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

part of Europe, so long as it lasted. Surprising that the corruption of

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part of Europe, so long as it lasted. Surprising that the corruption of
the government of a conquering nation should have given birth to the
best species of constitution that could possibly be imagined by man!

9. Aristotle's Manner of Thinking. Aristotle is greatly puzzled in

treating of monarchy.[14] He makes five species; and he does not
distinguish them by the form of constitution, but by things merely
accidental, as the virtues and vices of the prince; or by things
extrinsic, such as tyranny usurped or inherited.

Among the number of monarchies he ranks the Persian empire and the

kingdom of Sparta. But is it not evident that the one was a despotic
state and the other a republic?

The ancients, who were strangers to the distribution of the three powers

in the government of a single person, could never form a just idea of

10. What other Politicians thought. To temper monarchy, Arybas, king of

Epirus,[15] found no other remedy than a republic. The Molossi, not
knowing how to limit the same power, made two kings,[16] by which means
the state was weakened more than the prerogative; they wanted rivals,
and they created enemies.

Two kings were tolerable nowhere but at Sparta; here they did not form,

but were only a part of the constitution.

11. Of the Kings of the heroic Times of Greece. In the heroic times of

Greece, a kind of monarchy arose that was not of long duration.[17]
Those who had been inventors of arts, who had fought in their country's
cause, who had established societies, or distributed lands among the
people, obtained the regal power, and transmitted it to their children.
They were kings, priests, and judges. This was one of the five species
of monarchy mentioned by Aristotle;[18] and the only one that can give
us any idea of the monarchical constitution. But the plan of this
constitution is opposite to that of our modern monarchies.

The three powers were there distributed in such a manner that the people

were the legislature,[19] and the king had the executive together with
the judiciary power; whereas in modern monarchies the prince is invested
with the executive and legislative powers, or at least with part of the
legislative, but does not act in a judiciary capacity.

In the government of the kings of the heroic times, the three powers

were ill-distributed. Hence those monarchies could not long subsist. For
as soon as the people got the legislative power into their hands, they
might, as they everywhere did, upon the very least caprice, subvert the
regal authority.

Among a free people possessed of the legislative power, and enclosed

within walls, where everything tending towards oppression appears still
more odious, it is the masterpiece of legislation to know where to place
properly the judiciary power. But it could not be in worse hands than in
those of the person to whom the executive power had been already
committed. From that very instant the monarch became terrible. But at
the same time as he had no share in the legislature, he could make no
defence against it, thus his power was in one sense too great, in
another too little.

They had not as yet discovered that the true function of a prince was to

appoint judges, and not to sit as judge himself. The opposite policy
rendered the government of a single person insupportable. Hence all
these kings were banished. The Greeks had no notion of the proper
distribution of the three powers in the government of one person; they
could see it only in that of many; and this kind of constitution they
distinguished by the name of Polity.[20]

12. Of the Government of the Kings of Rome, and in what Manner the three

Powers were there distributed. The government of the kings of Rome had
some relation to that of the kings of the heroic times of Greece. Its
subversion, like the latter's, was owing to its general defect, though
in its own particular nature it was exceedingly good.

In order to give an adequate idea of this government, I shall

distinguish that of the first five kings, that of Servius Tullius, and
that of Tarquin.

The crown was elective, and under the first five kings the senate had

the greatest share in the election.

Upon the king's decease the senate examined whether they should continue

the established form of government. If they thought proper to continue
it, they named a magistrate[21] taken from their own body, who chose a
king; the senate were to approve of the election, the people to confirm
it, and the augurs to declare the approbation of the gods. If any of
these three conditions was wanting, they were obliged to proceed to
another election.

The constitution was a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy;

and such was the harmony of power that there was no instance of jealousy
or dispute in the first reigns. The king commanded the armies, and had
the direction of the sacrifices: he had the power of determining[22]
civil and criminal[23] causes; he called the senate together, convened
the people, laid some affairs before the latter, and regulated the rest
with the senate.[24]

The authority of the senate was very great. The kings oftentimes pitched

upon senators with whom they sat in judgment; and they never laid any
affair before the people till it had been previously debated[25] in that
august assembly.

