As [Thomas] Paine recognized, the character of that punishment would affect the relative importance accorded to the protection and the limitation of human freedom in society. Paine thus opposed capital punishment and contended that the "avidity to punish" with harshness "is always dangerous to liberty."
When the desire for vengeance is given free rein in the name of liberty, it "either tortures [the] feelings or hardens the hearts" of the populace, and "leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws” in such a way that liberty itself is threatened. If punishment is given priority over shared freedoms, there is a danger that government may encroach arbitrarily on individual liberty in a manner that potentially affects all. "He that would make his own liberty secure," Paine continued, "must guard even his enemy from oppression, for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." For Paine, even the most heinous crimes must be punished with justice and moderation, and with more regard for liberty than revenge.