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Cornell University Library 
HV6545.G93 1883 

Suicideihistory of the penal laws relati 

3 1924 006 269 017 


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History of the Penal Laws 






By R. S. guernsey, of the New York Bar. 


Revised and Enlarged. 

new YORK : , \ 

L. K. Strouse & Co., Law Publishers, 

95 Nassau Street. 







Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1883, by 
^ in the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, 



\^A ,.0 Vo^^vo'.^! 


The origin of the following pages was in a request from 
the Medical Journal Association, of New York City, for the 
author to read a paper before that body, on the Law of 
Suicide. This was done in April, 1875, under the title of 
" Penal Laws Relating to Suicide." Afterwards the Medico- 
Legal Society requested that the paper be read before it. It 
was somewhat extended, and was read on September 23, 1875. 

The author has not only treated the subject as an original 
one, but he believes that this work shows a thoroughness of 
research and detail which none of the many treatises on the 
subject of suicide has attained. 

R. S. G. 

Cornell University 

The original of tiiis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
^he United States on the use of the text. 






By R. S. guernsey, Esq. 

The subject of suicide, as it has been viewed at various 
times and in various nations, is important as well as remarka- 
bly interesting. 

Penal laws are commonly called criminal laws, and are for 
the sole purpose of the protection and welfare of the body 
politic — the state and its members ; and penalties are pre- 
scribed by the law-making power with that end in view. 

I do not use the word penal here in its narrow legal sense, 
but in the broad sense of penalty of every kind and nature, 
legal, social, moral and religious, in connection with this 

The importance of the subject strikingly appears by com- 
paring the statistics of homicide in the United States as given 
in the census of 1870. The table also shows by means of 
colored parallelograms the positive and relative degrees of 
homicide and suicide in different parts of the country as well 
as in each State In the eastern States suicide appears to be 
about six times as frequent as murder. In the western States 

Read before the Society, Sept. Z3d, 1875. 


there is a larger portion of murder and about two-thirds less 
of suicide. The north presents a broad iield of homicides, 
nearly twice as large as that of all the rest of the country, 
witli a very narrow strip of suicides. Allowances should be 
made for the unsettled condition of the government in the 
southern States at the time covered by these statistics. In 
New York and New Jersey suicide is about three to one of 
murder ; and in Pennsylvania, about two to one. The pro- 
portion of suicides to murders is always in excess in all coun- 
tries. From the above it appears that man is literally his own 
worst enemy, when taken in the aggregate in a community. 

As the punishment of a sucide can only act upon that which 
he has left behind him — his reputation and his fortune, and 
its effects upon his relatives and friends, no little difficulty 
has been experienced and ingenuity displayed as to how this 
would be the most effective as a preventative of this loss to 
the State, as it has been almost universally regarded. 

In the famous essay by Beccaria on " Crimes and their 
Punishment," first published in Naples, in 1764, he thus dis- 
courses on this subject : 

" Suicide is a crime which seems not to admit of punish- 
ment, properly speaking, for it cannot be inflicted but on the 
innocent or upon an insensible dead body. In the first case, 
it is unjust and tyranical, for political liberty supposes all 
punishments entirely personal ; in the second, it has the same 
effect, by way of example, as the scourging a statue. Man- 
kind love life too well ; the objects that surround them ; the 
seducing phantom of pleasure and hope, that sweetest error of 
mortals, which make men swallow such large draughts of 
evil mingled with a very few drops of good, allure them too 
strongly, to apprehend that this crime will ever be common 
from its unavoidable impunity. The laws are obeyed through 
fear of punishment, but death destroys all sensibility. What 
motive, then, can restrain the desperate hand of suicide ? He 
who kills himself does less an injury to society than he who 
quits his country forever, for the other leaves his property 
behind him, but this carries with him at least a part of his 
substance. Besides as the strength of a society consists in 
the number of citizens, he who quits one nation to reside in 


another, becomes a double loss. This then is the question 
whether it be advantageous to society that its members should 
enjoy the unlimited privilege of {migration ?" 

"If it be demonstrated that the laws which imprison men in 
their own country are vain and unjust, it wiil be equally true 
of these which punish suicide, for that can only be punished 
after death, which is in the power of God alone ; but it is no 
crime, with regard to man, becaused the punishment falls on 
an innocent family. If it be objected that the consideration 
of such a punishment may prevent the crime, I answer, that 
he who can calmly renounce the pleasure of existence, who 
is so weary of life as to brave the idea of eternal misery will 
never be influenced by the more distant and less powerful 
considerations of family and children." 

It is truly astonishing that so thoughtful a man as Beccaria 
should thus combat the reason, observation and experience of 
ages, and even the dictates of every heart who has any rela- 
tives or dear friends whose feelings of grief or shame are 
thought of or cared for above a feeling of revenge or sudden 

Popular opinion has always been against it in proportion to 
its prevalence, because no one knows when or who may be 
stricken down by this dreadful means if it is not discouraged. 

There are two classes of voluntary deaths ; one may be 
termed the vicious and criminal, which is that suicide by 
which a man under the influence of selfish impatience 'or ap- 
prehension withdraws himself from them by death. The other 
is where life is sacrificed in the observance of duty or in the 
practice of virtue, and then it must be for others; in other 
words, it must be a martyrdom or heroic death, voluntarily 
imposed, in order to be justifiable. 

When it was suggested to Flavius Josephus the Jewish 
christian and warrior to destroy himself, he replied : " Oh ! 
my friends, why are you so earnest to kill yourselves ? Why 
do you set your soul and body, which are such dear compan- 
ions, at such variance ? It is a brave thing to die in war, but it 
should be by the hands of the enemy." 

The Mosaic law contained no penalty against self-destruc- 
tion. The first instances of suicide recorded in Jewish his- 


tory are of Saul and his armour-bearer, 1055 years before the 
Chtistian era. Samson's death cannot properly be called 
suicide, and there is but one other recorded in the Bible,being 
that of Anhitibel. Public opinion was against it among the 
Jews. It was their custom to bury all executed criminals on 
the day of their death, at sunset, by the officers of the law, 
without any ceremonies and not in the family sepulchre. The 
bodies were buried and kept until the flesh was consumed, 
the bones were then given to the relatives to be interred 
among the family graves. It was regarded as a very great pun- 
ishment not to be buried by relatives and friends and not to 
have great ceremony, according to wealth and rank, and not 
to be buried with their fathers — they abhorred being "buried 
like an ass," as their writers expressed it. It is probable that 
in olden times suicides were buried by them like criminals. 

Among the ancient Jews if a man was found guilty of a 
capital offense and condemned to be hanged, his body was not 
to remain after sunset on the tree, but, says the Mosaic law, 
"Thou shalt bury him that day, that thy land be not defiled, 
for he that is hanged is accursed of God." 

In the time of Moses and under the custom and laws which 
prevailed during the period mentioned in the old testament, 
many of the criminals and suicides who had no relatives or 
friends to look after their burial, may have been literally 
"buried like an ass," that is, an outcast without friends, and 
perhaps unknown. For a description of such a burial place 
see title " Gehenna," in Chamber's Cyclopedia." 

The Jews seldom mourn for such as are suicides or who die 
under excommunication. So far, indeed, are they from re- 
gretting the loss of them, that they set a stone over the coflSn 
to signify that they ought to be stoned to death, if they had 
their deserts for thus violating the law of God and doubting 
His promises. This punishment of stoning to death was ad- 
ministered in cases of blaspheming and heresy, and many of 
the capital crimes, among the ancient Jews. 

Josephus mentions that in Judea the body of a suicide was 
only buried at sunset, he was then denied the usual burial 
ceremony. Suicide never was frequent among them, for if it 
had been it would have been more often mentioned and there 


would have been a more general law or declaration against it, 
for the Jews were particularly watchful for the welfare of the 
State and the preservation of its members. Saul's death was 
regarded as if he had been killed in battle by his enemies — 
as his wounds were fatal, and he had rather die than be taken 

The modern Jewish law is the same now as it was for some 
centuries before the Christian era. 

The fashionable mode of suicide among the Jews seems 
to have been by throwing themselves from the roof of a house. 
The act must be deliberate. If a person immediately after 
declaring his intention to commit self-destruction was seen to 
ascend the roof of a house and throw himself off he was deemed 
a suicide. But, any one who is found dead, no matter if he 
be strangled, hung on a tree, or stabbed with a sword, lie is 
not deemed a suicide. A murderer, overtaken by justice and 
confined in prison, who is after a while found dead in his cell, 
is not to be treated as a suicide under the law. A child or an 
idiot who kills himself is not treated as a suicide under the 
law, nor is the adult who is driven to the act under circum- 
stances like King Saul. But only he can be treated as a 
suicide under the law who has previously, while in a sane 
state of mind, declared his intention to destroy himself. 

Says a standard work on their laws : 

"If any one in anger shall be seen to throw himself from 
the roof of a house, or to commit suicide, there shall be no 
mourning observed, nor keriah (rending of the garments), nor 
any office performed in honor of the dead, as in other cases. 
None of the rules of mourning is to be observed." He is not 
eulogized — the garments are not cut, the shoes are not re- 
moved, etc. ; but all that is usually observed to comfort and 
to sympathize with the relatives is permitted. 

Among the Jews, suicides and murdered persons are buried 
in the clothes they have on when they die. 

In some of the Oriental countries suicide is in some in- 
stances not only legal, but esteemed to be meritorious ; and 
this is said to be on the authority of the ancient sacred books 
of the Hindoos. 

In India the self-sacrifice of widows and self-immolation 


under the car of Juggernaut are now prohibited by the Brit- 
ish government. 