The people had the right of choosing[26] magistrates, of consenting to

the new laws, and, with the king's permission, of making war and peace;
but they had not the judicial power. When Tullius Hostilius referred the
trial of Horatius to the people, he had his particular reasons, which
may be seen in Dionysius Halicarnassus.[27]

The constitution altered under[28] Servius Tullius. The senate had no

share in his election; he caused himself to be proclaimed by the people;
he resigned the power of hearing civil causes,[29] reserving none to
himself but those of a criminal nature; he laid all affairs directly
before the people, eased them of the taxes, and imposed the whole burden
on the patricians. Hence in proportion as he weakened the regal together
with the senatorial power, he augmented that of the plebeians.[30]

Tarquin would neither be chosen by the senate nor by the people; he

considered Servius Tullius as a usurper, and seized the crown as his
hereditary right. He destroyed most of the senators; those who remained
he never consulted; nor did he even so much as summon them to assist at
his decisions.[31] Thus his power increased: but the odium of that power
received a new addition, by usurping also the authority of the people,
against whose consent he enacted several laws. The three powers were by
these means re-united in his person; but the people at a critical minute
recollected that they were legislators, and there was an end of Tarquin.

13. General Reflections on the State of Rome after the Expulsion of its

Kings. It is impossible to be tired of so agreeable a subject as ancient
Rome: thus strangers at present leave the modern palaces of that
celebrated capital to visit the ruins; and thus the eye, after
recreating itself with the view of flowery meads, is pleased with the
wild prospect of rocks and mountains.

The patrician families were at all times possessed of great privileges.

These distinctions, which were considerable under the kings, became much
more important after their expulsion. Hence arose the jealousy of the
plebeians, who wanted to reduce them. The contest struck at the
constitution, without weakening the government; for it was very
indifferent as to what family were the magistrates, provided the
magistracy preserved its authority.

An elective monarchy, like that of Rome, necessarily supposes a powerful

aristocratic body to support it, without which it changes immediately
into tyranny or into a popular state. But a popular state has no need of
this distinction of families to maintain itself. To this it was owing
that the patricians, who were a necessary part of the constitution under
the regal government, became a superfluous branch under the consuls; the
people could suppress them without hurting themselves, and change the
constitution without corrupting it.

After Servius Tullius had reduced the patricians, it was natural that

Rome should fall from the regal hands into those of the people. But the
people had no occasion to be afraid of relapsing under a regal power by
reducing the patricians.

A state may alter in two different ways, either by the amendment or by

the corruption of the constitution. If it has preserved its principles
and the constitution changes, this is owing to its amendment; if upon
changing the constitution its principles are lost, this is because it
has been corrupted.

The government of Rome, after the expulsion of the kings, should

naturally have been a democracy. The people had already the legislative
power in their hands; it was their unanimous consent that had expelled
the Tarquins; and if they had not continued steady to those principles,
the Tarquins might easily have been restored. To pretend that their
design in expelling them was to render themselves slaves to a few
families is quite absurd. The situation therefore of things required
that Rome should have formed a democracy, and yet this did not happen.
There was a necessity that the power of the principal families should be
tempered, and that the laws should have a bias to democracy.

The prosperity of states is frequently greater in the insensible

transition from one constitution to another than in either of those
constitutions. Then it is that all the springs of government are upon
the stretch, that the citizens assert their claims, that friendships or
enmities are formed amongst the jarring parties, and that there is a
noble emulation between those who defend the ancient and those who are
strenuous in promoting the new constitution.

14. In what Manner the Distribution of the three Powers began to change

after the Expulsion of the Kings. There were four things that greatly
prejudiced the liberty of Rome. The patricians had engrossed to
themselves all public employments whatever; an exorbitant power was
annexed to the consulate; the people were often insulted; and, in fine,
they had scarcely any influence at all left in the public suffrages.
These four abuses were redressed by the people.

1st. It was regulated that the plebeians might aspire to some

magistracies; and by degrees they were rendered capable of them all,
except that of Inter-rex.

