Sample Book Review Paper on Race, Class, and the Death Penalty – Capital Punishment in American History


The book race, class and death penalty looks at the historical use of death penalty in the United States all the way to the present. Allen is an accomplished author and a graduate of University of Washington. He has been an Executive Director of the Social Science History Association from 1981 to 1993. Professor Allen is an authority on the Application of Quantitative Methods of Historical Research. Jerome m Clubb is a respected scholar with specialization in social science history. He is also former Executive Director of Inter University Consortium for Political and Social Research.

Allen and Clubb make a comprehensive collection of Data relating to the death penalty and provide it on a table. Whereas those executed do not reflect a fair administration of justice, it becomes worse when data shows that the death penalty is biased against individuals based on either their race, class or other unfair considerations. This is a worrying trend indeed to scholars and other concerned individuals or organizations. An indication that the African American death penalties account for the total death penalties is worrying. It is also an observation that class is a factor when executions are being carried. That means the well off in society were least likely to be in the executions list. The authors notice a worrying trend in the use of capital punishment.

Capital punishment and executions have a very long history in the United States. Despite the fact that capital punishment has been around for such a long time, it still is as controversial as it was in the past. There is greater need to analyze and appreciate the history of executions and its application over time. Were the parameters used fair to those executed? The authors Allen and Club do a good job in doing the compilation of the data.

This book dwells much on the statistics and projects an analysis over the time in American civilization. Through the rugged history the authors manage to collect and collate data which they elaborately project on a table for easy synthesis. The difficulty in collecting the data is seen to be experienced by the authors due to the fact that the authorities never bothered much on individual profiles when carrying out executions

 The Death Penalty in National Perspective

Capital punishment is not new to American history. According to Allen, he enumerates how the first execution happened in Jamestown previously a European enclave currently in the United States. This historic execution happened in 1608. With subsequent years the writers show the gradual increase in executions. Whereas there was tremendous increase in death penalties, the number was actually smaller compared to the relative population growth. He notes a trend where the African Americans seem to be more on executions compared to other races. This is noted from the 18th century. A comparison with other races also shows that few whites have been executed. The authors also note that execution in American history was been majorly male dominated.

Colonial and Revolutionary Eras

The book further observes the nature of the American society which has a diverse cultures. Laws are different in different jurisdictions of the United States. The book further illustrates the observation that criminal justice has had to develop from that borrowed from the colonial masters to what it is currently. Before the end of colonial oppression there seemed to be different laws for the African Americans and a different one for the whites

Early Republics

The second chapter makes an observation of the early republics. The authors make an observation of the period this period marked the time the United States was undergoing intensive reforms. The eighteenth century saw the development of institutions necessary for good governance and administration of justice. This century can be said to be a transition period for the American society from a disorganized fractures to a more organized reformed society.

The religion was seen to be opposing the death penalty just as much as it supported it. This period saw the beginning of reforms for the criminal justice system Vis a Vis the continued application of the capital punishment. The scripture on the other hand was against the use of death penalty. Reform was seen to be on the way to alter how the death penalty was used to punish murderess.

The South and East

After the war, the period between 1866 and 1945 saw an upsurge or re invigorated use of capital punishment. The result was heavily felt at the southern and northern borders. The south saw the final elimination of slavery and therefore was not encouraging capital punishment as a way of meting out justice. Most African Americans migrated to the north east between 1866 and 1945. This therefore translated to increased executions in the north east which was predominantly white population before the migrations of the people from the south and east. Whereas the executions looked rather low, they were high compared to the populations that resided in the area. The discrimination towards these minorities is glaring and much more needed to be done to develop systems that would be protective of these groups.

Violence has also been seen to characterize the development of the United States. There are the indigenous Americans who always fought with the white immigrants and other diverse minority groups as they seek permanent settlement in the United States. The western region was busy and attracted mostly the younger population who went to look for work as miners, plumbers, construction among other works to make ends meet. These kinds of situations as seen in the book were good conditions for violence and disorder to thrive. The author states that this area was the

Single most violent in the states. Whereas this area is the most violent, there is very little evidence to suggest so. This could be largely due to ignorance. Instances of capital punishment are relatively high in this region compared to other areas of the United States.

Social Perspective

There is little documentation on profiles of those who have ended up in death row. How critical is it to know the social lives of those on death row? There is great need to document those in execution to be able to tell what drives them to engage in capital offenses. Authorities should have not let this important aspect pass by. Information on family backgrounds, economic status, marital status, the age of those convicted, mental status among other lifestyle factors should be gathered to know what drives them to such serious crimes. The book goes further to look at a few documented cases of execution and how they were related to the backgrounds of the individuals executed. It also looks at why the individuals ended up being executed through the trial and jury process. A critical analysis of the whole process is done and a measure of fairness in its application

Death Penalty

Executions in the Americas were too high before 1945. It is after this year that the number of executions dropped exponentially. From 1956 to 1957 there was a drastic drop in executions. In 1967, the Supreme Court made a ruling on capital punishments in relation to the constitution stating that was unconstitutional. Whereas it seemed left out by the Supreme Court, it was left open to re introduction by way of statute. In 1976, capital punishment was re instated. The book addresses the critical questions on the application of death penalty before 1977. This chapter also looks at how much changed in its application and which areas experience more death penalties. It is also brought to fore on what crimes have largely lead to death penalties. It is critical to note that death penalties have mostly been applied where crimes committed led to death of a victim. Death penalty has also been largely used discriminately on minority groups as seen historically.


In contemporary America, the use of death penalty has been a controversial subject. Whereas the history has witnessed tremendous development and civilization, the use of death penalty has not changed one bit. Problems experienced with it have persisted to the 21st century. Its application is seen to be unfair and discriminatory.

There is however a big difference of the present from the past in that is no longer accompanied by publicity. Executions have been made a private affair. It is noted that executions in 2005 rose drastically. The number of executions this year was more than executions made since 1976.



Allen, H. W., Clubb, J. M., & Lacey, V. A. (2008). Race, class, and the death penalty: Capital punishment in American history. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.