Charles Spear (1830)

Spear began himself to write critically of capital punishment in 1830. He and his brother John urged passage of resolutions against capital punishment at the Universalist General Conventions in 1835 and 1836. In 1839 they both were founding members of the New England Non-Resistance Society, an organization led by William Lloyd Garrison and Adin Ballou which renounced violence and all worldly government. In 1841-42 Charles and John Spear organized both the first and second Universalist Anti-Slavery Conventions in Lynn, Massachusetts.

In 1845 Charles Spear was appointed General Agent of the newly founded Massachusetts Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. In his Essays on the Punishment of Death, published the previous year, Spear articulated the arguments still used by opponents of capital punishment. He argued that because human life is sacred and capital punishment irremediable, execution is a blasphemous appropriation of divine power. He said a spirit of revenge is unworthy. He considered the horrifying and brutalizing effects upon everyone concerned with an execution—the prisoner, the prisoner’s family, and the spectators….

He had earlier said, “I want our prisons to be more like hospitals.” Early in 1845 Spear began to edit and publish the Hangman, soon retitled The Prisoner’s Friend, a journal devoted to transformation of the purpose of prisons from punishment to rehabilitation….

Source: Charles Spear, Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (UUHS)

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