Little Bits of History

Penal Reform

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2012

Leopold II

November 30, 1786: Peter Leopold Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, institutes a new penal code for his Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Leopold was born in Vienna and was the third son. He was educated for the priesthood but was not an avid student. His older brother Charles died in 1791 and his father decided that Leopold would take the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, specially erected into a apanage  (estate) for his now-second son. The deal was binding only if Leopold married Maria Luisa of Spain (daughter of King Charles III). That marriage took place on August 5, 1764. On August 18, 1765, Leopold’s father died and the young man rose to power; he was 18 years old.

He did little for the first few years but in 1770, he managed to get rid of the interference of managers and his mother’s influence and ruled in Florence with a free hand. He carried out many reforms during the two decades between having his hands freed and his brother’s death in 1790. One of the reforms he instituted was this day’s penal code reform. In it, he outlawed the death penalty. His was the first state to outlaw this punishment. As a result of this ruling, November 30 is celebrated as Cities for Life Day. Because of this ruling, participating cities illuminate a symbolic monument. In 2009, more than 60 capitals and 1,200 cities participated.

In 1790, Leopold’s brother Joseph died. Leopold became the Holy Roman Emperor. His other titles included King of Hungary and Croatia and King of Bohemia. He assumed the rule in these last two counties immediately upon his brother’s death. However, it was not until September 30 that he rose to the throne in Germany and became the Holy Roman Emperor. His brother had offended many nobles and Leopold was able to use his experience gained in Tuscany to assuage many of those hurt. He only lived for two years after gaining the title and was in peril during most of the time.

His family was large and his sister, Marie Antoinette was in trouble. His own large family included twelve surviving children. Maria Theresa, Queen of Saxony, Francis II who would become the Holy Roman Emperor at his father’s death, Ferdinand III who gained his father’s title of Grand Duke of Tuscany, eight more archdukes, and Maria Clementina, Hereditary Princess of Naples. With such a large family, their power spread across Europe. Not all of the Hapsburg rulers were as magnanimous as Leopold and not all nations today have adopted the notion of banning the death penalty.

For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. – Albert Camus

Government … can’t be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill. – Helen Prejean

If we are to abolish the death penalty, I should like to see the first step taken by my friends the murderers. – Alphonse Karr, Les Guêpes, Jan. 31, 1849

It’s just really tragic after all the horrors of the last 1,000 years we can’t leave behind something as primitive as government sponsored execution. – Russ Feingold

Also on this day:

I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex – In 2004, Ken Jennings finally lost at Jeopardy! after winning over $2.5 million.
100 Miles Per Hour – In 1934, the Flying Scotsman reached a speed of 100 mph.
Lucy – In 1974, Australopithecus was discovered.