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

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part of the master's property.

As women are in a state that furnishes sufficient inducements to

marriage, the advantages which the law gives them over the husband's
property are of no service to society. But in a republic they would be
extremely prejudicial, because riches are productive of luxury. In
despotic governments the profits accruing from marriage ought to be mere
subsistence, and no more.

16. An excellent Custom of the Samnites. The Samnites had a custom which

in so small a republic, and especially in their situation, must have
been productive of admirable effects. The young people were all convened
in one place, and their conduct was examined. He that was declared the
best of the whole assembly had leave given him to take which girl he
pleased for his wife; the second best chose after him; and so on.[38]
Admirable institution! The only recommendation that young men could have
on this occasion was their virtue and the services done their country.
He who had the greatest share of these endowments chose which girl he
liked out of the whole nation. Love, beauty, chastity, virtue, birth,
and even wealth itself, were all, in some measure, the dowry of virtue.
A nobler and grander recompense, less chargeable to a petty state, and
more capable of influencing both sexes, could scarcely be imagined.

The Samnites were descended from the Lacedæmonians; and Plato, whose

institutes are only an improvement of those of Lycurgus, enacted nearly
the same law.[39]

17. Of Female Administration. It is contrary to reason and nature that

women should reign in families, as was customary among the Egyptians;
but not that they should govern an empire. In the former case the state
of their natural weakness does not permit them to have the pre-eminence;
in the latter their very weakness generally gives them more lenity and
moderation, qualifications fitter for a good administration than
roughness and severity.

In the Indies they are very easy under a female government; and it is

settled that if the male issue be not of a mother of the same blood, the
females born of a mother of the blood-royal must succeed.[40] And then
they have a certain number of persons who assist them to bear the weight
of the government. According to Mr. Smith,[41] they are very easy in
Africa under female administration. If to this we add the example of
England and Russia, we shall find that they succeed alike both in
moderate and despotic governments.


1. The first census was the hereditary share in land, and Plato would
not allow them to have, in other effects, above a triple of the
hereditary share. See his Laws, v.

2. "In large and populous cities," says the author of the Fable of the

Bees, i, p. 133, "they wear clothes above their rank, and, consequently,
have the pleasure of being esteemed by a vast majority, not as what they
are, but what they appear to be. They have the satisfaction of imagining
that they appear what they would be: which, to weak minds, is a pleasure
almost as substantial as they could reap from the very accomplishment of
their wishes."

3. Chapters 3, 4.

4. Fragment of the 36th book of Diodorus, quoted by Constantine

Porphyrogenitus, in his Extract of Virtues and Vices.

5. Cum maximus omnium impetus ad luxuriant esset. -- Ibid.

6. De Moribus Germanorum, 44.

7. Dio Cassius, liv. 16.

8. Tacitus, Annals, iii. 34.

9. Malta duritiei veterum melius et latius mutata -- Tacitus,Annals,

iii. 34.

10. Opulentia paritura mox egestatem. -- Florus, iii. 12.

11. Constitution of James I in the year 1234, art. 6, in Marca

Hispanica, p. 1429.

12. They have prohibited rich wines and other costly merchandise.

13. Lettres persanes, 106. See below, xx. 20.

14. Luxury has been here always prohibited.

15. In an ordinance quoted by Father Du Halde, ii, p. 497.

16. History of China, 21st Dynasty, in Father Du Halde's work, i.

17. In a discourse cited by Father Du Halde, iii, p. 418.

18. "In respect to true love," says Plutarch, "the women have nothing to

say to it." In his Treatise of Love, p. 600. He spoke in the style of
his time. See Xenophon in the dialogue intitled Hiero.

19. At Athens there was a particular magistrate who inspected the

conduct of women.

20. Romulus instituted this tribunal, as appears from Dionysius

Halicarnassus, ii, p. 96.

21. See in Livy, xxxix, the use that was made of this tribunal at the

time of the conspiracy of the Bacchanalians (they gave the name of
conspiracy against the republic to assemblies in which the morals of
women and young people were debauched.)

22. It appears from Dionysius Halicarnassus, ii, that Romulus's

institution was that in ordinary cases the husband should sit as judge
in the presence of the wife's relatives, but that in heinous crimes he
should determine in conjunction with five of them. Hence Ulpian, tit. 6,
9, 12, 13, distinguishes in respect to the different judgments of
manners between those which he calls important, and those which are less
so: mores graviores, mores leviores.

23. Judicio de moribus (quod antea quidem in antiquis legibus positum

erat, non autem frequentabatur) penitus abolito. Leg. 11. Cod. de repud.

24. Judicia extraordinaria.

25. It was entirely abolished by Constantine: "It is a shame," said he,

"that settled marriages should be disturbed by the presumption of

26. Sextus Quintus ordained, that if a husband did not come and make his

complaint to him of his wife's infidelity, he should be put to death.
See Leti, Life of Sextus V.

27. Nisi convenissent in manum viri.

28. Ne sis mihi patruus oro.

29. The Papian law ordained, under Augustus, that women who had borne

three children should be exempt from this tutelage.

30. This tutelage was by the Germans called Mundeburdium.

31. Upon their bringing before him a young man who had married a woman

with whom he had before carried on an illicit commerce, he hesitated a
long while, not daring to approve or to punish these things. At length
recollecting himself, "Seditions," says he, "have been the cause of very
great evils; let us forget them." Dio, liv. 16. The senate having
desired him to give them some regulations in respect to women's morals,
he evaded their petition by telling them that they should chastise their
wives in the same manner as he did his; upon which they desired him to
tell them how he behaved to his wife. (I think a very indiscreet

32. Tacitus, Annals, iii. 24.

33. This law is given in the Digest, but without mentioning the penalty.

It is supposed it was only relegatio, because that of incest was only
deportatio. Leg., si quis viduam, ff. de quæst.