In China, self-destruction is no crime, and it has been so 
for thousands of years. It is a favor to allow a condemned 
criminal to be his own executioner. 

In Japan, self-destruction is not only frequent but is con- 
sidered meritorious in many instances. When an ofBcial 
has committed an offense, or even when there has been in 
his department a violation of law, although beyond his power 
of prevention, in order to avoid capital punishment, (which 
extends to the slightest offenses) he anticipates it by disem- 
boweling himself. By this act of self-destruction he saves 
his property from forfeiture and his family from death. With 
many of the high ofHcials it is a point of honor thus to kill 
themselves, on any failure in their departments, and their 
sons are often promoted to high rank as a reward for the 
father's compliance with the established usage. 

If these customs were introduced here in similar cases by 
officials we would probably have a more faithful administra- 
tion of public trusts. Suicide would then undoubtedly be 
more frequent than now, but the public would have less rea- 
son to lament its occurrence and example than at present. 

By the Code Annamite, translated from the original Chi- 
nese in 1865, by which Cochin China is at present ruled, and 
is entirely founded on the model of the code which now gov- 
erns China, it particularly provides for those who desire to 
commit suicide in order to spite other people. " Every wife 
of a hard and disagreeable character," declares this Chinese 
code, " who has caused her husband such vexations that he 
has committed suicide, will be condemned to immediate 
strangulation." "The persons who drive another to suicide 
bywords or acts are to be capitally condemned. " "The pun- 
ishment inflicted on persons who, by reason of their health 
or any influence or power they may possess, are of a tyranical 
character, and who consequently insult or oppress quiet per- 
sons, so that the latter out of despair commits suicide shall 
be decapitation." 

The desciples of Zeno, the Stoics, held that self-destruction 
when not caused by despair is not necessarily immoral is 


frequently praiseworthy, and under certain circumstances is 
even prescribed by duty, yet the corpse of the suicide accord- 
ing to old usage remained unburied. 

In the early part of the Christian era the bodies of suicides 
were left unburied by them, they believing that the soul 
would still linger around it and share its ignominy until it 
was buried, which was generally dpne after all means of iden- 
tification had disappeared. As stoical philosophy advanced 
in popular estimation this custom ceased. 

The stoical system of ethics was, in the highest sense, a sys- 
tem of independent morals. It taught that our reason reveals 
to us a certain law of nature, and that a desire to conform to 
this law, irrespectively of all considerations of reward or pun- 
ishment, of happiness or the reverse, is a possible and a suffi- 
cient motive of virtue. It was also in the highest sense a sys- 
tem of discipline. It taught that the will, acting under the 
complete control of the reason, is the sole principle of virtue and 
that all the emotional part of our being is of the nature of a 
disease. Its whole tendency was therefore to dignify and 
strengthen the will, and to degrade and suppress the desires . 
It taught, moreover, that man is capable of attaining an ex- 
tremely high degree of moral excellence ; that he has nothing 
to fear beyond the present life ; that it is essential to the dig- 
nity and consistency of his character that he should regard 
death without dismay, and that he has a right to hasten it if 
he desires. 

The ancient Greeks and Romans were by no means unani- 
mous in their approval of the liberty to commit suicide. 
Pythagoras is stated to have forbidden men " to depart from 
\}a&\r guard or station in life without the order of their com- 
mander — that is of God." Plato adopted similar language, 
though he permitted suicide, when the law required it, and 
also when men had been struck down by intolerable calamity. 
Aristottle condemned it on civic grounds as being an injury to 
the State. Virgil painted in the darkest colors the condition 
of suicides in the future world. Cicero strongly asserted 
the doctrine of Pythagoras, though he praised the suicide 
of Cato. Apuleius, expanding the philosophy of Plato taught 
that "the wise man never throws off his body except by the 


will of God." ClUsar, Ovid, and others, admitted that in ex- 
treme distress it isVeasy to despise life, but urged that true 
courage is shown \'a>enduring it. Virgil described the souls oi 
suicides in the futureXlife in a depreciative manner. 

According to Euripil^ies, Hercules said : "I have consid- 
ered, and though oppressed with misfortunes, I have deter- 
mined thus ; Let no one"Xiepart out of life through fear of 
what may happen to him ;^ for he who is notable to resist 
evils will fiy like a coward from the darts of an enemy." 

Cicero brings before us a passing notice of Hegesias who 
was surnamed by the ancients, "the orator of death." His 
eloquence was so intense and fascinating in regard to the 
tomb and the future life, that multitudes freed themselves, by 
suicide, from the troubles of the world, and sought happiness 
beyond the grave, and the contagion was so great that 
Ptolemy, it is said, was compelled to banish the philosopher 
from Alexandria. 

As a general proposition the law recognized suicide as a 
right, but slight restrictions arose from time to time. Seu- 
tonius speaks of Claudius accusing a man for having tried to 
kill himself. Ziphilin says that Hadrian gave special per- 
mission to the philosopher Euphrates to commit suicide " on 
account of old age and disease." 

A very strange law, said to have been derived from Greece, 
is reported to have existed at Marseilles. Poison was kept 
by the Senate of the city and given to those who could prove 
that they had sufficient reason to justify their desire for death 
and all other suicide was forbidden under penalty of disgrace 
to their remains. The law was said to be intended to prevent 
hasty suicide and to make deliberate death as rapid and 
painless as possible.* 

There was some sound philosophy in this law as the follow- 
ing anecdote will illustrate : 

A French cobbler had resolved to commit suicide ; and to 

* In nearly all European countries and in many of tlie American States there 
are laws regulating and restricting the sale of poisons, the objects of which in 
part are to prevent hasty suicides by such means, as it is the most prevalent 
choice of self-destruction. In France and Germany the laws are very strinpent 
in this particular. 


make his exit more heroic, prepared the following memorial 
in writing • " I follow the lesson of a great master, and as 
MoUere says, 

When all is lost and even hope is fled — " 

He had just written thus far and applied the fatal knife to 
the carotid artery, when suddenly recollecting, he stopped, 
and said to himself: "Eh ! but is it Moliere who says so ? I 
must make sure — if not, I shall be laughed at." He now got 
Moliere, read a few comedies, changed his mind, and returned 
to his cobbler's bench. 

Pythagoras forbade suicide among the Greeks. By the law 
of Thebes suicides were to have no honors paid to their 

The Athenian law ordained that the hand which attempted 
or committed the deed be cut off and burned apait from the 

Plutarch informs us that an unaccountable passion for 
suicide seized the Milesian virgins. A decree was issued that 
the body of every young woman who hanged herself should 
be dragged naked Xhxov,^ the streets with the same rope with 
which she had committed the deed. As it was not fashiona- 
ble to commit suicide in any other manner, this effectually 
stopped it. 

By the Roman jurists neither suicide or self-mutilation was, 
as a rule, regarded as criminal either in consumation or at- 
tempt. They sometimes expressed the qualification that the 
consent of the Senate or Emperor was necessary to justify 

The first Roman Law occurs in the reign of Tarquinius 
Priscus, the Vth King of Rome, about 606 years before Christ. 
The soldiers who were appointed to make drains and common 
sewers, thinking themselves disgraced by such servile offices, 
put themselves to death in great numbers. The king ordered 
the bodies of all self-murderers to be exposed on crosses in 
the public places. This put an end to it. 

A rescript of Hadrian, (the XVth Emperor of Rome) about 
117 years before Christ, expressly directed that these soldiers, 
who, either from impatience of pain, from disgust of life, 
from disease, from madness, from dread of infamy or disgrace, 


had wounded themselves or otherwise attempted to put an 
end to their life should only be punished with ignominy. But 
the attempt of a soldier at self-destruction on other grounds 
was a capital offense and likened to desertion. Persons being 
under prosecution for heinous offenses or being taken in the 
commission of a great crime, who put an end to their life to 
escape punishment, forfeited all their property to the Fiscus. 
It was not otherwise forbidden. 

It had become customary with many men, in Rome, who 
were accused of political offenses, to commit suicide before 
trial, in order to prevent the ignominious exposure of their 
bodies and the confiscation of their goods. This deprived 
the emperor of a large source of revenue, and Domitian, 
about A.D. 80, ordained that the suicide of an accused person 
should entail the same consequences as his condemnation. 

Tacitus says that Tiberius, about the beginning of the 
Christian era, gave an encouragement to criminals to become 
their own executioner. 

In a law of Mark Anthony, which is still in the Roman law, 
we find it written, " If your brother or your father being con- 
victed of no crime hath put himself to death, either to avoid 
pain, or being weary of life, or from despair or madness, his 
will shall, nevertheless, be valid ; or, if there is no will, his 
heirs inherit according to law." 

In Justinian's Pandects, made about A.D. 533, there is a 
law " that if persons accused or who have been found guilty 
of any crime, should make way with themselves, their effects 
should be confiscated." But this only took place when con- 
fiscation of goods happened to be the penalty appointed by 
the law for the crime of which the suicide was found guilty. 
By custom it was inflicted on suicides in any other circum- 

The learned Grotius in his famous work on the Law of 
Nature and of Nations, published two centuries and a half 
ago, thus speaks of suicide : 

" The rule that prevailed among the Hebrews with respect 
to burying the dead, contained an exception, as we are in- 
formed by Josephus, excluding those who had committed 
suicide. Nor is it surprising that a mark of ignominy should be 


affixed to those on whom death itself connot be inflicted as a 
punishment. Aristotle, in the sth book of his Ethics speaks 
of the infamy universally attached to suicide. Nor is the ob- 
servation at all weakened by the opinions of some of the 
Grecian poets, that as the dead are void of all perception, 
they cannot be affected either by loss or shame. For it is a 
sufficient reason to justify the practice, if the living can be 
deterred from committing actions for which they see a mark 
of infamy set upon the dead. 