2nd. The consulate was dissolved into several other magistracies;[32]

prætors were created, on whom the power was conferred of trying private
causes; quæstors[33] were nominated for determining those of a criminal
nature; ædiles were established for the civil administration;
treasurers[34] were made for the management of the public money; and, in
fine, by the creation of censors the consuls were divested of that part
of the legislative power which regulates the morals of the citizens and
the transient polity of the different bodies of the state. The chief
privileges left them were to preside in the great meetings[35] of the
people, to assemble the senate, and to command the armies.

3rd. The sacred laws appointed tribunes, who had a power of checking the

encroachments of the patricians, and prevented not only private but
likewise public injuries.

In fine, the plebeians increased their influence in the general

assemblies. The people of Rome were divided in three different manners
-- by centuries, by curiæ, and by tribes; and whenever they gave their
votes, they were convened in one of those three ways.

In the first the patricians, the leading men, the rich and the senate,

which was very nearly the same thing, had almost the whole authority; in
the second they had less; and less still in the third.

The division into centuries was a division rather of estates and

fortunes than of persons The whole people were distributed into a
hundred and ninety-three centuries,[36] which had each a single vote.
The patricians and leading men composed the first ninety-eight
centuries; and the other ninety-five consisted of the remainder of the
citizens. In this division therefore the patricians were masters of the

In the division into curiæ,[37] the patricians had not the same

advantages; some, however, they had, for it was necessary to consult the
augurs, who were under the direction of the patricians; and no proposal
could be made there to the people unless it had been previously laid
before the senate, and approved of by a senatus-consultum. But, in the
division into tribes they had nothing to do either with the augurs or
with the decrees of the senate; and the patricians were excluded.

Now the people endeavoured constantly to have those meetings by curiæ

which had been customary by centuries, and by tribes, those they used to
have before by curiæ; by which means the direction of public affairs
soon devolved from the patricians to the plebeians.

Thus when the plebeians obtained the power of trying the patricians -- a

power which commenced in the affair of Coriolanus,[38] they insisted
upon assembling by tribes,[39] and not by centuries; and when the new
magistracies[40] of tribunes and ædiles were established in favour of
the people, the latter obtained that they should meet by curiæ in order
to nominate them; and after their power was quite settled, they
gained[41] so far their point as to assemble by tribes to proceed to
this nomination.

15. In what Manner Rome, in the flourishing State of that Republic,

suddenly lost its Liberty. In the heat of the contests between the
patricians and the plebeians, the latter insisted upon having fixed
laws, to the end that the public judgments should no longer be the
effect of capricious will or arbitrary power. The senate, after a great
deal of resistance, acquiesced; and decemvirs were nominated to compose
those laws. It was thought proper to grant them an extraordinary power,
because they were to give laws to parties whose views and interest it
was almost impossible to unite. The nomination of all magistrates was
suspended; and the decemvirs were chosen in the comitia sole
administrators of the republic. Thus they found themselves invested with
the consular and the tribunition power. By one they had the privilege of
assembling the senate, by the other that of convening the people; but
they assembled neither senate nor people. Ten men only of the republic
had the whole legislative, the whole executive, and the whole judiciary
power. Rome saw herself enslaved by as cruel a tyranny as that of
Tarquin. When Tarquin trampled on the liberty of that city, she was
seized with indignation at the power he had usurped; when the decemvirs
exercised every act of oppression, she was astonished at the
extraordinary power she had granted.

What a strange system of tyranny -- a tyranny carried on by men who had

obtained the political and military power, merely from their knowledge
in civil affairs, and who at that very juncture stood in need of the
courage of those citizens to protect them abroad who so tamely submitted
to domestic oppression!

The spectacle of Virginia's death, whom her father immolated to chastity

and liberty, put an end to the power of the decemvirs. Every man became
free, because every man had been injured; each showed himself a citizen
because each had a tie of the parent. The senate and the people resumed
a liberty which had been committed to ridiculous tyrants.

No people were so easily moved by public spectacles as the Romans. That

of the empurpled body of Lucretia put an end to the regal government.
The debtor who appeared in the forum covered with wounds caused an
alteration in the republic. The decemvirs owed their expulsion to the
tragedy of Virginia. To condemn Manlius, it was necessary to keep the
people from seeing the Capitol. Cæsar's bloody garment flung Rome again
into slavery.

