Friday, February 11, 2011

Thomas Jefferson on witchcraft

In an attempt to make the criminal law of his day more humane, Thomas Jefferson proposed "a Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments" in 1778 to the Virginia House. Although many of the punishments may seem harsh, and were even later questioned by Jefferson himself, it was an improvement over the then current law which basically mandated the death penalty for all felonies. Jefferson's proposed bill was defeated because it was seen as too soft on crime. It is interesting to note that Jefferson believed that witches should be punished, not for using any supernatural power, but for fraud.

Amendment VIII: Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments: "All attempts to delude the people, or to abuse their understanding by exercise of the pretended arts of witchcraft, conjuration, inchantment, or sorcery or by pretended prophecies, shall be punished by ducking and whipping at the discretion of a jury, not exceeding 15. stripes."

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