"In opposition to the Stoics and others who admitted the 
dread of servitude, sickness, or any other calamity, or even 
the ambitious love of glory to be a just cause of voluntary 
death, in opposition to them, the Platonists justly maintain 
that the soul must be retained in the custody of the body, 
from which it cannot be released, but at the command of Him 
who gave it. On this subject there are many fine thoughts 
in Platonus, Olympiodorus, and Macrobius on the dream of 

"Brutus, following the opinions of the Platonists, had for- 
merly condemned the death of Cato, whom he himself after- 
wards imitated. He considered it as an act of impiety for any 
one to withdraw himself from his allegiance to the Supreme 
Being, and to shrink from evils which he ought to bear with 
fortitude. And Megasthenes, as may be seen in Strabo, book 
15, remarked the disapprobation which the Judean sages ex- 
pressed of the conduct of Calanus; for it was by no means 
agreeable to their tenets, that any one, through impatience, 
should quit his post in life. In the 5th book of Quintus 
Custius there is an expression of King Darius to this effect, 
that he had rather die by another's guilty hand than by his 
own. In the same manner the Hebrews call death a release, 
or dismission, as may be seen not only in the Gospel of St. 
Luke, chap. 2, verse 19, but in the Greek version of the Old 
Testament, Gen. 15 verse 2 and Numbers 20, towards the 
conclusion, and the same way of speaking was used by the 
Greeks. Plutarch, in speaking of consolation, calls death 
the time when God shall relieve us from our post." 

The attitude which the teachings of antiquity, and espe- 
cially of the Stoics on the one hand and of almost all modern 


moralists, (for Christianity now coJors all modern moral 
philosophy,) on the other, in regard to their conception of 
death, appears very plainly in their view of suicide. For this 
modern view of it among us we are indebted to the great 
Roman Catholic Church. 

The doctrine of future rewards and punishments which is 
so prominent in the New Testament and the Koran, is the 
foundation upon which it was mainly built in religion. 

It is true that among the early Christians there prevailed 
a sort of ambition for martyrdom to such an extent that it 
sometimes became suicide. Tertulian, one of the early church 
fathers who lived in the second century, said : " The blood 
of the martyrs is the seed of the church." In that age many 
dying men deplored the natural death, which robbed them of 
the honors of martyrdom. It was. carried to such an extent 
that later on the heads of the church condemned it as the 
fruit of misguided zeal, but the people considered it with 

A council of Aries, about the middle of the fifth century, 
having pronounced suicide to be the effect of " diabolical in- 
spiration," a council of Braga in the following century or- 
dained that no religious rites should be celebrated at the 
tomb of a suicide, and that no masses should be said for his 

It was ordained in the sixth century by the Canon law tha 
no commemoration should be made in the Eucharist for such 
as destroyed themselves, neither should their bodies be car- 
ried out with palms nor have the usual service read over 
them. Suicide and attempting suicide were to be treated as 
infamous, and as far as possible amenable to penal discipline, 
and a suicide is considered as having " died in mortal sin," 
and could never enter the Paradise of the blest. 

And these provisions, which were repeated by later coun- 
cils, were gradually introduced with the Canon law into the 
laws of the barbarian and of Charlemagne. Thus they were 
spread all over Europe. 

About the middle of the thirteenth century St. Lewis IX. 
king of France, and an ardent crusader, originated confis- 
cation of property to the heads of the church, and the corpse 


was subjected to gross and various outrages. In some coun- 
tries it could only be removed from the house through a per- 
foration specially made for the occasion in the wall ; it was 
dragged upon a sledge or hurdle through the streets, hung up 
with the head downwards, and at last thrown into the public 
sewer, or burnt, or buried in the sand below high-water mark, 
or transfixed by a stake on the public highway, at cross-roads 
in the same manner as that of an executed criminal. 

The ferocious laws here recounted contrast remarkably 
with a law in the Capitularies of Charlemagne, which pro- 
vides that though mass may not be celebrated for a suicide, 
any person may, through charity, cause a prayer to be offered 
up for his soul. 

The reasons for this great change which the Canon law 
made were not merely ethical and spiriiualhnt political. There 
could be no patient endurance in the state, it was insisted, 
unless there was patient edurance in the citizen. If the peo- 
ple should resort to suicide to escape trouble, so would the 
state, and all social order and safety would be at an end. 

During the whole period of the supremacy of the Church 
of Rome for many centuries the act was more rare than be- 
fore or since. The influence of Catholicism was seconded by 
Moharnmedanism which on this, as on many other points, its 
teachings are similar to those of the Christian Church, and 
even intensified in this case — for suicide, which is never ex- 
pressly condemned in the Bible, is more than once forbidden 
in the Koran,* and the Christian duty of resignation was ex- 
aggerated by the Moslem into a complete fatalism similar to 
the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination. Under the gov- 
ernment and influence of Catholicism and Mohammedanism 
suicide, during many centuries, almost absolutely ceased in 
all the civilized, active and progressive part of mankind, f 

* It was contended by some of the leaders of the church that suicide was pro- 
hibited by the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." St. Augustine argued 
that he who kills himself kills a man. The Koran also says, "Thou shalt not take 
the life thou cannot give." 

t It should be remembered that about this time monastic life was very prevalent 
and its solitude was undoubtedly resorted to in many cases as a substitute for 
suicide. If despairing and suffering humanity was thus cut off from the clouds 
and storms of life, they also lost its brightness and the sunshine which is derived 
from social life. 


The Roman Catholic religion was established by law in all 
the countries in Europe, and the Canon laws had the same 
force and effect as any other laws. 

In all governments where Church and State are united the 
ordinances of the Church are always carried out and enforced 
by the State power. 

Where Church and State are separated the rules of the 
church are permitted to have their full force unless there is 
a positive statute that may effect them. 

In Russia, where the Greek Church is the established 
church its priests class as suicides all persons who kill them- 
selves by the excessive use of stimulants. * 

The position which the Roman Catholic Church and its 
propagators took in its early days and in its strength and 
vigor, is still maintained by it, and its two main branches, the 
Greek Church and the Protestant Episcopal Church. In all 
these churches clergymen and others are prohibited, under 
penalty of excommunication and suspension, reading the 
burial service and rites over the body of any person who has 
laid violent hands on himself, whether that of a communicant 
or not. But this rule does not apply to insane or weak- 
minded persons ; and clergymen and priests argue that no 
sound-minded person will commit suicide, or at all events 
there is a doubt about it, and they, in Christian charity, give 
the deceased the benefit of such doubt, so that the Church 
prohibition practically amounts to nothing. A refusal toper- 
form the burial rites of those churches or any other church 
over the body of a suicide for that reason is almost unknown 
in the United States. 

The statute law in England prohibits any funeral rites of 
any church in all cases. 

The old Germanic law adopted the same principle as the 
Ecclesiastical law. 

Some of the present German codes are silent on the subject, 
to wit. : the Bavarian and Saxon. 

The Austrian code only provides that the body of a suicide 

* In 1881 this ordinance of the Church in Russia was changed so that they 
are not now classed as suicides. 


shall be buried by the officers of justice, but not in a church 
yard or other place of common interment. 

The Prussian code forbids all mutilation of the dead body 
of a suicide under ordinary circumstances, but declares that 
it shall be buried without any marks of respect otherwise 
suitable to the rank of the deceased, and it directs that if any 
sentence has been pronounced, it shall, as far as it is feasible, be 
executed, on the dead body, due regard being had to decency 
and propriety. The body of a criminal who commits suicide 
to escape the execution of a sentence pronounced against him 
is to be buried at night b)' the common executioner at the 
usual place of execution for criminals 

France has no provision in her penal codes for the punish- 
ment of suicides, deeming the Church penalties sufBcient 
punishment to deter them. Experience shows that it appar- 
ently has little e£Eect in that direction. 

In the Reign of Terror, in France, a law was made ordain- 
ing that the suicide of an accused person should entail the 
same consequences as his condemnation in regard to the dis- 
position of the body and the confiscation of property. 

While Bonaparte was First Consul in 1802, a grenadier of the 
French consular guard was disappointed in love and commit- 
ted suicide by shooting himself. When Bonaparte heard of 
the transaction, in order to prevent such a cowardly practice 
from spreading among the troops, he directed the publication 

of the following : 

" The grenadier, Grablin, has committed suicide from a 
disappointment in love He was in other respects a worthy 
man. This is the second event of the kind that has happened 
in this corps within a month. The First Consul directs that 
it shall be notified in the order of the day Guard, that the 
soldier ought to know how to overcome the grief and melan- 
choly of his passions ; that there is as much true courage in 
bearing mental affliction manfully as in remaining unmoved 
under the fire of a battery. To abandon oneself to grief 
without resisting, and to kill oneself in order to escape from 
it, is like abandoning the field of battle before being con- 
quered." . 

We have before seen that the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, 

assimulated the suicide of a soldier to desertion. 


In Denmark, the only penalty is that the body is not al- 
lowed to be buried in consecrated grounds or churchyards. 

In Norway, the only penalty is that the body is not to be 
buried in consecrated ground, but this does not apply to a 
non compus mentis, and therefore the law is practically of no 

Sweden, like many other European countries, has no statute 
law on the subject of suicide. 

In many other European states, where there is no law on 
the subject, the practice is to treat the body the same as that 
of an executed criminal. This arose in the Church and un- 
der the Canon law when the Church of Rome was the pre- 
vailing religion throughout Europe, and was united with the 
State, and its ordinances were enforced as State laws. 

