The Abolition of Torture



In medieval and early modern Europe, criminal justice was not very advanced. Often, the accused was presumed guilty, and torture was regarded a legitimate method to induce the accused to sign a confession, which then was regarded the sound foundation for a 'guilty' verdict. Secular courts, in this procedure, were confirmed by the Catholic church, which mainly was concerned with saving the soul, and in treating presumed heretics and witches, made excessive use of torture herself.
Already before the period of enlightenment, sceptics had questioned the legitimacy of confessions extorted from suspected witches (Jesuit priest Friedrich Graf Spee von Langenfeld, Cautio Criminalis, 1631). The philosophers of the enlightenment were critical of both organized religion in general and the penal system of their times, and suggested torture to be abolished altogether. The most important text was Cesare Beccaria's Essay on Crime and Punishment (1767).

In Prussia, Frederick the Great abolished torture in 1749/1754 (although some historians speculate this having been a measure to establish royal control over the courts, rather than to humanize criminal justice). In the Margraviate of Baden, torture was abolished in 1767. In Sweden, Gustavus III. abolished torture in 1772, followed by Louis XVI. (France) 1780, Joseph II. (Austria) 1781, Leopold (Tuscany) 1786.







EXTERNAL
FILES
Article Cesare Beccaria, from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Folter Museum (Museum of Torture), in German
DOCUMENTS Excerpt of Cesare Beccaria, Essay on Crime and Punishment (1767), from Modern History Sourcebook
Full text of Beccaria, On Crime and Punishment, from CUWS
Decree abolishing torture in the Margraviate of Baden, 1767, from psm-data, in German
REFERENCE



This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 10th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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