Still, we are making some progress. Courts give attention to some things that they did not give attention to before.
Once in England they hanged children seven years of age; not necessarily hanged them, because hanging was never meant for punishment; it was meant for an exhibition. If somebody committed crime, he would be hanged by the head or the heels, it didn't matter much which, at the four cross roads, so that everybody could look at him until his bones were bare, and so that people would be good because they had seen the gruesome result of crime and hate.
Hanging was not necessarily meant for punishment. The culprit might be killed in any other way, and then hanged--yes. Hanging was an exhibition. They were hanged on the highest hill, and hanged at the cross-ways, and hanged in public places, so that all men could see. If there is any virtue in hanging, that was the logical way, because you cannot awe men into goodness unless they know about the hanging. We have not grown better than the ancients. We have grown more squeamish; we do not like to look at it; that is all. They hanged them at seven years; they hanged them again at eleven and fourteen.
We have raised the age of hanging. We have raised it by the humanity of courts, by the understanding of courts, by the progress in science which at last is reaching the law; and in ninety men hanged in Illinois from its beginning, not one single person under twenty-three was ever hanged upon a plea of guilty-not one. If your Honor should do this, you would violate every precedent that has been set in Illinois for almost a century....
Your Honor, if in this court a boy of eighteen and a boy of nineteen should be hanged on a plea of guilty, in violation of every precedent of the past, in violation of the policy of the law to take care of the young, in violation of all the progress that has ben made and of the humanity that has been shown in the case of the young; in violation of the law that places boys in reformatories instead of prisons,--if your Honor in violation of all that and in the face of all the past should stand here in Chicago alone to hang a boy on a plea of guilty, then we are turning our faces backward toward the barbarism which once possessed the world. If your Honor can hang a boy eighteen, some other judge can hang him at seventeen, or sixteen, or fourteen. Some day, if there is any such thing as progress in the world, if there is any spirit of humanity that is working in the hearts of men, some day men would look back upon this as a barbarous age which deliberately set itself in the way of progress, humanity and sympathy, and committed an unforgivable act.