Hang 'Em All, Let God Sort 'Em Out | Bleader

Hang 'Em All, Let God Sort 'Em Out

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Chicago Tribune, January 19, 1919. As we all know from Charles Bronson movies, shrinks and their natural allies, liberal judges, are soft on crime and that's why the whole world has gone to hell in a gay, socialist, heroin-addicted handbasket. It wasn't always thus, however: Here's one tough-minded clinician who had the moral courage to advocate the wholesale execution of the violently insane. Okay, he wasn't exactly advocating it so much as running it up the flagpole to see who saluted.

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So maybe this was simply Dr. Moyer's way of venting frustration about his budget problems. Either way, his historical argument isn't quite up to code. He's quite right that the English Common Law prescribed the death penalty for a shitload of crimes. Happily for the convicted, it also offered all kinds of nutty reprieve mechanisms that allowed the majority of those convicted to keep their spinal cords intact. For example, after 1315 those condemned to die could avail themselves of a legal loophole called "benefit of clergy." Theoretically this was a literacy test: the condemned party was handed a Bible and asked to read a verse, and if he or she could, there'd be no necktie party that day. In practice, even the unlettered majority could win at this game, because the test verse was almost invariably Psalm 51 ("Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions"), which consequently the entire population had committed to memory.

Occasionally, however, authorities would decide that the accused was just too big a douchebag to qualify for leniency. In such cases, the poor sod in the dock would actually be required to read some other verse of the Good Book. (Just imagine the look on some illiterate highwayman's face upon hearing the "fail" buzzer after dutifully reciting Psalm 51! Good times.)

Another interesting loophole was "benefit of linen": If an unmarried pregnant woman wanted to unburden herself of her baby without risking an infanticide beef, she would arrange for one of her gal pals to observe her carrying a bundle of swaddling cloth on her solitary way to deliver the kid. The inconvenient baby could be dropped down a privy or left in the woods for scavengers. In the event of prosecution, the accused's possession of linen at time of birth was accepted as proof that she intended to look after the baby, which, tragically, must have been stillborn. So basically the whole thing was a legally sanctioned fourth-term abortion.

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