My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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BOYCE, Va.—The subject of capital punishment, which I have discussed over a long period of years, came up again the other day in two letters I received from Tennessee. They asked my opinion on capital punishment and said there is a great stirring of feeling in favor of a law abolishing it.

Curiously enough, just a short time ago I was on a speaking engagement at a reformatory for women at Framingham, Mass. This institution is run by Miriam Van Waters, a world-known penologist and now the national head of a movement for the abolition of capital punishment.

Somehow it always has seemed to me that human beings, no matter how carefully they try to be wise and just in their judgments—and I am not questioning either our jury system or the methods of our judges in arriving at verdicts—are somewhat arrogant.

Why should one human being, or a dozen human beings, decide on the right of another to live out his life?

Personally, I can well conceive that many human beings, if they were to be sentenced to life imprisonment, would prefer death. But with the margin of error in human judgment being what it is and the chance that the error may be discovered, it seems wrong to me to tamper with human life.

There are circumstances in which people are forced to do this, but when it involves punishment for a crime, I am not sure that human beings should take it upon themselves to make such a decision.

There is a current movie called "Error in Judgment" which deals with a jury trial in a criminal case. No one was very sympathetic with the boy who was accused of the crime. He was not an attractive character.

But when one male juror, remembering the judge's charge about finding the defendant innocent if there was a reasonable doubt about his guilt, began to make the other jurors put every point of evidence to this "reasonable doubt" test, the opinion of the whole jury gradually changed.

This movie, I think, presents a good argument for the abolition of capital punishment.

I joined long ago those who questioned the value of capital punishment. For it apparently never has stopped anyone from committing murder. And perhaps the impulses to criminal actions are so deeply imbedded in emotions as sometimes to be beyond the understanding of other human beings.

In any case, I will feel happier when the actual decision of whether a man or woman lives or dies is left solely in the hands of God and not in the hands of other human beings.

I attended the luncheon this week given by the Fund for the Republican at which the Robert E. Sherwood Memorial Awards were presented for the television productions that have to the greatest extent dramatized the value of our civil liberties and freedoms.

There were awards for drama, documentary, panel and interview shows and a recognition of the fact that the great medium of TV must be used for high purposes.


(Copyright, 1957, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Boyce (Va., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, June 22, 1957

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.