In The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution, historian John Bessler reveals the profound influence that the Italian thinker, Cesare Beccaria, had on the constitutional founders of the United States, including George Washington and John Adams. Beccaria’s bestselling book, On Crimes and Punishments, argued against torture and the death penalty, saying only punishments proven absolutely necessary should be used. Bessler shows that the death penalty was more controversial at the writing of the constitution than is often assumed today. America did abandon England’s Bloody Code and eventually most corporal punishment, but still retains capital punishment. Julie Silverbrook, executive director of The Constitutional Sources Project, said of the book, “John Bessler masterfully and comprehensively traces how Cesare Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments deeply affected early American views on crime and the proportionality of punishments for crime. Just as John Adams gifted Beccaria’s treatise to his sons, John Bessler has gifted Beccaria to a new generation of Americans.”

UPDATE: In 2015, Bessler’s book was given the Scribes Book Award as the best work of legal scholarship in 2014 by the American Society of Legal Writers.

(J. Bessler, “The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution,” (pre-order) Carolina Academic Press, September, 2014; DPIC posted Sept. 17, 2014). See Books and History of the Death Penalty. Listen to a podcast with Prof. Bessler.