Whipping Post No Longer An Acceptable Form of Criminal Punishment
Up in smoke: Laws—both good and bad—come and go. While the state has welcomed gay marriage, it took a while for other measures—like public lashings—to go away.
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Delaware was the last state to get rid of the whipping post. For that matter, it was the last place in the free world to keep lashing on its books as criminal punishment. It is not exactly something to be proud of, but there it is.
Poisoning someone could bring 60 lashes. Trafficking in stolen mules could mean 20 lashes, as compared to wife beating, which could get as few as five. Who could have guessed that animal rights would have pre-dated the prevention of domestic violence?
The whipping post, an oak column standing in a prison yard, was called “Red Hannah,” and the whipping was done with a cat-o’-nine-tails of nine leather thongs.
The last time anyone was sentenced to be whipped was 50 years ago in 1963, although that one was never carried out. Lashes had been laid on since the Colonial days, but not since 1952, and times had changed.
Bert Carvel, the Democratic governor, commuted the sentence as fast as he could to keep the case from getting into the court system and turning Delaware into a laughingstock.
“My thinking is this thing shouldn’t go to the Supreme Court and embarrass the state,” Carvel said, in a quote from the Wilmington Morning News of Feb. 22, 1964.
Nobody gives the whipping post a thought anymore. It is one of the changes that state government has brought about in the last half-century, changes as sweeping as the way people can get married and as commonplace as the way they rake up the leaves.
Whipping was the most macabre.