Debating Capital Punishment In 1962 – Past Daily Reference Room

The debate over Ol' Sparky continues.

The debate over Ol’ Sparky rages, even today.

. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – Debate On Capital Punishment – February 18, 1962 – The Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

In 1962, eight states in the U.S. had banned Capital Punishment, which meant the other 42 had some form of Capital Punishment. It was a issue that had been debated for centuries – “should a community take the life of one of its citizens for a crime he has committed?”

It was an issue (and still is) that Americans differ radically in their opinion. Often the subject comes up in cycles, usually when an impending execution brings attention to the subject.

In 1960 the matter came under scrutiny via the Caryl Chessman case in California where convicted murderer Caryl Chessman made a desperate attempt at an appeal which triggered a whole series of debates on the Capital Punishment issue. After Chessman’s unsuccessful bid for reversal, the execution went on and the debate subsided. But in the late months of 1961 another issue regarding Capital Punishment surface in Maryland. This time it was about Maryland’s resuming Capital Punishment, after abolishing it in 1958. But in 1961 the state Legislature restored the Death Penalty; the Governor vetoed the bill and the Legislature overrode the veto, making the Death Penalty once again active in Maryland.

And so the debate continued.

On this program, a debate as part of the Open Mind series, originally broadcast on February 18, 1962. It features former criminal defense lawyer-turned advocate for Capital Punishment Judge Samuel S. Leibowitz debating Thorsten Sellin, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Both debaters are fully qualified and prominent in their fields. The debate, which lasts an hour, clearly shows an issue which has divided everyone for many years.

It’s a fascinating reveal of a subject that continues to be debated to this day. Further evidence history repeats; and it repeats repeatedly.

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