Why does Danforth say he refuses to postpone the executions?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Judge Danforth's refusal to postpone the executions of individuals such as John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse comes at the behest of Reverend Hale's utterance that he needs more time to persuade them to confess to their supposed relationship with Satan. The good Reverend has been counseling those who have been sentenced to death so that they may be spared. He states that they have stubbornly refused to admit their guilt and that a postponement might give him an opportunity to convince them to relent. Furthermore, it is evident that the town is in an uproar. There have been rumors of a rebellion similar to the one in Andover. Reverend Parris also states that John and Rebecca, in particular, are heading a faction to get rid of him and that they are the foremost citizens in the village. If Reverend Hale can extract confessions from those in prison, others might follow suit and prevent any further disruption in the community. As it is, unharvested crops are rotting, untended livestock is roaming the streets, and orphaned children have nowhere to go. The mood in Salem is, therefore, disturbing and threatening.

In light of all of the above, Judge Danforth stubbornly refuses to postpone the executions. He states that:

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 at dawn. Postponement, now, speaks a … a floundering (Willard ENTERS) on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now.

The arrogant and recalcitrant Judge has ruled the court with an iron fist and has, from the outset, stamped his authority upon its proceedings. He has been harsh, unforgiving, unrelenting, and unwilling to provide any compromise. His dictatorial style has permeated through all aspects of the proceedings and has defeated, in all instances, all challenges to his authority. 

The judge's refusal, on one hand, can be deemed rational since many others have already been executed. Allowing a reprieve to those incarcerated and who have been found guilty will seem unjust. Such an action will most certainly result in outrage by the families and associates of those already executed. On the other hand, as rational as this argument may sound, clear evidence that the girls have been lying has been presented to the court in the form of testimony by Mary Warren and others, namely, John Proctor and Giles Corey. Many witnesses have provided affidavits in support of the good character of the accused such as Rebecca Nurse. Also, enough evidence exists to prove that Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis are deceitful and sly. The two girls surreptitiously left the village after Abigail stole her uncle's entire life savings. In effect, then, there is more than enough evidence to provide the accused, living or dead, with a pardon.  

It becomes apparent, therefore, that Judge Danforth's decision is not entirely rational. Because he is the chief presiding officer, any changes to the judgments he has passed will be a reflection of his character and judgment. Since he has not permitted anyone to question his abilities in this regard, he will not allow it now. His reticence is informed by his arrogance and dictatorial nature. Judge Danforth will not have any accusatory finger pointed at him. He is not prepared to admit to his mistakes and accept that he has failed the community of Salem. He, even in the face of truth, is unrelenting and unforgiving. His narcissism and supercilious attitude are what drive him to refuse a postponement.  

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like so much in Danforth's attiude, he refuses to accept any premise that would bring questioning and doubt to the nature of the court.  In some senses, Danforth has brought forth the idea that he refuses to let anything question his court.  The court has become an extension of himself.  It is for this reason that he refuses to accept anything during the trials that questions the findings of the court.  It is for this reason that refuses to budge in delaying the executions.  He believes that to do so would bring a bad name to both the court and, by extension, himself:

...postponement now speaks of floundering on my part.

This is a telling line in that Danforth links the court with his own name, something that Proctor will flip in an unusual way later on in the Act.  For Danforth, the very idea that there could be a delay or any doubt in the proceedings helps to bring question to both it and to Danforth himself.  This is an end that he cannot even fathom to embrace.