The spirit of laws by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu

parts of the conquering state are connected with the conquered nation

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parts of the conquering state are connected with the conquered nation,
by custom, marriages, laws, associations, and by a certain conformity of
disposition, there ought to be an end of the slavery. For the rights of
the conqueror are founded entirely on the opposition between the two
nations in those very articles, whence prejudices arise, and the want of
mutual confidence.

A conqueror, therefore, who reduces the conquered people to slavery,

ought always to reserve to himself the means (for means there are
without number) of restoring them to their liberty.

These are far from being vague and uncertain notions. Thus our ancestors

acted, those ancestors who conquered the Roman empire. The laws they
made in the heat and transport of passion and in the insolence of
victory were gradually softened; those laws were at first severe, but
were afterwards rendered impartial. The Burgundians, Goths, and Lombards
would have the Romans continue a conquered people; but the laws of
Euric, Gundebald, and Rotharis made the Romans and barbarians

Charlemagne, to tame the Saxons, deprived them of their liberty and

property. Louis the Debonnaire made them a free people,[2] and this was
one of the most prudent regulations during his whole reign. Time and
servitude had softened their manners, and they ever after adhered to him
with the greatest fidelity.

4. Some Advantages of a conquered People. Instead of inferring such

destructive consequences from the right of conquest, much better would
it have been for politicians to mention the advantages which this very
right may sometimes give to a conquered people -- advantages which would
be more sensibly and more universally experienced were our law of
nations exactly followed, and established in every part of the globe.

Conquered countries are, generally speaking, degenerated from their

original institution. Corruption has crept in, the execution of the laws
has been neglected, and the government has grown oppressive. Who can
question but such a state would be a gainer, and derive some advantages
from the very conquest itself, if it did not prove destructive? When a
government has arrived at that degree of corruption as to be incapable
of reforming itself, it would not lose much by being newly moulded. A
conqueror who enters triumphant into a country where the moneyed men
have, by a variety of artifices, insensibly arrived at innumerable ways
of encroaching on the public, where the miserable people, who see abuses
grown into laws, are ready to sink under the weight of impression, yet
think they have no right to apply for redress -- a conqueror, I say, may
make a total change, and then the tyranny of those wretches will be the
first thing exposed to his resentment.

We have beheld, for instance, countries oppressed by the farmers of the

revenues, and eased afterwards by the conqueror, who had neither the
engagements nor wants of the legitimate prince. Even the abuses have
been often redressed without any interposition of the conqueror.

Sometimes the frugality of a conquering nation has enabled them to allow

the conquered those necessaries of which they had been deprived under a
lawful prince.

A conquest may destroy pernicious prejudices, and lay, if I may presume

to use the expression, the nation under a better genius.

What good might not the Spaniards have done to the Mexicans? They had a

mild religion to impart to them; but they filled their heads with a
frantic superstition. They might have set slaves at liberty; they made
freemen slaves. They might have undeceived them with regard to the abuse
of human sacrifices; instead of that they destroyed them. Never should I
have finished, were I to recount all the good they might have done, and
all the mischief they committed.

It is a conqueror's business to repair a part of the mischief he has

occasioned. The right, therefore, of conquest I define thus: a
necessary, lawful, but unhappy power, which leaves the conqueror under a
heavy obligation of repairing the injuries done to humanity.

5. Gelon, King of Syracuse. The noblest treaty of peace ever mentioned

in history is, in my opinion, that which Gelon made with the
Carthaginians. He insisted upon their abolishing the custom of
sacrificing their children.[3] Glorious indeed! After having defeated
three hundred thousand Carthaginians, he required a condition that was
advantageous only to themselves, or rather he stipulated in favour of
human nature.

The Bactrians exposed their aged fathers to be devoured by large

mastiffs -- a custom suppressed by Alexander, whereby he obtained a
signal triumph over superstition.

6. Of Conquest made by a Republic. It is contrary to the nature of

things that in a confederate government one state should make any
conquest over another, as in our days we have seen in Switzerland.[4] In
mixed confederate republics, where the association is between petty
republics and monarchies, of a small extent, this is not so absurd.

