Governor Abolishes the Death Penalty in Maine


Llewellyn Powers, class of 1860, as a Maine legislator prior to becoming governor, introduced and carried through the bill that ultimately abolished the death penalty in the state of Maine, making the state the third in the country to abolish capital punishment, only preceded by Michigan (1846) and Wisconsin (1853). Extensive controversy over the death penalty during the time had been fueled by the Smuttynose Island case of 1873, in which the suspect Wagner declared his innocence all the way to his deathbed.

Powers strongly opposed the death penalty, believing that there were no benefits from putting a man to death since it did not discourage others from committing the same crime. As a Republican in the House of Representatives, Powers’ bill abolishing capital punishment was considered by the House in 1876 and passed by a vote of 75 to 68. Llewellyn graduated from Albany Law School, then called Union University, in December 1860 with a Bachelor of Laws. He opened a practice the following year in Houlton, Maine, which he ran for 25 years. Beginning in 1864, he held the position of prosecuting attorney in Aroostook County for six years. In 1868, President Grant appointed him to be the first collector of customs for Aroostook, an occupation which entailed collecting taxes from individuals and businesses based on current law and gathering import duties on foreign merchandise that entered the county. Powers went on to serve as Governor of Maine from 1897 to 1901. Through his earlier jobs in government affairs, he developed a passion for handling public affairs and desired to be more involved in the political world. This passion led to the abolition of capital punishment, which remains a law in Maine today despite several efforts over the years to have it overturned.

By Eirinn Norrie