Jennifer Graber* In an 1818 letter, New York reformer and Friend, Thomas Eddy, bemoaned the state of New York City's prison. He listed recent examples of civil servants' bad management. He pointed to the institution's increasingly high deficits. In his letter to the British Quaker and activist, William Allen, Eddy shared his cure for these ills, namely a discipline based on congregate labor by day and solitary confinement by night. Most notably, Eddy compared the present problems in the prison system with a time, about 15 years earlier, when he and some reforming colleagues administered the institution. To his colleague Allen, he wrote, "When Friends had the management," he wrote, "it was entirely different."1 Eddy was one among many English and American citizens lobbying for changes to the penal code at the end of the eighteenth century. These reformers of various persuasions argued that bodily punishments were barbaric, unfit for enlightened nations. The Americans among them added that bloody penalties were particularly unsuitable in a democratic republic. Many of these reformers, Eddy included, proposed incarceration as a humane alternative to the pillory and the gallows. In the 1790s, Pennsylvania and New York started building prisons. Other states soon
Quaker History – Friends Historical Association
Published: Dec 10, 2008
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