William Dodd, an Anglican priest, was imprisoned for counterfeiting and then hanged in 1777. Image Courtesy Getty.
Is the death penalty ever acceptable? And, if so, what kind of criminals should it apply to?
In early nineteenth century England, legal scholar Phil Handler writes, it was clear to authorities that death was an appropriate penalty for forgery.
According to Handler, starting in the early eighteenth century, more laws were passed concerning forgery than any other crime.
Given the growing commercial economy’s reliance on paper credit, both in the form of government currency and in notes of credit offered by private parties, forgery posed a “peculiarly subversive threat” with the potential to topple the entire economic system.
In 1797, a shortage of gold bullion pushed the Bank of England to begin issuing paper notes in smaller denominations of one and two pounds, without being backed up by gold reserves. With the wide circulation of these bills came a rise in forgeries, and forgery prosecutions.
From 1805 to 1818, convicted forgers or counterfeiters represented almost one in three people executed in London and Middlesex, and one in five across England and Wales.