Contrary is it also to the nature of things that a democratic republic

should conquer towns which cannot enter into the sphere of its
democracy. It is necessary that the conquered people should be capable
of enjoying the privileges of sovereignty, as was settled in the very
beginning among the Romans. The conquest ought to be limited to the
number of citizens fixed for the democracy.

If a democratic republic subdues a nation in order to govern them as

subjects, it exposes its own liberty; because it entrusts too great a
power to those who are appointed to the command of the conquered

How dangerous would have been the situation of the republic of Carthage

had Hannibal made himself master of Rome? What would he not have done in
his own country, had he been victorious, he who caused so many
revolutions in it after his defeat?[5]

Hanno could never have dissuaded the senate from sending succour to

Hannibal, had he used no other argument than his own jealousy. The
Carthaginian senate, whose wisdom is so highly extolled by Aristotle
(and which has been evidently proved by the prosperity of that
republic), could never have been determined by other than solid reasons.
They must have been stupid not to see that an army at the distance of
three hundred leagues would necessarily be exposed to losses which
required reparation.

Hanno's party insisted that Hannibal should be delivered up to the

Romans.[6] They could not at that time be afraid of the Romans; they
were therefore apprehensive of Hannibal.

It was impossible, some will say, for them to imagine that Hannibal had

been so successful. But how was it possible for them to doubt it? Could
the Carthaginians, a people spread over all the earth, be ignorant of
what was transacting in Italy? No: they were sufficiently acquainted
with it, and for that reason they did not care to send supplies to

Hanno became more resolute after the battle of Trebia, after the battle

of Thrasimenus, after that of Cannæ; it was not his incredulity that
increased, but his fear.

7. The same Subject continued. There is still another inconvenience in

conquests made by democracies: their government is ever odious to the
conquered states. It is apparently monarchical: but in reality it is
much more oppressive than monarchy, as the experience of all ages and
countries evinces.

The conquered people are in a melancholy situation; they neither enjoy

the advantages of a republic, nor those of a monarchy.

What has been here said of a popular state is applicable to aristocracy.

8. The same Subject continued. When a republic, therefore, keeps another

nation in subjection, it should endeavour to repair the inconveniences
arising from the nature of its situation by giving it good laws both for
the political and civil government of the people.

We have an instance of an island in the Mediterranean, subject to an

Italian republic, whose political and civil laws with regard to the
inhabitants of that island were extremely defective. The act of
indemnity,[7] by which it ordained that no one should be condemned to
bodily punishment in consequence of the private knowledge of the
governor, ex informata conscientia, is still recent in everybody's
memory. There have been frequent instances of the people's petitioning
for privileges; here the sovereign grants only the common right of all

9. Of Conquests made by a Monarchy. If a monarchy can long subsist

before it is weakened by its increase, it will become formidable; and
its strength will remain entire, while pent up by the neighbouring

It ought not, therefore, to aim at conquests beyond the natural limits

of its government. So soon as it has passed these limits, it is prudence
to stop.

In this kind of conquest things must be left as they were found -- the

same courts of judicature, the same laws, the same customs, the same
privileges: there ought to be no other alteration than that of the army
and of the name of the sovereign.

When a monarchy has extended its limits by the conquest of neighbouring

provinces, it should treat those provinces with great lenity.

If a monarchy has been long endeavouring at conquest, the provinces of

its ancient demesne are generally ill-used. They are obliged to submit
both to the new and to the ancient abuses; and to be depopulated by a
vast metropolis, that swallows up the whole. Now if, after having made
conquests round this demesne, the conquered people were treated like the
ancient subjects, the state would be undone; the taxes sent by the
conquered provinces to the capital would never return; the inhabitants
of the frontiers would be ruined, and consequently the frontiers would
be weaker; the people would be disaffected; and the subsistence of the
armies designed to act and remain there would become more precarious.

Such is the necessary state of a conquering monarchy: a shocking luxury

in the capital; misery in the provinces somewhat distant; and plenty in
the most remote. It is the same with such a monarchy as with our planet;
fire at the centre, verdure on the surface, and between both a dry,
cold, and barren earth.

