Victor Hugo Gaoled

Notra Dame

Victor Hugo was a strong advocate against the death penalty and social injustice.  Today, in 1851, he was sentenced to a fine of 500 francs and six months imprisonment.  His transgression was to write an article condemning capital punishment in the événement. 

During his exile from France (1855 – 1870), Victor Hugo continued to advocate and was instrumental in removing the death penalty from the constitutions of Geneva, Portugal and Columbia.

 “Plea Against the Death Penalty

Look, examine, reflect. You hold capital punishment up as an example. Why? Because of what it teaches. And just what is it that you wish to teach by means of this example? That thou shalt not kill. And how do you teach that “thou shalt not kill”? By killing.

I have examined the death penalty under each of its two aspects: as a direct action, and as an indirect one. What does it come down to? Nothing but something horrible and useless, nothing but a way of shedding blood that is called a crime when an individual commits it, but is (sadly) called “justice” when society brings it about. Make no mistake, you lawmakers and judges, in the eyes of God as in those of conscience, what is a crime when individuals do it is no less an offense when society commits the deed.” 
Victor Hugo

41 Comments

  1. billgncs says:

    Just two years ago I journeyed through Le Mis with him, the entire 1300 pages presented in his avuncular fashion. I distinctly recall wading through his twenty or so pages of the guttural cant of the under-class. Worthwhile indeed, but not likely to be repeated.

    I think the death penalty can be a deterrent. I recall reading about men in Britain who enslaved young girls with drugs and sold them into prostitution. They did not approach Muslim girls fearing a deadly reprisal. One of those ancillary news stories that makes one think.

    A tough decision either way.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I agree wholeheartedly – this is a very touch decision, either way. There are valid pros and cons on both sides. What is important – that we continue to engage in a constructive debate on the very difficult subject. Thank you so very much for your comments – they are always welcomed and appreciated!!

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      1. billgncs says:

        have you ever journeyed with Mon Hugo ?

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      2. Clanmother says:

        Not as often as I should….there is so much to read, so little time. But that makes the journey all the more joyful. I just have to add a quote by our favourite author.

        “Little by little, one travels far”
        ― J.R.R. Tolkien

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      3. billgncs says:

        yes, he was in touch with the human spirit 🙂

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      4. Clanmother says:

        So very true… 🙂

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  2. WM says:

    A a strong advocate against the death penalty was JPII. Thank you for interesting text.
    On the last day of my blogging activity before a break I am giving you a huge LIKE and many many next ‘likes” in advance. I’ll be missing your blogs.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Have a wonderful summer – you will be missed by the blogging community! I look forward to your return!!! I appreciate all of your LIKES!!! Thank you! 🙂

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  3. Gallivanta says:

    Simple, direct and so obvious, yet there are countries and societies that still don’t understand Victor Hugo’s plea.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      It is a very, very difficult question!

      “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
      ― Mahatma Gandhi

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      1. Gallivanta says:

        Gandhi was on to something there 😉

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      2. Clanmother says:

        He used very few words to address a huge discussion!!! 🙂

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  4. how coincidental, i have read some weeks ago an essay of Camus “Reflections on the Guillotine”, quite a long but a good essay, he basically joined the idea of Victor Hugo, I mentioned that to a fellow-blogger a week ago about this essay which I find it inspiring, perhaps I will write a very brief post just to quote one sad incident happened in 1957 in California …. thanks again for the post.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I will look forward to your post! You add so much to my knowledge – thank you!!! 🙂

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  5. very good question and debate…but one that is possibly never ending!
    ive clicked the “like” button but i beg to differ on this one….i believe when an individual has been proven beyond doubt that he/she has carried out some despicable crime, then depending on the crime, sometimes, the death penalty is right…..extreme example i know, but it works in the middle east…fear of death allows jewelers to leave their shops open…..