The immorality of suicide was discussed at considerable 
length by Abelard in the eleventh century, and by St. Thomas 
Aquinas in the thirteenth century. 

Dante and Dryden have devoted some fine lines to painting 
the condition of suicides in hell, where they are also fre- 
quently represented on the bas-reliefs of cathedrals. 

In the romances of chivalry, however, this mode of death 
is frequently portrayed without horror, being regarded in the 
heroic light which prevailed in that age. 

When the unhappy Indians in the South American conti- 
nent were reduced to slavery and treated with atrocious 
cruelty by their conquerors, they killed themselves in great 
numbers, until the Spaniards, in order to deter them, declared 
that their masters also would commit suicide and would pur- 
sue their victims into the world of spirits. Thus the poor un- 
fortunate slaves had no hope of rest ; they feared the cruelty 
of their masters in the next world. This deterred them from 

In Cuba, the negroes committed suicide in large numbers 
under a religious delusion, believing that they would be re- 
stored to life at the end of three days. It was only suppressed 
by the Governor-General ordering the heads exposed in pub- 
lic for one month, and their bodies burned and their ashes 
publicly scattered to the winds. (Ro'one de Paris, 29 April 


The West African negroes sometimes commit suicide when 
in distant slavery, believing that they will revive again in 
their own native land, free from toil and their masters lashes. 

Among the North American Indians it was mostly among 
the squaws, and was by hanging on a tree. They had a tra- 
dition that in the spirit land they were forced to drag the fatal 
tree forever, and hence they would always select the smallest 
one which would answer the purpose. 

Many centuries previous to the Reformation in England, 
the Canon law was adopted into the statutes of England. 
And as a further punishment, confiscation of lands and goods 
followed, this being regarded in the nature of a compen- 
sation to the State for its loss of a human being. This latter 
penalty is said, by Bracton, to have been adopted from the 
Danes, where it had previously existed. It may have been 
derived from the Canon law and the Roman civil law, in both 
of which it had been used many centuries before, as we have 
seen. The English statute also directed that the remains 
should be buried in the highway at cross-roads, with a stake 
driven through the body. 

This burial at the cross-roads and without religious rites, 
was to give as strong an impression as possible of a heathen 
burial, and also of a criminal act, for the heathen Teutons 
there executed their caiminals by sacrificing them to the gods 
on their altars, which were mostly at the junction of the 
cross-roads and the body was pinned to the earth by an un- 
painted stake, and passers-by would cast a stone at it. 

This mode of disposing of the body of suicides was an 
ancient custom brought into England by the Saxons and did 
not prevail in all parts of England. Christian burial was de- 
nied suicides in all parts of England, under the Canon law. 
When they were buried in the parish churchyard they were 
placed in the most obscure parts of it. 

In many churchyards may be seen a row of graves on the 
extreme verge of the north side of the grave yard, apart from 
that in which the bodies of the inhabitants in general are de- 
posited. Some of the graves do not lie east and west as do 
those who have Christian burial. These are occupied by the 
bodies of still-born infants, suicides and excommunicated 


persons, and those who it is termed are "buried out of the 
sanctuary," because they are not entitled to the church rites 
of burial. 

The first grave-digger in Hamlet, when he asked if the 
grave should be made "straight," was evidently accustomed 
to that part of England where a suicide's grave was not made 
east and west, as the church stood and as other graves run, 
but was to be made " crooked," or not parallel to them. 

Forfeitures for felonies did not exist in England until after 
the Norman Conquest. Suicide in common with many other 
felonies had the penalty of forfeiture of goods and chattels 
without any special mention. 

All his goods, and chattels, and leases of real estate, were 
forfeited to the crown. The real estate (excepting leases), 
was not forfeited in such case, and his inheritance was not 
forfeited as to other property. This offence was never at- 
tended with corruption of blood. 

In this as well as in other felonies at common law the 
offenders must be of the age of discretion and of sound mind, 
and therefore an infant killing himself under the age of dis- 
cretion, or a lunatic during his lunacy, is not regarded as a 
felo de se, so as to work a forfeiture of his propert)'. But the 
disposition of the remains is the same in all cases. 

This was only carried out when the coroner's jury decided 
the question of the sanity of the offender in the negative 
This continued until 1823, when by statute (4 George IV. 
chap. 52) the body is required to be taken to the churchyard 
or other burial ground of the parish or place in which the re- 
mains are found, and is ta be buried by the coroner, if found 
sane, within twenty-four hours after the finding, and such in- 
terment must take place at night between the hours of 9 and 
12 o'clock. The rights of Christian burial are not allowed by 
la,w in any case of suicide when the coroner's jury decide the 
deceased to have been sane when the act was committed. 
This is seldom done, however, and the church officer, the 
parson, is bound by the verdict and must perform the burial 
service according to the usual form as in other cases. Church- 
men of the Protestant Episcopal Church are very much dis- 
pleased with this, for by the 68th canon and the rubric in the 


Book of Common Prayer such persons are not allowed to be 
buried by the parson according to the forms of the Estab- 
lished Church. The term Christian burial, as used in the 
statute, undoubtedly means any religious ceremony at the 
grave, and is not confined to the Episcopal Church, and the 
Roman Catholic Church, for they are the only Christian 
churches that prescribe the burial service which their priests 
must follow. 

Churchmen contend that in ali cases of suicide the de- 
ceased should be denied the burial rites of the church, and 
they ought not to be bound by the coroners jury and com- 
pelled to perform the rites in such cases. — Wheatley on Book 
of Common Prayer. 

Ceremonies over the body were not allowed, but they might 
be performed by the relatives and friends at their own houses, 
but without the body and without a priest of the Established 

According to the canons of the Established Church of Eng- 
land, no clergyman, only those of the Established Church, are 
allowed to perform funeral rites and ceremonies in a church 
or consecrated churchyard or burial ground belonging to the 
Established Church. 

By the canon law Christian burial in consecrated ground 
and with the religious services prescribed by the Roman 
Catholic Church was denied to all who were not Christians, to 
excommunicated persons, suicides, criminals, usurers, schis- 
matics, heretics, and even unbaptized children of Christian 
parents. The eucharist was celebrated at the grave as one of 
the rites as early as the fourth century, but it has been gen- 
erally abandoned. 

The part of the canon law against suicides was taken from 
the action of the first council of Braga, which occurred many 
years before the canon law noticed it. 

The first ecclesiastical rule which occureth as to suicide is 
the 34th canon of the first council of Braga, in the year 563, 
which forbids any burial service for those qui violentan sill 
ipsis infermet mortem. But in Wilkin's councils the 5th chap- 
ter of the 2d book of the Penetential of Egbert, Archbishop 
or York, written about the year A. D. 750 (which chapter is 


plainl)'- taken from the canon of Braga), adds this limitation, 
" If they do it by the instigation of the devil." And at p. 23? 
the 15th of the canons published in King Edgar's time, about 
the year 960, adds a further limitation, " If they do it volun- 
tarily by the instigation of the devil." (1 Burns, Eccles. Law, 
265.) It will be observed that this canon law of Egbert was m 
the time of the Saxon Heptarchy, but it, nevertheless, applied 
to all of England. 

The Decretum of Gratian inserting the canon of Braga 
adds to it "voluntaire." (Do.) 

VVheatley on Common Prayer, says self-destruction makes 
no exception as to the use of the forms of burial used by the 
Established Church. 

The exact language of the canons of Edgar, as translated 

by Wilkins, is as lollows : 

" Concerning those who by any fault inflict death upon 
themselves, let there be no commemoration of them in the 
oblation, as likewise for them who are punished for their 
crimes, nor shall their corpses be carried unto the grave with 

"If any shall voluntarily kill himself by arms, or by any insti- 
gation of the devil, it is not permitted that for such a person 
any masses be sung, nor shall his body be put into the ground 
with any singing of a psalm, nor shall he be buried in pure 

Canons Edgar, i Wilk., 225, 232. 

Johnson, A. D. 740, No. 96, and 963, No. 24. 

I Burns, Ecc. Law, 260. 

After the Reformation in England, on the revision of the 
Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in 1603, by the 
Hampton Court Conferences, the substance of the 68th 
canon became and is now known as the 68th canon of the 
latter church. The rubric, which is in the burial office in the 
English Book of Common Prayer, was not drawn up until 
1661, and was deemed as explanatory of the ancient canon 
law and of the previous usage in England, and greatly modi- 
fied and limited the class of persons to whom it applied in 
the canon law. Before the rubrics of 1661, the prohibition 
extended to all persons who had not received the holv sacra- 


ment, at least at Easter, or such as were killed in duels, tilts 
or tournaments, or convicted of infamous crimes, but did not 
exclude unbaptized persons and suicides. 

The Savoy Conference, in 1662, made the last revision of 
the Book of Common Prayer as it is now used by the Protes- 
tant Episcopal Church in England, and the rubrics as they 
v/ere called (because printed in red ink) over many of the 
prayers, and in other parts of it informing the clergy as well 
as the laymen how and what to do on particular occasions. 
These were derived from the canons in most cases, and in 
some instances they conflicted with the canons, and in other 
cases did not go so far as the canons. When the law for the 
conformity of Christian worship was passed in 1662, compell- 
ing its use in the form it then was and that it should be used 
as stated in the rubrics, the English Courts held that in all 
cases of conflict between the rubrics and the canons that the 
rubrics should prevail and that the canons were only of force 
so far as the statutes and common law permitted them (Mastin 
V. Escott, 2 Curteis, 760). 

