Abolition of the death penalty and institutional change: Portugal, 1867

  • Maria João Vaz Iscte — Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia (CIES-Iscte), Lisboa, Portugal
  • João Estevens Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal
Keywords: death penalty, abolition movement, penal system, institutional change


This article analyses the abolition of the death penalty for civil crimes in Portugal (1867), which it interprets within a framework of institutional change. The authors argue that the origin of this abolition was an effective penetration of transactional liberal ideas among the Portuguese elite, and was made possible by the fact that the national and transnational security environment had calmed down, which in turn enabled the state to focus on the development and modernisation of Portuguese society. It was impossible for this progress to happen by socioeconomic means, which left moral or civilisational advances as the possible path to fuelling a strategy for progress in the second half of the 19th century.