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30 November 2011

On this day in history: Capital punishment abolished in Tuscany, 1786

In 1765, Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard succeeded his father, Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, as Grand Duke of Tuscany. For five years of his reign a group of counselors selected by his mother administered the Grand Duchy. Finally, in 1770 he visited Vienna and secured full control over Tuscany.

Peter Leopold set about reforming the Grand Duchy. Although he was unsuccessful in his attempt to secularise his state, he did remove many of the restrictions on commerce and personal freedom that the Medici had instituted and his father had left in place. He also started the process of drawing up a political constitution.

His enlightened attitudes extended to the punishment of criminals. After reading Cesare Beccaria's 1764 treatise on penal reform, Dei delitti e delle pene ("On Crimes and Punishments"), he started blocking the application of the death penalty, with no executions taking place after 1769. On 30th November 1786, he promulgated a reform that banned torture, abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all instruments of capital punishment, making the Grand Duchy of Tuscany the first modern state to permanently abolish the death penalty.

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