As to how far the canon law is in force in England it has 
been stated by authority that the canons of 1603, as well as 
the acts of Parliament after the reformation, also constitute 
a portion of that law binding upon the clergy, but only bind- 
ing upon the laity where admitted by long custom or express 
recognition of the tribunals of the common law (Lord Hard- 
wicke in Middleton v. Croft, Strange Rep., 1056 ; see also 
Mastin v. Escott and Kemp v, Wickes, 3 Philli, 276). 

The duty cast upon the clergyman by his office is prescribed 
by the sixty-eighth canon, which provides that no minister 
shall refuse or delay to bury any corpse that is brought to the 
church or churchyard convenient, warning being given him 
thereof, in such manner and form as is prescribed in the 
Book of Common Prayer. And if he should refuse to do so, 
except the deceased were within the prohibited class speci- 
.fied in the rubric, he shall be suspended by the bishop of the 
diocese from his ministry by the space of three months. 

As the rubric now stands there are only three classes of 
persons who are within the prohibition. It reads as follows : 
" Here it is to be noted that the office ensuing is not to be 


used for any that die unbaptized, or excommunicated, or have 
laid violent hands upon themselves." 

If a clergyman should disregard this rubric and perform 
the burial ofEce over the prohibited classes, he would be lia- 
ble to trial and discipline by an Ecclesiastical Court for dis- 
regarding the laws of the church. The result might be sus- 
pension for a definite period or the deprivation of his orders. 

The committing of a crime would not render a person lia- 
ble to be excommunicated even when Church and State were 
united. There were ecclesiastical crimes only which would 
render a person liable to be excommunicated, and mere state 
offences were not regarded as such by the church when they 
did not affect church matters. (See Selden's Table Talk.) 

In the ecclesiastical law a felo de se hs regarded the same as 
an excommunicated person 

To the rigid rule of the church there was then, as there still 
is no exceptions, but the law made the coroner's inquest bind- 
ing upon the church. The first grave-digger in Hamlet be- 
lieved that if Ophelia had not been a gentlewoman she would 
not have Christian burial. The second grave-digger promptly 
answers that she is, because the "crowner " (coronor) has set 
upon her and finds that she is to have Christian burial. 

Shakespeare has thus accurately stated the laws of the 
Church and of the Statutes in England, at the time he wrote, 
and not the laws of Denmark, in Hamlet's time. 

Hamlet, King of Denmark, lived about A.D. 700 and Chris- 
tianity was not introduced in Denmark until about A.D. 827, 
by Harold. So the laws of the Christian Church of England 
were referred to, and not the laws of Denmark, at the time of 
Prince Hamlet. 

A sample of how suicide was regarded in law and morals 
about the time of the Reformation in England appears by the 
argument of counsel in the case of Hales vs. Pettit, reported 
in Plowden, page 253 ; it was argued that: 

"It is an offence against Nature, against God, against the 
King, (i.) Against Nature, because it is contrary to the rules 
of self-preservation, which is the principle of nature • for 
everything living does, by instinct of nature, defend itself 
from destruction, and then to destroy oneself is contrary to 


nature and a thing most terrible. (2.) Against God, in that 
H is a breach of His commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' and 
to kill himself by which act he kills in presumption his own 
soul, is a greater uflfence than to kill another. (3.) Against 
the King, in that he has hereby lost one of his mystical mem- 
bers ; also, he has offended the King in giving such an exam- 
ple to his subjects, and it belongs to the King, who has the 
government of the people to take care that no evil example 
be given them; and an evil example is an offence against 
him." Hales vs. Pettit, Mich. Term 4 and 5, Eliz. 1562 in C. 
P. Plowden, 253. 

The reply to this argument is equally as ingenious and sub- 
tle. So much so Shakespeare, in Hamlet, Act 5, Scene i, 
puts the same logic in the second grave-digger's remarks 
when the fair and unfortunate Ophelia's grave is to be 
made. He says : 

1ST Grave. — Is she to be buried in christian burial that 
wilfully seeks her own salvation ? 

2D Grave. — I tell thee she is ; therefore make her grave 
straight; the crowner hath set on her, and finds it christian 

1ST Grave. — How can that be, unless she drowned herself 
in her own defense? 

2D Grave. — Why, 'tis found so. 

1ST Grave. — It must be se offendendo ; it cannot be else. For 
here lies the point : if I drown myself wittingly, it argues an 
act ; and an act hath three branches ; it is, to act, to do, to 
perform. Argal, she drowned herself wittingly. 

2D Grave. — Nay, but hear you, goodman delver. 

1ST Grave. — Give me leave. Here lies the water ; good ; 
here stands the man ; good. If the man go to this water, and 
drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes: mark you that: 
but, if the water come to him, and drown him, he drowns not 
himself. Argal, he that is not guilty of his own death, short- 
ens not his own life. 

2D Gravie. — But is this law? 

1ST Grave. — Ay, marry is't, crowner's 'quest law. 

2D Grave. — Will you ha' the truth ou't? If this had not 
been a gentlewoman, she should have been buried out of 
christian burial. 


1ST Grave. — Why, there thou say'st ; and the more pity, 
that great folks should have countenance in this world to 
drown or hang themselves, more than their even Christian. 

Come, my spade." , 

The grave was to be made "straight," that is, it was to be 
made East and West, for Christian burial, but in cases of 
those who had not Christian burial the grave was North and 

South, as before stated. 

It is evident that the. burial is represented as taking place 
in Denmark, as the King and Queen and Courtiers were pres- 
ent, but still the burial was according to the laws of England 
and the Established Episcopal Church, and not the Roman 
Catholic burial rites, as they were not allowed to be 
used in any parish churchyard in England after the Reforma 
tion and the establishment of the Episcopal Church and the 
rites prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. For several 
centuries following the Reformation in England the Estab- 
lished Church was allowed to go beyond the requirements of 
the Book of Common Prayer in some particulars, and retain 
some of the old customs, and in none more so than in the 
burial rites. 

We have before seen that the canons of King Edgar prohib- 
ited, at the burial of suicides, the carrying of palms by the 
funeral cortege, as was then the usual custom, and also the 
singing of psalms at the burial, and the singing of masses for 
the soul of a suicide. 

In Shakespeare's time it is probable that in England the 
carrying of palms was customary at funerals, and although 
the law of England prohibited masses for the soul in all cases, 
it allowed but did not require a requiem at the grave after 
burial, and also allowed prayers for the souls of the dead. In 
Hamlet it appears that although the burial was according to 
the law of England, yet the Church could and did abridge 
the usual rites in cases of suicides. The absence of palms and 
some other appearances in the funeral cortege of Ophelia is 
thus noted : 

" Here comes the King, the Queen, the Courtiers. 
Who is this they follow. 
And with such maimed rites, this do they betoken ? 
The corpse they follow did with desperate hand, 
Foredo it's own life." 


In the same act in Hamlet the parish priest is made to say- 
that Ophelia, upon account of the manner of her death, should 
not have the full rites of Christian burial. He said : 

' ' Her death was doubtful ; 
And but that great command oversways the order 
She should in ground unsanctified have lodged, 
Until the last Trump ; for charitable prayers 
Shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown upon her." 

The "great command" referred to was the statute law of 
England when the coroner found she was insane, and there- 
fore entitled to Christian burial. 

The last line above quoted fully describes the burial of sui- 
cides in that part of England where the ancient custom pre- 
vailed of burying at the cross-roads with a stake driven 
through the body, to mark the spot, and passers-by throw 
flints and stones upon it. 

But the strict letter of the law still allowed the parish priest 
to abridge the usual burial service in such cases. Ophelia 
had the extent of the bell and burial rites of the church, but 
the priest refused to have a requiem sung for her soul after 
the burial. When asked by Laertes in suprise if no more 
was to be done after the burial, he indignantly said : 

' ' No more be done ? 
We should profane the service of the dead 
To sing a requiem and such rest to her 
As to peace-parted souls." 

In the American Bookof Common Prayer, the prohibition of 
the use of the burial office is that the forms are not to be used by 
any minister for any unbaptized adults, any who die excom- 
municated or who have laid violent hands upon themselves 
(in the English it extends to unbaptized infants). 

The minister is subject to the same penalty as in England. 

In the United States the canon law as amended is in full 
force without any express statutory interference. 

No part of the property is vested in the crown before the 
self-murder is found by some inquisition. If the body can be 
found all such inquisitions must be by the coroner super visuns 
corporis, and an inquisition so taken could not formerly be 
traversable in the Court of King's Bench. If the body cannot 
be found the inquiry may be by a Justice of the Peace the 


same as all other felonies, or in the Court of King's Bench, if 
it sits in the county where the act was committed, and such 
inquisitions are traversable by the executor, heir, etc. 

Coroners' Juries generally carried their views so far as to 
decide that the very act of suicide is an evidence of insanity, 
and that therefore it worked no forfeiture to the crown. 
Bentham cites this as an example of the uselessness of official 

About the time of the Commonwealth it was very seldom 
that a suicide was pronounced insane by a coroner's jury. It 
is reported that out of seventy-four cases only three were 
found insane. 

In 1693 a law was enacted allowing the findings of a coron- 
ers's jury to be reviewed by the Court of King Bench by the 
writ of certierari and the inquisition may be quashed as insuffi- 
cient. * 

In the Catholic Church the confessional, undoubtedlv, al- 
ways has had a powerful influence in preventing the violation 
of the laws and ordinances of the church. Suicide is yet 
much less frequent among members of the Catholic Church 
than it is amjng other ^church members. It is proportion- 
ately less among Jews, however. 

