May 18, 1846 – Michigan Abolishes the Death Penalty

On this day in history, the governor of Michigan signed a statute abolishing capital punishment for first degree murder, becoming the first government in the English speaking world to do so.

The new law went into effect on March 1, 1847 and stipulated:

All murder that shall be perpetrated by means of poison or lying in wait, or any other kind of willful [sic], deliberate and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate any arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, shall be deemed murder of the first degree, and shall be punished by solitary confinement at hard labor in the State Prison for Life; and all other kinds of murder shall be deemed murder of the second degree, and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for life, or any term of years, at the discretion of the court trying the same.”

Treason remained a crime punishable by the death penalty in Michigan despite the 1847 abolition, but no one was ever executed under that law. In 1962 a constitutional convention passed a proposal to abolish the death penalty for all crimes in Michigan by a 108 to 3 vote.


At, a non-profit site “to provide resources for critical thinking and to educate without bias”, you can find a number of tables and graphs illustrating statistics on U.S. executions from 1608 to 2002, including executions by state, race, method, age, and so on. The Death Penalty Information Center provides more recent data.

According to the Michigan Bar Journal in a 2002 article explaining the history of Michigan’s adoption of the law, “Since 1998, only Communist China and the Congo have executed more people than the United States. Iraq and Iran are not far behind.”

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