10. Of one Monarchy that subdues another. Sometimes one monarchy subdues

another. The smaller the latter, the better it is overawed by
fortresses; and the larger it is, the better will it be preserved by

11. Of the Manners of a conquered People. It is not sufficient in those

conquests to let the conquered nation enjoy their own laws; it is,
perhaps, more necessary to leave them also their manners, because people
in general have a stronger attachment to these than to their laws.

The French have been driven nine times out of Italy, because, as

historians say,[8] of their insolent familiarities with the fair sex. It
is too much for a nation to be obliged to bear not only with the pride
of conquerors, but with their incontinence and indiscretion; these are,
without doubt, most grievous and intolerable, as they are the source of
infinite outrages.

12. Of a Law of Cyrus. Far am I from thinking that a good law which

Cyrus made to oblige the Lydians to practise none but mean or infamous
professions. It is true he directed his attention to an object of the
greatest importance: he thought of guarding against revolts, and not
invasions; but invasions will soon come, when the Persians and Lydians
unite and corrupt each other. I would therefore much rather support by
laws the simplicity and rudeness of the conquering nation than the
effeminacy of the conquered.

Aristodemus, tyrant of Cumæ,[9] used all his endeavours to banish

courage, and to enervate the minds of youth. He ordered that boys should
let their hair grow in the same manner as girls, that they should deck
it with flowers, and wear long robes of different colours down to their
heels; that when they went to their masters of music and dancing, they
should have women with them to carry their umbrellas, perfumes, and
fans, and to present them with combs and looking-glasses whenever they
bathed. This education lasted till the age of twenty -- an education
that could be agreeable to none but to a petty tyrant, who exposes his
sovereignty to defend his life.

13. Charles XII. This prince, who depended entirely on his own strength,

hastened his ruin by forming designs that could never be executed but by
a long war -- a thing which his kingdom was unable to support.

It was not a declining state he undertook to subvert, but a rising

empire. The Russians made use of the war he waged against them as of a
military school. Every defeat brought them nearer to victory; and,
losing abroad, they learned to defend themselves at home.

Charles, in the deserts of Poland, imagined himself sovereign of the

whole world: here he wandered, and with him in some measure wandered
Sweden; while his capital enemy acquired new strength against him,
locked him up, made settlements along the Baltic, destroyed or subdued

Sweden was like a river whose waters are cut off at the fountain head in

order to change its course.

It was not the affair of Pultowa that ruined Charles. Had he not been

destroyed at that place, he would have been in another. The casualties
of fortune are easily repaired; but who can be guarded against events
that incessantly arise from the nature of things?

But neither nature nor fortune were ever so much against him as he


He was not directed by the present situation of things, but by a kind of

plan of his forming; and even this he followed very ill. He was not an
Alexander; but he would have made an excellent soldier under that

Alexander's project succeeded because it was prudently concerted. The

bad success of the Persians in their several invasions of Greece, the
conquests of Agesilaus, and the retreat of the ten thousand had shown to
demonstration the superiority of the Greeks in their manner of fighting
and in their arms; and it was well known that the Persians were too
proud to be corrected.

It was no longer possible for them to weaken Greece by divisions: Greece

was then united under one head, which could not pitch upon a better
method of rendering her insensible to her servitude than by flattering
her vanity with the destruction of her hereditary enemy, and with the
hopes of the conquest of Asia.

An empire cultivated by the most industrious nation in the world, that

followed agriculture from a principle of religion -- an empire abounding
with every convenience of life, furnished the enemy with all necessary
means of subsisting.

It was easy to judge by the pride of those kings, who in vain were

mortified by their numerous defeats, that they would precipitate their
ruin by their forwardness in venturing battles; and that the flattery of
their courtiers would never permit them to doubt of their grandeur.

The project was not only wise, but wisely executed. Alexander, in the

rapidity of his conquests, even in the impetuosity of his passion, had,
if I may so express myself, a flash of reason by which he was directed,
and which those who would fain have made a romance of his history, and
whose minds were more corrupt than his, could not conceal from our view.
Let us descend more minutely into his history.

