The common practice of early Americans that seems most alien to me is that of human punishment. During the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, the way people were punished was savage and crucial. Those who punished others for a crime, seemed to take matters in there own hands and give punishments that were truly too harsh compared to the crime committed.
One of the areas in which such punishment was greatly visible was in the slave institutes. Masters would treat their slaves as if they were ?animals?. It was crucial to see that the only thing that differed Southern and Northern stores was that those in the south stocked ?negro-whips? and ?mantraps? in their shelves. Whipping was the popular way of punishing slaves at the time, therefore stores made sure they had that six to seven foot long peace of cowhide, to sale to masters who wished to beat there slaves. This type of whip was not enough, for they began making whips that had a platted wire on the end so that it would hurt more and create more damage to the skin. I was shocked to read that a slave would get brutal whips just for simply taking a drink of water when it was not break time yet. If looked at carefully the slave had committed no crime yet was still whipped by his master. This is no way in which a human should treat another human, since we are suppose to be the intelligent, moralistic species of the world.
Whipping is still nice, compared to other ways in which many criminals were punished. At times of great crimes, delinquents were faced with the mutilating punishments of the old penal laws, which included branding, ear cropping, hanging and even occasionally castration and burning alive. Thinking of such punishment is harsh, for I thought that the only things that got castrated were the animals in my grandpas? farm. That is not all, since I can not imaging a live human being burned to death.
Making such scenes even more disturbing was that they were held in public areas where many people could gather and watch. In New Haven, Connecticut, around 1810, Charles Fowler, a local historian, recalled seeing the ?admiring students a [Yale] college? gathered around to watch petty criminals receive ?five or ten lashes?with a rawhide whip.? On a day of a hanging near Mount Holly, New Jersey, in the 1820?s, the scene was that of a holiday: ? around the place in every direction were the assembled multitudes ? some in tents, and by-wagons. This is obscene, for humans got a kick out of seeing other humans get killed. Where has the idea of morality and self-respect gone for these people?
Right now you probably just imaging men getting such punishments but that was not the case, for women were often treated in the same type of manor. In a country tavern in Georgia, Margaret Hall summoned the slave chambermaid, but she could not come because the mistress had been whipping her and she was not fit to be seen. The next morning she made her appearance with her face marked in several places by the cuts of the cowskin and her neck handkerchief covered with spots of blood. In my point of view, a woman is not to be treated in such manor, for they are to be respected more than men.
It is not that I don?t believe that people should be punished for doing things they shouldn?t do, but it should be reasonable. I believe in the idea of ?Eye for an Eye?, for if a person murders another, his/her punishment should be death. But for a person, who simply got into a fight with someone else, death doesn?t seem to be a reasonable way of punishing him. Instead he should be given a beaten himself so that he can see what it feels like. People in the past seemed to take things to far and not think about the situation carefully.
Thanks to God, the old ways, so startling unfamiliar to the modern reader, gradually fell away. Americans changed their assumptions about what was proper, decent, and normal in everyday life and began to look at life in a different view. Who knows, perhaps our morals, to some future observer, will seem as idiosyncratic and astonishing, as I believe this type of behavior is.