliation is from the Stone Age, we’ve gotten it from unknown anthropoids, our ancestors, and animals give us examples of this law every day. But this justice here, it is yours. If the naïve crowd can’t hide the feelings that it provokes in them, it’s because hypocrisy can’t be carried out on a scale of ten thousand. Human blood was a thing of our ancestors, and a taste for blood will come back to our lips as soon as the opportunity is presented to us. You’re bringing back brutality and you’re complaining that the response is brutal. The working-class savagery is an explosion that was provoked by you and your old sleepy savagery. The refined savagery, which decides between two yawns from its seat as a legislator or executive, that blood will be spilled, is more odious than the other, because it is reasoned. Perhaps we are in a Republic and perhaps politics are in the hands of those we chose who govern (or are supposed to govern) us according to certain immortal principles with which we stun the universe. But the last king who abolished the death penalty in Belgium did more for civilization than all of the bourgeois, whether they’re Republican or not, who don’t see blood on their hands because they’ve paid someone to spill blood in their name. And when the crowd to whom we give blood to drink acts like a bloodthirsty animal, our philosophizing legislators, our bourgeois thinkers, worry and say: “Something must change.” Some might say to not kill, to give a different lesson to the crowd, to give a long sentence of atonement to the criminal under the hand of the law. But no, no. We must kill. Except that the executioner now takes on the airs of a shocked young woman. The plebeians disgust him. He wants to work far from the eyes of the crowd, like a fair man who does good. All of the kind-hearted newspapers encourage him to do so. This is progress! No more repugnant spectacle, no more screams for death, no more clapping when the head falls to the ground. We will have the upsides of killing without the downsides. We’ll decapitate and have the satisfaction of knowing so, without our nerves being irritated by descriptions of scenes where the poor upbringing of the people becomes too shockingly apparent. Thus, the habit of having an executioner can continue through the ages, without an excessive sentimentality that would drive public opinion against this legal butchery. Because we must kill, it’s the last word. Our fathers killed, we kill, and we will bequeath this bloody machine to our grandchildren who, as soon as they are of age, will kill like us. Thou shalt not kill, said the Galilean, who was killed for having said so. This death should have killed the executioner, it seems. And yet it made torturers and executioners appear by the millions from all four corners of the earth. From the word of peace came war; and from the word of life, came death. The destiny of man is that when light enters him, first it blinds him. Extreme light, extreme darkness. The eye must get accustomed to a new light. Up til now, we’ve tried to make our way in our blindness, as we did in the shadows; we’re just as unstable when we’re blinded by light as we are when we’re blinded by darkness. Having spoken against killing is good. Not killing is better. But also more difficult, alas! Centuries before Jesus Christ, India heard the same words without taking advantage of them any more than we did. How many more centuries of murders does humanity need to incarnate the Word, to learn to respect itself in each human life, to claim to be and to do good and make peace?” (trans. P. Bass) For more information: See the biographical article on Clemenceau on Wikipedia. For more on the Bruneau affair, see the Bibliography on Criminocorpus.

The last execution at Lons-Le-Saunier (1897)

Source : The collection of the National Museum of Prisons (France)

Photograph of the last public execution in Lons-Le-Saunier, April 20th 1897 (collection of the National Museum of Prisons) Here, Pierre-Elysée Vaillat, sentenced to death March 9th 1897 for having murdered a sister and brother during a robbery, is being put to death. The photo was taken the moment the prison doors were opened and the condemned man was taken out and saw the guillotine before him. The carriage meant to transport the body is ready to go. At the end of the 19th century, executions became more and more rare outside of Paris.

Juries and capital punishment

Source : Collection of the museum of living history (Musée d’histoire vivante), Montreuil, France.

Juries and capital punishment

Source: Collection of the museum of living history (Musée d’histoire vivante), Montreuil, France.

