Danforth pushes for the accused to be hanged. Is Danforth guilty of murder? Consider elements from the text, as well as the idea of spectral evidence

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With respect, I disagree with the other commenter: Danforth is guilty of murder. He is very different from the other individuals in the play in that he has the most power. If he, in act four, were to decide to postpone the hangings until further investigation could take place, then no one would die that day; likely, cooler heads would prevail and no one else would have to die as a result of the girls' false accusations and Mr. Putnam's greed. However, Danforth cares more about retaining his authority and power than he does about finding the truth. Abigail has even stolen her uncle's life's savings and escaped Salem, casting further doubt on all her testimony, and yet, Danforth says,

I will not receive a single plea for pardon or postponement. Them that will not confess will hang. Twelve are already executed; the names of these seven are given out, and the village expects to see them die this morning. Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God's law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this -- I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.

Let's unpack this: it is 100% up to Danforth whether or not these hangings take place or are postponed for the time being. He chooses to move forward because, in large part, many others have already been hanged for the same crime, and the court has published the fact that seven more will hang today. If he chooses to postpone, he says, it will look like he is uncertain, like he is weak or waffling. Also, it would make people think that maybe the other convicted people who have died were innocent too. The subtext of such a statement is that the public might believe that Danforth hanged innocent people: a move that is tantamount to murder. More than anything else, Danforth wants to maintain his authority. And, in a final show that human life is worth less to him than this authority, he claims that he would rather kill ten thousand people, simply for questioning his authority and adherence to the law, than allow them to rebel with impunity.

Further, Mr. Hale feels like a murderer himself, especially where John Proctor is concerned, and he is far less to blame for the hangings than Danforth. Danforth, again, has so much more power than Hale does; Hale at least tried to speak out against the injustice he saw in act three, though it was too little, too late. In the end, though, Danforth is the one who could put a stop to the executions once he begins to realize the corruption of the accusers—at least by act four, if not earlier—and he chooses not to. This makes him a murderer in my mind.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No, Danforth is not guilty of murder.  He is perhaps guilty of excessive zeal and bad judgement, but not murder.

Danforth is basing his decisions on evidence that has persuaded most of the town of Salem.  He is caught up in the same sort of wave of emotion and fear that they are -- the kind of thing that makes people believe in the spectral evidence of the group of girls.  Yes, he is also motivated by a desire to maintain the dignity of his office and the court, but that's not all that's going on.

Danforth probably should have acted differently, but so should the whole town have.  He is not any more guilty than they are.