It has been computed, from statistics returned in certain 
provinces of Austria and Germany, that in a population of 
1,000,000 the proportion of suicides between the Jews and the 
mixed white races were as one to four. 

It should be remembered that when the Roman Catholic 
Church was in its supremacy in England, which was for many 
centuries, every State officer must be a member of that 
Church, at least in many cases, not of lower rank than a 
priest of that church. This was continued by the Protestant 
Episcopal Church until a repeal of the Corporation and Test 
acts, as they were called, which required it. 

In Scotland there is a forfeiture of personal property only. 

On the principal that the ethical precepts of the English 
Ecclesiastical law are incorporated in the common law of the 
several United States, so far as the same is applicable, suicide 

* In the year 1870, by statute 33 and 34, Viet., chap. 23, a verdict of suicide 
does not now work forfeiture of any estate or property. 


and the attempt at suicide are to be viewed as common law 
offences with us, and hence are felonies. 

The usages of the English law have never been carried out 
in this country against the body or estate of the unfortunate 
felo de se since Colonial times. 

Forfeiture in cases of suicide are expressly abolished by 
statute in New York. (3 R. S., p. 988, sec. 32.) 

In the United States the law does not make any distinction 
or difference in regard to the burial or disposition of the 
bodies of suicides and those whose death is caused by disease 
or accident. 

In 1879, by chap. 33, § 38 of 42 and 43 Viet, for an attempt 
at suicide in the British army, an officer will be court-mar- 
tiald and cashierd, and a private will be imprisoned. 


When self-killing ceases to be entirely voluntary ; in other 
words, when it is executed under another's compulsion, then, 
at common law, that other is guilty of homicide, though the 
deceased himself struck the fatal blow 

Under the New York Revised Statutes (2 R. S., 661, § 7) 
assisting another in committing self-murder is declared to be 
manslaughter in the first degree. 

At common law, if a man encourages another to murder 
himself, and he is present abetting him while he does so, such 
a man is guilty of murder zs, principal. It is otherwise, how- 
ever, at common law when the suicide is consummated in the 
absence of the adviser. In such cases, as the adviser is only an 
accessory before the fact, he cannot, according to the old tech- 
nical rule of law, be convicted until after the conviction 
of the principal, who, being on this hypothesis dead, is out of 
the reach of legal process. This, however, has been in many 
of the States corrected by statute, and where it is not, the 
advising another to commit suicide, who afterwards does so, 
is indictable at common law as a misdemeanor. 

A civil action for damages figainst a person aiding and 
abetting another in suicide will nndoubtedly lie in favor of 
any party who is injured thereby. 


Under the Anglo-Saxon laws a person present at the death 
of a man who was murdered or had committed suicide was re- 
garded as particeps criminis, and as such was liable to a fine. 
Every man's life had its value called, a were or capitis estimatto. 
This had been varied at different periods, in the time of King 
Athelstan, in A.D. 926, a law was made to settle the were of 
every order of persons in the State. If the fines were not 
paid the punishment was death. 

In some countries accessories to suicide are punishable, 
even though suicide itself is not a penal offense. 

Among the German States, Brunswick, Thuringia, Baden, 
and Saxony alone punish those who are accessories to suicide. 
The penal code of France has no penalty against accessories 
in such cases. The penal code of India has a penalty. 

The general principal of law, however, prevails in all civil- 
ized countries that when any act is declared and punished as 
a crime, aiding and abetting another in it is also punishable. 
This was bO under the Roman civil law and the canon law as 
well as at common law. 

The law against this crime is obsolete from disuse because 
it is never necessary to enforce it, the natural instincts of the 
human heart being sufficient to prevent the frequency of such 

In misdemeanors there are no accessories, but all the guilty 
actors, whether present or absent at the commission of the 
offense are principals, and should be indicted, and are pun- 
ishable as such. (People vs. Enim, 4, Denio 129.) 


In regard to wills made just before committing suicide the 
prevalent doctrine in England and in this country is that the 
act of self-destruction may not necessarily imply insanity so 
as to avoid the will ; that if the will is a rational act rationally 
done, the sanity of the testator is established, and the charac- 
ter of the will and its consistency with the character of the 
testator is the sole evidence of rationality at the time of its 


We have before seen that by the Roman law the will of a 
suicide could be admitted to probate. 

Under the English common law previous to the statute 
abolishing forfeiture the will of a felo de se is void, both as to 
the appointment of an executor and also with respect to any 
legacy or bequest of goods, for they are forfeited by the very 
act and manner of his death ; but any devise of land made by 
him is good, as that is not subjected to any forfeiture. The 
will of 2Lfelo de se is of force against the testator and his repre- 
sentatives and all other persons whatsoever ; so if the king or 
lord pardons the forfeiture the will is suffered to take effect. 


It is an established principle of law that an insurance 
against the consequences of an illegal act is, like a contract 
to do an illegal act, a void contract as against public policy, 
and we have before seen that suicide is a crime at common 
law, therefore no insurance can be recovered in such cases, 
unless the party is proved to be insane at the time of the act, 
then the insurance is valid and can be recovered. In order to 
avoid a recovery in all cases of suicide, a clause has been in- 
serted in many policies conditioned to make it void " if the 
assured shall die by his own hand or act," or words to that 

The first case that was decided on the question of suicide 
and its effect on a life insuranc policy containing such a clause 
was that of Breasted vs. The Farmers' Loan and Trust Com- 
pany, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York (re- 
ported 4, Hill. 74) in 1843. The policy contained a clause of 
forfeiture in case the insured died by his own hand. It was 
held in that case that the insanity of the iusured at the time 
of his death by suicide was no defence. This decision was 
sustained by the Court of Appeals when it came up ten years 
afterwards (reported in 8 N. Y. 303) by five 'judges against 
three. On this appeal the case of Borradaille vs. Hunter 
(44 Eng. C. L. Reps. 336, which was the first English case on 
a similar question and was decided in 1843), was cited and ap- 

34 pj:nal laws 

In England it is the law at present, under this particular 
form of a policy, that in every case of suicide, whatever may 
have been the mental condition, if the policy containing the 
clause which makes it void "if the assured shall die by his 
own hand or act," or words to that effect, the policy becomes 
void in such case. (In Clift vs. Schwabe 54 Eng. C. L., 

P- 437-) 

The principle of the decisions in the English cases is 
founded upon the right of contracting parties to make any 
exception they may agree upon at the time of the issuing of 
the policy, and that it must be strictly construed in favor of 
public policy. 

In Germany and throughout Continental Europe (with the 
exception of France — in the latter the Courts have given con- 
flicting decisions as to the construction of the conditions 
against suicide), the Courts coincide with the views expressed 
in the English decisions and hold the policy void in such 
cases. There have been many conflicting decisions in Amer- 
ican Courts on this same question, but they have not, any of 
them, gone so far as the English cases. In the United Stales 
Supreme Court (Life Ins. Co. vs. Terry, 15 Wallace, 580), in a 
case where the policy contained a condition " If the said per- 
son whose life is hereby insured shall die by his own hand 
this policy shall be null and void," and the insured died from 
poison voluntarily administered by himself, the Court says ; 

"We hold the rule on the question before us to be this. If 
the assured, being in the possession of his ordinary reasoning 
faculties, from anger, pride, jealousy, or a desire to escape 
from the ills of life, intentionally takes his own life, the pro- 
viso attaches and there can be no recovery. If the death is 
caused by the voluntary act of the assured, he knowing and 
intending that his death shall be the result of this act, but 
when his reasoning faculties are so'far impaired that he is not 
able to understand the moral character of the general nature, 
consequences and effect of the act he is about to commit, or 
vphen he is impelled thereto by an insane impulse which he 
has not the power to resist, such death is not within the con- 
templation of the parties to the contract, and the insurer is 


This case was explained by the N. Y. Court of Appeals in 
Van Zandt vs. Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company (55 
N. Y. 169). 

The presumption of law is, in all cases, that death was 
caused by accideut, as in drowning, poisoning, &c. or in the 
natural way when no cause of death can be discovered. (Mal- 
lory vs. Trav. Ins, Co., 47 N. Y., p. 54.) 

The burden of proving that the insured died by his own 
hand is on the insurer. This proved, the burden is thrown on 
the representatives of the insured to show that he did not 
commit the act of self-destruction, with the knowledge that 
it would, and the intent that it should, result in death. 

(See proper charge to the jury stated fn Van Zandt vs. 
Mutual Benefit Ins. Co., 55 N. Y. 169.) 

A person is in law presumed to be sane, and to know the 
consequences of his own acts, until the contrary appears. 

When the question of suicide and insanity, in regards to 
life insurance claims, are left to a jury, they are almost always 
decided against the insurers, on the ground apparently, if no 
other can be found, that the act of suicide itself is evidence 
of insanity.* 

The nnost important decision, and one in which the Ameri- 
can doctrine at the present time is plainly laid down to its full 
extent, has very recently been decided by the Court of Ap- 
peals of Maryland (Knickerbocker Ins. Co. vs. Peters, 42, 
Md. 414). 

In this case the policy contained the clause, which by its 
terms made it void, " if the assured shall die by his own hand 
or act." The act of self-destruction was by hanging. The 
wife of the deceased sought to recover from the insurance 
company the amount of the policy. The company defended 
under said clause, which they claimed made the policy void. 
In deciding the case the court said it is now too well settled 
to admit of question that the clause is not to be construed as 
comprehending every possible case by which life is taken by 

* Dr . Johnson was right when he said, in regard to suicides, "that they are often 
not universally disordered in their intellects, but one passion presses so upon 
them that they yield to it and commit suicide as a passionate man will stab 



the person's own act. For instance, all the authorities con- 
cur in the view that an unintentional or accidental taking of 
life is not within the meaning or intention of the clause. 

