Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team
States are often defined by something distinctive about them. Wisconsin for example is known as the Dairy State and is recognized for the amount of cheese and other dairy products it has produced.
But the type of food a state produces is not the only thing that defines it. More often than not the state is defined by its relationship to law and order. Some states are perceived by particular groups to be tougher on criminals than others.
It all of course depends on your perspective and one of the issues that many different groups have different opinions on is the death penalty.
So, if you have ever wondered whether or not Wisconsin has the death penalty or not then you need to read an article to find out. Fortunately, you are reading such a piece.
Does Wisconsin Have The Death Penalty?
Let’s start by answering the simplest question first – does Wisconsin have the death penalty?
Wisconsin does not have the death penalty and hasn’t had it since 1853.
Indeed Wisconsin is in fact one of the earliest states to have abolished the death penalty, one of the states with the longest record of abolition and the only state to have ever executed anyone during its entire history.
To understand why Wisconsin has not had the death penalty for so long and to understand the history of capital punishment in the dairy state it is important to go back into the past of the state and outline its unique history.
The History Of The Death Penalty In Wisconsin
Wisconsin first became a United State’s territory in 1783 following the Revolutionary War for American Independence. However, it would not become a state until several decades later due to the process of being a new state taking a remarkably long time.
As an addition of any new state would mean extra Senators, House Representatives and other similar things often the states that were in the union would put off including it in for fear of losing power or influence.
It was Nelson Dewey, a local Democratic politician who would see that Wisconsin became a part of the union as its first Governor. Dewey was firmly against slavery and ensured that it wasn’t allowed in Wisconsin when it was accepted into the union.
Similarly, he wished to focus upon infrastructure projects which helped the state more and wanted to do as much as possible to ensure that it had a good set of infrastructure measures in place to ensure that the citizens of the state had access to as much clean water as they could.
Wisconsin officially became a state in 1841 and would not see an execution for nearly ten years – that is until the execution of John McCaffary in 1851.
McCaffary was an Irish immigrant farmer who was accused of the murder of his wife in July 1850.
McCaffary’s neighbors had one night heard a series of screams and the voice of McCaffary’s wife Bridget calling out to be spared. They rushed around to find McCaffary soaked to the skin.
When they enquired as to what had been happening and was anyone in the water, McCaffary simply said that a shirt had been put into the horse trough.
His neighbors did not believe him, and investigation found the body of Bridget face down in the horse trough.
McCaffary was immediately arrested and taken for trial. He initially requested that he be tried in another jurisdiction as he protested his neighbors and therefore the prospective jury members were made up of fellow Irish men who did not like him because of the part of Ireland he came from.
His request was denied, and the trial was set for 1851.
The trial lasted just under a month and McCaffary was sentenced to death with the death warrant being signed by Wisconsin’s First Governor, Nelson Dewey.
McCaffary was to be executed outside and in public and given that executions were so rare in the state – McCaffary’s would be the first one since Wisconsin became a state – there was massive attention.
McCaffary’s execution was to be held outside and so between two thousand and three thousand people decided to attend.
Once all the people were assembled, McCaffary was brought out and hanged by the neck using a rope attached to a tree. However, McCaffary’s execution was a gruesome affair.
Rather than being a quick or swift break, McCaffary slowly choked to death for a number of minutes before finally dying.
The fact that two to three thousand people witnessed this horrific event caused public outrage and a demand that capital punishment be banned from the state.
Although it would take another two years before the change was implemented into law by the state’s second Governor Leonard J Farwell.
Since then there haven’t been any executions in Wisconsin’s history however that could have changed some thirty years ago.
The biggest attempt to reinstate the Death Penalty in the state came in the 1990s when the full extent of the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer came to light. Dahmer, one of America’s most brutal serial killers.
Dahmer is believed to have killed 17 people during a reign of terror in Wisconsin that lasted from the early seventies until the early nineties.
Dahmer’s crimes were made all the worse because of the young ages of some of his victims and the fact that he also engaged in necrophilia and cannibalism.
Dahmer’s sentencing in 1992 only caused more and more people to petition the state to reintroduce capital punishment.
The sheer scale and depravity of Dahmer’s crimes was such that many people considered that the only justifiable punishment for him was execution. However, whilst in prison serving his life sentence Dahmer was killed by another inmate.
For the people of Wisconsin this was a relief – it not only ensured that someone of Dahmer’s depravity may not walk amongst them ever again whilst also removing the issues of the reintroduction of the death penalty which was for many a contentious issue.
Why It Is Important To Know About The Death Penalty In Wisconsin
The Death Penalty in Wisconsin is an important issue to know about. This is because, given how long Wisconsin has lacked the form of punishment it can be used as an example by both those in favor of an those against the death penalty.
Capital punishment is a complex and difficult issues that many people have opinions on and there is a great deal of emotion associated with it.
This is why knowing about the death penalty across the United States is so important.
Only by understanding why states like Wisconsin have had such long histories in which the Death Penalty has not been in existence whilst states like Texas have been committed to it for a long time helps us to understand the make up of the United States much more than we otherwise would have done.
Only by talking to one another and by discussing the scope of the impact of having or removing the death penalty on the lives of people across the country can we fully move forward as a nation and ensure that there finally is a consistent consensus on one of the most complex more, legal and political questions of our age.