Drawing by Jossot for L’Assiette au Beurre, n°345, November 9th 1907, titled “The Jury”, Collection of the Museum of Living History (Musée d’histoire vivant – Montreuil) This drawing by Jossot was published on November 7th 1907 by the newspaper Assiette au Beurre. At this time,a debate about capital punishment at Palais-Bourbon was underway: juries were petitioning to be able to apply capital punishment under pressure from public opinion (provoked largely by the popular press), while the president Fallière was systematically pardoning the condemned. In reality, during the 19th century, juries contributed to the progressive decrease in executions, because they often used mitigating circumstances introduced by the law of April 28th 1832. Penal lawyers like Adolphe Chauveau and Faustin Hélie often insisted that this was “dangerous”, referencing debates that occurred when the law was first presented. Adolphe Chauveau, Faustin Hélie. Théorie du Code pénal [Theory of the Penal Code], tome I., Paris, Cosse, Marchal and Billard, 1872, p. 106-108. “…the Attorney General expressed himself in these words as he presented the law of April 28th 1832: “Each time we address penal legislation, the question of abolishing the death penalty is the first and the highest issue which comes to mind. Demanded by publicists and philosophers, asked for during a particularly notorious moment by the Chamber that came before you, practiced in several countries, the abolition of the death penalty is one of the most ardent wishes of many friends of humanity who are nevertheless divided on the means to obtain it. This proposed law was conceived under the assumption that a total and immediate abolition was not possible in practice. There are cases where the crime is so atrocious and so dangerous that great obstacles prevent most souls from supporting a softer sentence. Maintained for these cases, which remain rare, and used in legislation as a threat against crime, the death penalty can be completely abolished later when it corresponds with public mores. This proposed law aims to make the use of this lamentable practice, this lamentable resource of society against crime, much rarer.” The rapporteur of the commission of the Chamber of representatives went further: “Your commission has not brought up the question of the legitimacy of this punishment, a formidable question which troubles the conscience and bothers reason, but which resolves the problem of so many people over so many centuries in face of the doubts of philosophy and humanity. Your commission is linked to all these wishes and philanthropic efforts, which push for the abolition of this punishment. But the very point of this sacred cause, that the success of a hasty attempt could compromise, the very point of society, that we cannot strip of its most efficient protection without establishing another equally energetic although less bloody alternative, the state of the country and of public opinion on which the magistrates make a unanimous testimony, all of this has made us determined to think that a gradual abolition is the only reasonable and possible solution. And we think that we’ve been progressing towards this by admitting mitigating circumstances…” This theory had serious effects on the application of the death penalty. The fact that the jury can now declare, in every case, the mitigating circumstances and the result of this fact, which is à priori a softer sentence to a certain degree, give the jury an immense power. It is the power to substitute or to abolish, as they wish, the death penalty. Thus, the law surrenders its power; the legislator gives up his right to resolve this important social question. This large political and philosophical issue will in fact be in the hands of a jury of twelve. According to their conviction each time, they can erase the death penalty or maintain it. The legislator wrote it in the law, and is now powerless in terms of its application; the blade of the executioner is now in the hands of the citizens themselves” (trans. P. Bass).

Graph of the death penalty 1811-1914

Source : Graph created by the author.

Trends in the number of criminals in France sentenced to death and those executed between the years 1811 and 1913 (graph created thanks to data provided by: Aubusson de Cavarlay (Bruno), Huré (Marie-Sylvie), Pottier (Marie-Lys). Les statistiques criminelles de 1831 à 1981, Déviance et contrôle social, 1989, n°5, p. 182-183; and Mickeler (Guillaume). La peine de mort et les travaux forcés à perpétuité devant la cour d’assises d’Eure-et-Loir (1811-1900), PhD dissertation in law, Paris-Saint-Maur, 1999, tome 2, p. 786-789) Despite the unreliability of statistical data for the first few decades due to an absence of statistics and the problem of numerous sentences pronounced in absentia, it is clear that punishment was severe under the Empire and during the first years of the Restauration. The number of death sentences hit summits in 1816 and 1817 when, each year, there were over 500. Furthermore, during these times there was little possibility of pardon. Penal historians justly refer to a “barbaric repression” and to an “excessive use of the death penalty” to characterize punishment during the beginning of the 19th century (Renée Martinage). Starting in the 1820s, we can see a rapid decrease in death sentences, which continues for ten years before reaching a plateau of around fifty per year until the middle of the century. A new low occurs during the liberal period of the Second Empire. After the war of 1870, the number of capital sentences slightly increases, but does not totally reverse the overall downward trend, which is more visible in the number of executions than in the number of sentences and which continues until the beginning of the next century. The increase in death sentences after 1905 is due to the reaction of juries who were concerned about increases in crime during a period when the presidents of the Republic systematically pardoned those sentenced to death. The parliamentary debates on the death penalty in 1906 reveal this trend, and we’ll see the petitions of juries and representatives’ speeches, which treat this issue on the next few pages. For more information: Renée Martinage. Punir le crime. La répression judiciaire depuis le Code pénal [Nord], Villeneuve-d’Ascq, l’Espace juridique, A.N.R.T., 1989, VII-291 p.