Thus, if, by inadvertence or accident a person shoots him- 
self or take poison by mistake, or in a sudden frenzy or delu- 
sion tears a bandage from a wound and bleeds to death, in a 
literal sense of the term, he dies by his own act ; yet all the 
decisions agree that a reasonable construction of the proviso 
according to the plain and obvious intention of the parties, 
would exclude such party from its operation, and the Court 
instructed the jury that the clause in question would not pre- 
vent a recovery if they found from the evidence that the de- 
ceased killed himself in a fit of insanity which overpowered 
his consciousness, reason and will, and acted from a mere 
blind and nncrontrollnble impulse ; and that after they are 
satisfied that he died by his own hand, it becomes the duty of 
the plaintiff, on her part, to offer proof sufficient to prevent 
the operation of the clause ; and she does not comply with 
such exigency by proof merely that deceased was insane at 
times. She must prove that he was insane when the act was 
committed, and in the absence of such proof of his condition 
at the precise time when the act was committed, the jury 
must presume he was then sane, and they cannot draw an in- 
ference that he was insane from the fact that he destroyed 
his own life. These instructions, say the Judges, state the 
law more explicitly and more favorably for the insurer than 
is found in any of the American authorities to which they 
have referred, or to which their attention has been called on 
argument. The Court says, in effect, that when the act of 
self-destruction is done during insanity, it is death by acci- 
dent. It is to be observed that this clause did not say "sane 
or insane." 

Mr. Justice Hunt, of the United States Supreme Court, re- 
marked, in deciding a case, that "insurance companies some 
times insist that individuals, largely insured upon their lives 
who are embarrassed in their affairs, resort to self-destruc- 
tion, being willing to end a wretched existence if they can 
thereby bestow comfort upon their families." 

" The juror," adds justice Hunt, "would be likely to repu- 


diate such a theory on the ground that nothing can compen- 
sate a man for loss of life." 

It is a good ground of challenge to a juror, in such cases, 
if he believes that suicide is an evidence of insanity. 

The question as to the effect of the religious sentiments of 
felo de se cannot be taken into consideration by the court or 
jury when considering the sanity or insanity of the deceased 
in life insurance cases. This has been directly held by the 
N. Y. Court of Appeals, in the case of Gibson vs. The Am. 
M. Life Ins. Co., 5 Transcript Appeals, p. 261. 

In that case the question in contention at the trial was 
whether the death of the deceased was accidental or whether 
it was a case of intentional self-destruction. The defendant 
insisted that they had a right to show that the deceased was 
an infidel and an atheist, and thence to draw an argument in 
support of the theory of intentional suicide. In holding that 
such evidence could not be considered, the Court said : 

"To adjudge that a man's belief in Christianity will prevent 
the commission of suicide, or that atheism will produce or 
tend to produce a contrary effect, is to adopt a principle 
more subtle and speculative, more uncertain and more remote 
than the law can recognize." 

The maxim Nemo praes nuntur, &c. No man is presumed 
to be forgetful of his eternal welfare, and particularly at the 
point of death. (6 Coke, 76), relates to dying declarations 
only, and not to suicides or presumptions in regard to the act. 

Expert testimony is also very much restricted in this class 
of cases. A medical witness was called for the plaintiff and 
asked the question : "Assuming that a person had that form 
of insanity which you denominate melancholia, and had com- 
mitted suicide, would you attribute that suicide to the dis- 
ease ?" This question was objected to on the trial, and the 
witness answered, "Yes, I should attribute it as the result of 
insanity." The N. Y. Court of Appeals 8. (Van Zandt vs. 
Mutual Benefit Life Ins. Co., 55, N. Y., 179,) granted on this 
ground a new trial ; the verdict was in favor of the plaintiff. 

The many insurance decisions on the subject of suicide 
already in the law reports, which show the controversy that 
exists among us with all the force of novelty, is caused by the 
different policies issued. 



So long as insanity is allowed to avoid the terms of insur- 
ance in cases of suicide, it is apparent that no clause can be 
inserted in a policy which can eifectually guard against it if 
the question is tried by a jury in the usual manner. 

In our American Courts, in order to see that justice and 
right is done to insurers, the courts in some cases take the 
case away from the jury, if possible, and direct a verdict for 
the insurers (Fow^ler vs. Mutual Ins Co., 4 Lansing, 202). 

(See McClure vs. Mutual Benefit Life Ins. Co., 55, N. Y., 
p. 651. Weed vs. do. 70 N Y., 562.) 

The policy in such a case should contain, in the clause 
against self-destruction, the further proviso "whether sane 
or insane," or words to that effect. Great caution must be 
used in this, or a new trial will be granted, for the reason that 
the case was a proper one for the jury alone to pass upon. 

It has seemed doubtful what clause could be inserted in any 
American policy which could effectually guard against sui- 
cide. In a late case, however, in the United States Circuit 
Court, in the Northern District of Illinois (Chapman vs. The 
Republic Life Insurance Company, 5 Bigelow Ins. Cases, p. 
110), the company defended against a suicide claim on the 
ground (among others) that its policy contained a condition 
thus worded : " In case the said insured die by his or her 
own act and intention, whether sane or insane, or of death in 
consequence of the violation of law, * * * then, and in 
such case, it is stipulated by all the parties in interest that the 
company shall not be liable for the sum assured." In point 
of fact, Chapman's death was caused by a pistol shot fired by 
himself, and the company disclaimed liability on the ground 
that the shot was fired "with the intention and for the pur- 
pose of then and there causing his death." The usual plea of 
irresponsibility on the ground of insanity was put in as an 
offset to the company's defense, and the company relied upon 
the condition of its policy above quoted. The Court said : 
" I have no doubt of the right of an insurance company to 
thus protect itself against liabilities ;'' and again " as noth- 
ing is seen in this case, or has been suggested, making it in- 
competent for the defendant to protect itself against the in- 
sane act of persons holding its policy, we think effect must 


be given to the condition, and the replication must be held to 
be bad." 

Quite recently the Federal Court, sitting in St. Louis, de- 
clared that whether a suicide is insane or not, whatever, indeed, 
may be the circumstances of his killing, if he dies intention- 
ally by his own hand, insurance on his life will be forfeited ; 
the policy contained a stipulation of forfeiture in event of 
suicide. The Court held, in the same case, that on another 
policy there was no forfeiture because it was not so stipulated 
in the policy. 

It was held (Pierce vs. Travelers' Life Ins. Co., 34Wis.S. C, 
3 Ins. L. J., 422), where a policy contained the conditional 
clause " or die by suicide, felonious or otherwise, sane or in- 
sane," &c., the policy should be null and void; that the parties 
to the contract having defined the sense in which the word 
" suicide " is to be used, the Court is bound by that definition, 
and the insurers are not liable without regard to the mental 
condition of the deceased. 

The apparent conflict among the American adjudications 
on this point is chiefly caused by the peculiar wording and 
construction of the different provisos against self-destruction. 
The current of these decisions, when the policy is properly 
worded as construed by our Courts on this question is grad- 
ually approaching Dean vs. Am. Mutual, (4, Allen, Mass., p. 
96), and will ultimately be in effect the same as the English 
decisions, for they are the most just to the insurers and are 
according to the common law, and are for the welfare of the 
community as tending to discourage and prevent self-de- 

(Since this part of this paper was published the United 
States Supreme Court, in October, 1876, in the case of Bige- 
low, is Berkshire Life Ins. Co., 93, U. S. p, 284, has impliedly 
followed the case of Borradaile vs. Hunter, in the same direc- 
tion, by construing a life policy containing the phrase "sane or 
insane " to have the same meaning and effect as the policy 
was held in that case to have without that language. The 
case also follows the case of Breasted vs. The Farmers' Loan 
and Trust Co., 4 Hill, p. 74, before cited.) 

In viewing the decisions of our Courts, the express Ian- 


guage of the policy must always be considered. The re- 
strictions and practices in regard to suicide clauses are, there- 
fore, very important. In England the conditions as to sui- 
cide are different at various times and in different companies. 
Some of them issue policies free from any conditions on this 
point ; others declare that their policies shall be void in the 
event of death by suicide occurring within a certain period 
after the issue of the policy, such period varying from six 
months to five years. The wording of the suicide clause is 
also various — as, dying by his own hand, whether under the 
influence of insanity or not. 

Most of the companies declare that suicide, whenever com- 
mitted, shall not prejudice the assignee of a policy, but some 
of them add the condition that intimation of the assignment 
must have been made to them either before death or one 
month after death. 

French companies also vary in their policies — some omit- 
ting any clause against suicide, and others containing restric- 
tions in various terms and conditions. 

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland a great variety of 
practices exist. Some companies, under their clause against 
suicide, pay the full amount assured if the policy has been a 
certain number of years in force, some pay only in the event 
of insanity being established as the cause of suicide, others 
only pay to third parties, some leave the settlement entirely 
in the hands of their boards, a very few companies preserve 
silence by omitting the clause or giving but vague directions 
on the subject. The Gotha Life Assurance Company, the 
leading company in Germany, formerly considered a policy 
null and void in all cases of suicide, even without any clause 
against it, and its action was sustained in the German law 
Courts. In 1840 an alteration was made in the by-laws of that 
company, by which it was provided that all claim upon the 
amount assured, beyond the reserve value of the policy, was 
lost if a person died by his own hand. It will be observed 
that no distinction under this regulation was made as to 
whether a person died under the influence of insanity or oth- 
erwise. The reser^^e value is always much less than the 
amount of the premiums which have been actually paid. I 


believe that the Gotha originated this plan, which is now 
quite common in the policies recently issued by American 

The American companies exhibit as extensive varieties in 
regard to their practices as can well be imagined. They not 
only include all the European varieties of policies and clauses 
relating to suicide, but many more. The N. Y. Life Insur- 
ance Company, the fourth in rank in the United States in the 
number of outstanding policies, has no clause, and never 
had any, relating to suicide or self-destruction. Some com- 
panies now provide that if insanity is ascertained and pro- 
nounced by an authorized board or person specified by them, 
by request on the part of the insured, before the act of self- 
destruction is committed, then the policy will be paid ; some 
of these, even in such case, only pay the amount of the re- 
serve of the policy, and others return the premiums. 