16. Of the legislative Power in the Roman Republic. There were no rights

to contest under the decemvirs: but upon the restoration of liberty,
jealousies revived; and so long as the patricians had any privileges
left, they were sure to be stripped of them by the plebeians.

The mischief would not have been so great had the plebeians been

satisfied with this success; but they also injured the patricians as
citizens. When the people assembled by curiæ or centuries, they were
composed of senators, patricians, and plebeians; in their disputes the
plebeians gained this point,[42] that they alone without patricians or
senate should enact the laws called Plebiscita; and the assemblies in
which they were made had the name of comitia by tribes. Thus there were
cases in which the patricians[43] had no share in the legislative power,
but[44] were subject to the legislation of another body of the state.
This was the extravagance of liberty. The people, to establish a
democracy, acted against the very principles of that government. One
would have imagined that so exorbitant a power must have destroyed the
authority of the senate. But Rome had admirable institutions. Two of
these were especially remarkable: one by which the legislative power of
the people was established, and the other by which it was limited.

The censors, and before them the consuls, modelled[45] and created, as

it were, every five years the body of the people; they exercised the
legislation on the very part that was possessed of the legislative
power. "Tiberius Gracchus," says Cicero, "caused the freedmen to be
admitted into the tribes, not by the force of his eloquence, but by a
word, by a gesture; which had he not effected, the republic, whose
drooping head we are at present scarcely able to uphold, would not even

On the other hand, the senate had the power of rescuing, as it were, the

republic out of the hands of the people, by creating a dictator, before
whom the sovereign bowed his head, and the most popular laws were

17. Of the executive Power in the same Republic. Jealous as the people

were of their legislative power, they had no great uneasiness about the
executive. This they left almost entirely to the senate and to the
consuls, reserving scarcely anything more to themselves than the right
of choosing the magistrates, and of confirming the acts of the senate
and of the generals.

Rome, whose passion was to command, whose ambition was to conquer, whose

commencement and progress were one continued usurpation, had constantly
affairs of the greatest weight upon her hands; her enemies were ever
conspiring against her, or she against her enemies.

As she was obliged to behave on the one hand with heroic courage, and on

the other with consummate prudence, it was requisite, of course, that
the management of affairs should be committed to the senate. Thus the
people disputed every branch of the legislative power with the senate,
because they were jealous of their liberty; but they had no disputes
about the executive, because they were animated with the love of glory.

So great was the share the senate took in the executive power, that, as

Polybius[47] informs us, foreign nations imagined that Rome was an
aristocracy. The senate disposed of the public money, and farmed out the
revenue; they were arbiters of the affairs of their allies; they
determined war or peace, and directed in this respect the consuls; they
fixed the number of the Roman and of the allied troops, disposed of the
provinces and armies to the consuls or prætors, and upon the expiration
of the year of command had the power of appointing successors; they
decreed triumphs, received and sent embassies: they nominated, rewarded,
punished, and were judges of kings, declared them allies of the Roman
people, or stripped them of that title.

The consuls levied the troops which they were to carry into the field;

had the command of the forces by sea and by land; disposed of the forces
of the allies; were invested with the whole power of the republic in the
provinces; gave peace to the vanquished nations, imposed conditions on
them, or referred them to the senate.

In the earliest times, when the people had some share in the affairs

relating to war or peace, they exercised rather their legislative than
their executive power. They scarcely did anything else but confirm the
acts of the kings, and after their expulsion those of the consuls or
senate. So far were they from being the arbiters of war that we have
instances of its having been often declared, notwithstanding the
opposition of the tribunes. But growing wanton in their prosperity, they
increased their executive power. Thus[48] they created the military
tribunes, the nomination of whom till then had belonged to the generals;
and some time before the first Punic war, they decreed that only their
own body should have the right of declaring war.[49]

18. Of the judiciary Power in the Roman Government. The judiciary power

was given to the people, to the senate, to the magistrates, and to
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