14. Alexander. He did not set out upon his expedition till he had

secured Macedonia against the neighbouring barbarians, and completed the
reduction of Greece; he availed himself of this conquest for no other
end than for the execution of his grand enterprise; he rendered the
jealousy of the Lacedæmonians of no effect; he attacked the maritime
provinces; he caused his land forces to keep close to the sea-coast,
that they might not be separated from his fleet; he made an admirable
use of discipline against numbers; he never wanted provisions; and if it
be true that victory gave him everything, he, in his turn, did
everything to obtain it.

In the beginning of his enterprise -- a time when the least check might

have proved his destruction -- he trusted very little to fortune; but
when his reputation was established by a series of prosperous events, he
sometimes had recourse to temerity. When before his departure for Asia
he marched against the Triballians and Illyrians, you find he waged
war[10] against those people in the very same manner as Cæsar afterwards
conducted that against the Gauls. Upon his return to Greece,[11] it was
in some measure against his will that he took and destroyed Thebes. When
he invested that city, he wanted the inhabitants to come into terms of
peace; but they hastened their own ruin. When it was debated whether he
should attack the Persian fleet,[12] it is Parmenio who shows his
presumption, Alexander his wisdom. His aim was to draw the Persians from
the sea-coast, and to lay them under a necessity of abandoning their
marine, in which they had a manifest superiority. Tyre being from
principle attached to the Persians, who could not subsist without the
commerce and navigation of that city, Alexander destroyed it. He subdued
Egypt, which Darius had left bare of troops while he was assembling
immense armies in another world.

To the passage of the Granicus, Alexander owed the conquest of the Greek

colonies; to the battle of Issus, the reduction of Tyre and Egypt; to
the battle of Arbela, the empire of the world.

After the battle of Issus, he suffered Darius to escape, and employed

his time in securing and regulating his conquests: after the battle of
Arbela, he pursued him so close[13] as to leave him no place of refuge
in his empire. Darius enters his towns, his provinces, to quit them the
next moment; and Alexander marches with such rapidity that the empire of
the world seems to be rather the prize of an Olympian race than the
fruit of a great victory. In this manner he carried on his conquests:
let us now see how he preserved them.

He opposed those who would have had him treat the Greeks as masters[14]

and the Persians as slaves. He thought only of uniting the two nations,
and of abolishing the distinctions of a conquering and a conquered
people. After he had completed his victories, he relinquished all those
prejudices that had helped him to obtain them. He assumed the manners of
the Persians, that he might not chagrin them too much by obliging them
to conform to those of the Greeks. It was this humanity which made him
show so great a respect for the wife and mother of Darius; and this that
made him so continent. What a conqueror! He is lamented by all the
nations he has subdued! What a usurper! At his death the very family he
has cast from the throne is all in tears. These were the most glorious
passages in his life, and such as history cannot produce an instance of
in any other conqueror.

Nothing consolidates a conquest more than the union formed between the

two nations by marriages.[15] Alexander chose his wives from the nation
he had subdued; he insisted on his courtiers doing the same; and the
rest of the Macedonians followed the example. The Franks and Burgundians
permitted those marriages;[16] the Visigoths forbade them in Spain, and
afterwards allowed them.[17] By the Lombards they were not only allowed
but encouraged.[18] When the Romans wanted to weaken Macedonia, they
ordered that there should be no intermarriages between the people of
different provinces.

Alexander, whose aim was to unite the two nations, thought fit to

establish in Persia a great number of Greek colonies. He built,
therefore, a multitude of towns; and so strongly were all the parts of
this new empire cemented, that after his decease, amidst the
disturbances and confusion of the most frightful civil wars, when the
Greeks had reduced themselves, as it were, to a state of annihilation,
not a single province of Persia revolted.

To prevent Greece and Macedon from being too much exhausted, he sent a

colony of Jews[19] to Alexandria; the manners of those people signified
nothing to him, provided he could be sure of their fidelity.

He not only suffered the conquered nations to retain their own customs

and manners, but likewise their civil laws; and frequently the very
kings and governors to whom they had been subject: the Macedonians[20]
he placed at the head of the troops, and the natives of the country at
the head of the government, rather choosing to run the hazard of a
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