About one year ago the Chamber of Life Insurance, com- 
posed of about thirty leading companies in the United States, 
recommended that a clause be inserted in the policies of all 
companies, to the effect that it would he null and void " if 
the person shall die by suicide or by his own hand, or in con- 
sequence of an attempt to commit suicide or to take his own 
life, provided, however, that if any of these acts be com- 
mitted while in a state of derangement or insanity, the com- 
pany agree to pay upon the policy thus voided the full legal 
reserve thereof." 

The policy must be at least one year old to be entitled to 
this. This has generally been adopted, more or less, in effect 
by all companies (excepting the New York Life), relating to 
new policies. Many of them had used it for several years 
before, more or less. In some instances they return the 
actual amount of the premiums paid in such cases. The fifth 
company in rank does this. Some companies contain further 
restrictions, as to the length of time, &c. The practice of 
assignment of the policy or the payment to other persons in- 
terested in the life of the insured is the same as is in general 
use. In all other cases it must be on consent of the com- 

The question of the legal assignment of a life insurance 


policy is governed by the laws of the State where the assign 
ment is made. (Barry vs. Eg. L. A. So., 59 N.Y., 587.) 

Of the outstanding life policies in the United States, and 
there are about eight hundred and eighty thousand of them, 
probably about one-twentieth do not contain any proviso 
against suicide; and about three-fifths contain only the simple 
proviso making it void if the insured shall " die by suicide," 
and about three-tenths contain the additional words of " sane 
or insane." The first and third companies in rank in the 
number of outstanding polices only added to that clause "sane 
or insane " about four years ago — the fifth had used it for 
many years. The second in rank contains only the simple 
proviso declaring it void in case of suicide. The fourth, as 
we have seen, does not contain any restrictions whatever on 
this point. These five companies have more than one-third 
of the total number of outstanding policies. 

I have not found or heard of any policy, either in Europe 
or America, that contained the comprehensive suicide clause, 
and in addition thereto the words to the effect that said clause 
should "bind the heirs, executors, administrators and as- 
signs, and all other persons interested in the insured." Such 
an addition to some of the suicide clauses which are in some 
policies (to wit: the case of Chapman vs. Republic Life Ins. 
Co., above cited) would undoubtedly greatly relieve the 
Courts of any necessity of ever submitting any question un- 
der it on this point to a jury, and thus the intention of the 
parties at the time of the making of the contract would be 
enforced in law without any uncertainty in the matter. There 
has never been any reported adjudication upon any policy 
containing such a clause as is above suggested. In some 
States these words would be implied. 

Where a policy provides that if the party die by his own 
hands the policy should be void, except to the extent of any 
bona fide interest which a third person miglit have acquired, 
the English Courts hold that it may be enforced for the bene- 
fit of others, whatever be the means of which death is occa- 
sioned. (Moor vs. Woolsey, 25 Beaman, 599. The Solicitors' 
and Gen. Life Assur. Co. vs. Lamb, 2 De Gex. J. and S 251. 
Where a policy was taken out for the benefit of the wife 


and children of the insured, and it contained no clause for- 
feiting it in case his death by suicide, it was held by the N.Y. 
Court of Appeals (Fitch vs. Am. Pop. Life Ins. Co., 59 N. Y., 
557)) that evidence that deceased committed suicide was not 
admissable, and that the parties interested were not bound by 
the acts of the deceased unless in violation of some condition 
of the policy. 

In regard to the enforcement of payment from foreign 
companies doing business abroad, the general rule of the law 
of the forum prevails, and the law of the place where the con- 
tract is to be performed is to be considered without regard to 
the laws under which the company is organized and located 
at home. 

The lex loci contractus prevails to a certain extent. The 
policies generally provide that payment of loss must be by 
the "home office," and at the "home office." In such case 
the lex loci is at that place, although a suit is commenced in 
some other State it is governed by that of the home office. 

To allow insurance for suicide, it is argued, seems unjust to 
all policy-holders, as it introduces another class of risks which 
cannot be guarded against, or only to a very limited extent; 
and hence all premiums are necessarily made much larger, 
and a loss in such cases also impairs the capital and surplus 
of the company. The patronage of the people, however, 
shows that it is liked by them. The degree of skill exercised 
in the medical examinations of applicants make the risks 
much less in such cases than is generally supposed. 

The propriety of allowing any insurance on a life destroyed 
by suicide may well be questioned on the grounds of public 
policy, (i.) It is an illegal act, being a felony at common 
law, as we have before seen. (2.) It is an immoral act, and 
against the welfare of a State to allow any encouragement for 
the self-destruction and loss of its members which all are 
bound to preserve and protect. (3.) It is aiding and abetting 
suicide, which is also a crime at common law and by statute. 
The harm done by allowing it is in proportion to the absence 
of restrictions on that point in the policy, and also in the 
amount of the insurance. 

The endowment plan has a contrary effect from the usuaj 


life insurance plans, and it should be encouraged as having a 
beneficial tendency favorable to the longevity of individuals. 
The number of endowment policies outstanding in the United 
States is very small in comparison with life policies. 


Self-preservation is, unquestionably, the natural law, and 
is the strongest instinct of all animal life. If it were not more 
prevalent than the destructive agents without and within or- 
ganic beings, they would all, sooner or later, become annihi- 
lated. Love of life, therefore, is and must be the natural 
selection and conservative for preservation ; and death, and 
and the fear of it, is and must be naturally shunned for 
the same reason. 

Man is the only being in all animal life, with one excep- 
tion, that ever commits wilful and deliberate self-destruction. 
The scorpion will sometimes sting itself to death when its 
hope of life is gone, Byron has graphically described this in 
" The Giour," by the following lines : 

It * * * * jjijg jjjg scorpion girt by fire, 
In circle narrowing as it glows, 
The flames around their captive close, 
'Till inly scorched by thousand throes, 
And maddening m her ire. 
One sad and sole relief she knows — 
The sting, she nourished for her foes. 
Whose venom never yet was vain, > 

Gives but one pang and cures all pain 
And darts into her desperate brain." 

There are and must be times when the natural instincts are 
overcome or lost, and then some other stronger and counter- 
acting influences must be brought to bear to preserve or to 
restore them to power and healthy action. ' 

It is, unquestionably, the duty of a State, and each member 
thereof, to use any and every means to protect and preserve 
its members from destructive agencies, from whatever sources 
they may come. Counteracting influences over predominant 


tendencies which are or may be harmful to the community, 
is the object of all penal laws. The difficulty seems to be 
how this shall be done in this case. The punishment of sui- 
cides by a narrow view, seems that it may or can only affect 
the living, and not the guilty party, — that the innocent also 
must sufiEer. All penal laws relatively, affect the friends and 
family of those who may violate them, and many times this is 
found to be their most salutary use in deterring their viola- 

We have seen in the foregoing history that there are at- 
tributes and peculiarities of the mind that may be used to 
effectively prevent this most terrible occurrence. Religious 
influence should be encouraged as a solace in moments of 
despair, and as having rewards and punishmeuts in a future 
life. Suffering humanity seems to require this in the day of 
temptations and of troubles, be they real or imaginary. 

It may be said here that penalties ought not to be enforced 
against insane persons who commit suicide. It is a well re- 
cognized fact that the insane have like passions as those who 
are not insane, and are amenable to influences, and are re- 
strained from doing wrong and constrained to do right, by 
the same motives, which have the same effects in sane per- 
sons, and that they generally have the power of self-control 
when they have a sufficient motive to exert it Their actions 
are controlled, like sane persons, by their hopes and fears, be 
they real or imaginary. 

The disposition of the body and property of the deceased 
may be in a manner which will deter others from similar acts. 
Exemplary penalties are common and are always commenda- 
ble in all penal laws. The bodies of executed criminals have 
in all nations and countries (except in the United States) 
from the earliest times to the present, been denied the usual 
burial rites which were peculiar to the times and country in 
which they were executed, and some special disposition of 
them were prescribed. 

We all need protection from this dreadful foe, which may 
deprive us, at any time, of our most esteemed and nearest and 


dearest friend, or our own hand may be raised against our 
own life ; and then there are those who would mourn for the 
most worthless of us. 

However useless and burdensome the suicide himself may- 
be regarded by the community, or by his relatives and 
friends, or by himself, his example should not be allowed, for 
some more worthy person may be tempted, in a moment of 
despondency and madness, to follow tlie unfortunate and 
cowardly course to escape the ills and ails of life, instead of 
" taking up arms against a sea of troubles," and bravely fight- 
ing the battles of life through any and every adversity, bear- 
ing all with fortitude — always hoping for the better in the 
sharp extremities of fortune. By thus living heroically in 
the path of duty and right, he will, like a soldier on duty, die 
as he has lived, heroically ; and, at the last, he can exclaim, 
with St. Paul, 'W have fought a good fight !" Such examples 
will have beneficial effects