The Abolition of Wisconsin’s Death Penalty

Wisconsin abolished the death penalty on July 10, 1853. There was one certain case that pushed state government to repeal the death penalty. This was the John McCaffary case. Continue reading to find out how this gruesome case sparked a change that would spread across America.

The Case

In the middle of summer, June of 1850, neighbors of the McCaffary family were awoken by the sound of a woman screaming. Neighbors rushed to the source of the sound and found Brigid McCaffary (John’s wife) drowned in a barrel on their family property. John McCaffary was rescued immediately after, and his trial began just shy of a year later. He was convicted guilty of willful murder and sentences to death. About 3,000 people came to watch John McCaffary’s hanging. Bystanders reported that he was lifted into the air where he struggled for five minutes before doctors were called to the scene to check his pulse. He was finally declared dead fifteen minutes later. A mere two years after this horrific execution, the death penalty was abolished in the state of Wisconsin.

The Abolition

Wisconsin was the very first state to permanently abolish the death penalty for all crimes. Other states were quick to follow in the next few years. After Jeffery Dahmer’s crimes made it into the public eye, there were politicians and citizens pushing for the reinstatement of capital punishment. Although twenty-two bills were introduced to legislature hoping to reinstate the death penalty, none made it through this branch.

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