John D. Bessler, an Associate Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, has written a wonderful addition to death penalty scholarship with, Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders’ Eighth Amendment. It's just been published by Northeastern University Press, and is available from University Press of New England, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent book seller.
From the publisher:
The conventional wisdom is that the founders were avid death penalty supporters. In this fascinating and insightful examination of America's Eighth Amendment, law professor John D. Bessler explodes this myth and shows the founders' conflicting and ambivalent views on capital punishment. Cruel and Unusual takes the reader back in time to show how the indiscriminate use of executions gave way to a more enlightened approach--one that has been evolving ever since. While shedding important new light on the U.S. Constitution's "cruel and unusual punishments" clause, Bessler explores the influence of Cesare Beccaria's essay, On Crimes and Punishments, on the Founders' views, and the transformative properties of the Fourteenth Amendment, which made the Bill of Rights applicable to the states. After critiquing the U.S. Supreme Court's existing case law, this essential volume argues that America's death penalty--a vestige of a bygone era in which ear cropping and other gruesome corporal punishments were thought acceptable--should be declared unconstitutional.
It has a detailed accounting of the views of America's founding leaders on the death penalty and tracks societal changes to our understanding of the Eighth Amendment. It also looks forward in the chapter, "The Road to Abolition."
Related posts are in the books index.