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‘A barbarous penalty which the community has no right to exact’: why capital punishment was abolished in Britain, 1947-69

Wright, Thomas James (2014) ‘A barbarous penalty which the community has no right to exact’: why capital punishment was abolished in Britain, 1947-69. PhD thesis, University of York.

FINAL Thomas James Wright PhD thesis August 2014.pdf
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This thesis examines why capital punishment was abolished in Britain in spite of the consistent retentionism of the majority of the electorate. It addresses the period between 1947, when abolition was debated as part of the Criminal Justice Bill, and 1969, when capital punishment was abolished permanently for murder. In explaining why capital punishment was abolished, this thesis engages primarily with two broad historiographical narratives for the period: public opinion and liberalisation. It investigates how politicians used public opinion within their arguments and why the electorate’s retentionism did not convince a sufficient number of them to oppose abolition. It places abolition alongside the other socially liberalising legislation of this period, notably the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion and the other permissive reforms. In doing so, it assesses the relationship between abolition and this wider liberalisation. The emerging liberalising ethos after the Second World War is an important context for understanding abolition. This thesis identifies the collective identities of the abolitionists and retentionists. It examines the abolitionists’ and retentionists’ cases separately, assessing how they argued their cases, why they supported or opposed abolition and why the abolitionists succeeded and the retentionists failed. It also considers whether the abolitionists were social liberals and, conversely, whether the retentionists were social authoritarians. This thesis engages with the political discourse on civilisation, which permeated both these debates and many of the justifications for politicians’ beliefs. In addressing and considering these issues, this thesis provides an original explanation for the abolition of capital punishment in Britain.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Capital punishment liberalisation civilisation public opinion secularisation
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Depositing User: Mr Thomas James Wright
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2014 12:48
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2016 01:18
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7399

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