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you for adding so much to the discussion. This is not an easy subject, nor should it be – this is a story of humanity that continues to evolve. What I appreciate is that we share our thoughts, our concerns. We all want peaceful outcomes. I especially like Aristotle’s quote: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I am looking forward to our ongoing dialogue…

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  6. renxkyoko says:

    It’s true. I think to not be free for the rest of one’s life is better punishment than death penalty

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I am so glad that you joined the dialogue! I love hearing your voice…

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  7. adinparadise says:

    Hugo was so right, Rebecca. Two wrongs definitely don’t make a right.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I learned a great deal on this post. Did you know that he pleaded for Benito Juarez to spare the captured emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. Or that he wrote a letter asking for the US to spare John Brown’s life? I had no idea. I am learning as I go along. I do enjoy our discussions! Thank you for stopping by…

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      1. adinparadise says:

        It’s always interesting to stop by your posts, Rebecca.

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      2. Clanmother says:

        I feel the very same way – you add so much to my day!!!

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  8. cindy knoke says:

    So true. Such a brilliant man~

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you, Cindy! As I continue with the “days” series, I realize that who we remember are those that shared their passionate beliefs with others. 🙂

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  9. richhell says:

    There’s no practical way to effectively use the death penalty in a judicious, equal manner. Here in the US, the poor accused of a capital crime are more likely to get the death penalty than a wealthy person. Why? Because the wealthy person can afford to hire the best defense attorneys money can buy (ala OJ Simpson). Personally, I’m for the death penalty in only extreme cases, like for serial killers. But as a practical matter, based on 200+ years of my own country’s history with it, we’d be better off abolishing it altogether. Too many mistakes have been made. In my home state of Illinois, several people have been freed from Death Row thanks to DNA evidence and/or a vigorous challenge to the facts of the case (a challenge not given in the initial trial because the defense provided was so inadequate). Ironically, several years ago a very corrupt governor (who went to prison for bribes) actually put a moratorium on executions because the whole system for deciding capital cases was so flawed.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments. The question of equity, fairness and full understanding are central to this debate. I believe that we all want peaceful outcomes – it is how we come to those outcomes that is critical. Men and women of good faith want justice to prevail. Any hint of preferential treatment goes against our closely held value systems. Thank you again – your reflections and comments are very much appreciated.

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      1. richhell says:

        I still need to read “Les Miserable.” I’ve got a copy of the ebook version. I just need to clear my calendar….

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      2. Clanmother says:

        When you figure out how to clear up you calendar….would you let me know! There is so many things to do, in so little time. But maybe that is the best part of life – always something to experience, learn, share…

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  10. Ms Frances says:

    What a great discussion. Death is so very final. We all sorrow for the one who was hurriedly executed only to find out the person was innocent. Death penalty–be very careful!!!

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Life is precious. I agree – this has been an excellent discussion. So glad that you joined in with your thoughtful comments! Thank you!

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  11. smilingtoad says:

    I absolutely adore Victor Hugo. Brilliant mind, fabulous writer.

    Another great writer that comes to mind, having written some powerful words in his works pertaining to death-penalty (he having experience of almost being executed) would have to be dear darling Fyodor Dostoyevsky, as well.

    So much to draw from this entry. Loved it. Excellent!

    (I really MUST get a “I rather dashed like that Victor Hugo bloke” t-shirt now!)

    Myriad cheers,

    Autumn Jade

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you for your kind comments and for reminding me of another great – Fyodor Dostoyevsky! History gives us so many brilliant and compassionate individuals who give light to our present and courage for the task ahead…

      “Compassion is the chief law of human existence.”
      ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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  12. opreach says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I couldn’t agree more!!!

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you! We live in a perilously divided world that cries out for peaceful outcomes…

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  13. Doris says:

    What a topic, I read les misérables last year and I love it, he wrote it 1862 but all of the stories in the book can resonate with what is happening in the world right now, he did address all the social injustice of the time,and can understand his point of view and this post very well. I have to say I admired him for standing up for what he believe in, he was very strong and a great writer.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you for adding so much to the dialogue. His actions were a testament to his beliefs. His writing was an extension of his value system. I agree – he was a gift to this world. 🙂

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Comments are closed.