34. Tacitus, Annals, iv. 19.

35. Ibid., ii. 50.

36. Dec. 4, iv.

37. Marseilles was the wisest of all the republics in its time; here it

was ordained that dowries should not exceed one hundred crowns in money,
and five in clothes, as Strabo observes, iv.

38. Fragment of Nicolaus Damascenus, taken from Stobæus in the

collection of Constantine Porphyrogenitus.

39. He even permits them to have a more frequent interview with one


40. Edifying Letters, coll. xiv.

41. Voyage to Guinea, part the second, p. 165, of the kingdom of Angola,

on the Golden Coast.

Book VIII. Of the Corruption of the Principles of the Three Governments

1. General Idea of this Book. The corruption of this government

generally begins with that of the principles.

2. Of the Corruption of the Principles of Democracy. The principle of

democracy is corrupted not only when the spirit of equality is extinct,
but likewise when they fall into a spirit of extreme equality, and when
each citizen would fain be upon a level with those whom he has chosen to
command him. Then the people, incapable of bearing the very power they
have delegated, want to manage everything themselves, to debate for the
senate, to execute for the magistrate, and to decide for the judges.

When this is the case, virtue can no longer subsist in the republic. The

people are desirous of exercising the functions of the magistrates, who
cease to be revered. The deliberations of the senate are slighted; all
respect is then laid aside for the senators, and consequently for old
age. If there is no more respect for old age, there will be none
presently for parents; deference to husbands will be likewise thrown
off, and submission to masters. This licence will soon become general,
and the trouble of command be as fatiguing as that of obedience. Wives,
children, slaves will shake off all subjection. No longer will there be
any such thing as manners, order, or virtue.

We find in Xenophon's Banquet a very lively description of a republic in

which the people abused their equality. Each guest gives in his turn the
reason why he is satisfied. "Content I am," says Chamides, "because of
my poverty. When I was rich, I was obliged to pay my court to informers,
knowing I was more liable to be hurt by them than capable of doing them
harm. The republic constantly demanded some new tax of me; and I could
not decline paying. Since I have grown poor, I have acquired authority;
nobody threatens me; I rather threaten others. I can go or stay where I
please. The rich already rise from their seats and give me the way. I am
a king, I was before a slave: I paid taxes to the republic, now it
maintains me: I am no longer afraid of losing: but I hope to acquire."

The people fall into this misfortune when those in whom they confide,

desirous of concealing their own corruption, endeavour to corrupt them.
To disguise their own ambition, they speak to them only of the grandeur
of the state; to conceal their own avarice, they incessantly flatter

The corruption will increase among the corruptors, and likewise among

those who are already corrupted. The people will divide the public money
among themselves, and, having added the administration of affairs to
their indolence, will be for blending their poverty with the amusements
of luxury. But with their indolence and luxury, nothing but the public
treasure will be able to satisfy their demands.

We must not be surprised to see their suffrages given for money. It is

impossible to make great largesses to the people without great
extortion: and to compass this, the state must be subverted. The greater
the advantages they seem to derive from their liberty, the nearer they
approach towards the critical moment of losing it. Petty tyrants arise
who have all the vices of a single tyrant. The small remains of liberty
soon become insupportable; a single tyrant starts up, and the people are
stripped of everything, even of the profits of their corruption.

Democracy has, therefore, two excesses to avoid -- the spirit of

inequality, which leads to aristocracy or monarchy, and the spirit of
extreme equality, which leads to despotic power, as the latter is
completed by conquest.

True it is that those who corrupted the Greek republics did not always

become tyrants. This was because they had a greater passion for
eloquence than for the military art. Besides there reigned an implacable
hatred in the breasts of the Greeks against those who subverted a
republican government; and for this reason anarchy degenerated into
annihilation, instead of being changed into tyranny.

But Syracuse being situated in the midst of a great number of petty

states, whose government had been changed from oligarchy to tyranny,[1]
and being governed by a senate[2] scarcely ever mentioned in history,
underwent such miseries as are the consequence of a more than ordinary
corruption. This city, ever a prey to licentiousness[3] or oppression,
equally labouring under the sudden and alternate succession of liberty
and servitude, and notwithstanding her external strength, constantly
determined to a revolution by the least foreign power -- this city, I
say, had in her bosom an immense multitude of people, whose fate it was
to have always this cruel alternative, either of choosing a tyrant to
govern them, or of acting the tyrant themselves.

3. Of the Spirit of extreme Equality. As distant as heaven is from

earth, so is the true spirit of equality from that of extreme equality.
The former does not imply that everybody should command, or that no one
should be commanded, but that we obey or command our equals. It
endeavours not to shake off the authority of a master, but that its
masters should be none but its equals.

In the state of nature, indeed, all men are born equal, but they cannot

continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover
it only by the protection of the laws.

Such is the difference between a well-regulated democracy and one that

is not so, that in the former men are equal only as citizens, but in the
latter they are equal also as magistrates, as senators, as judges, as
fathers, as husbands, or as masters.

The natural place of virtue is near to liberty; but it is not nearer to

excessive liberty than to servitude.

4. Particular Cause of the Corruption of the People. Great success,

especially when chiefly owing to the people, intoxicates them to such a
degree that it is impossible to contain them within bounds. Jealous of
their magistrates, they soon became jealous likewise of the magistracy;
enemies to those who govern, they soon prove enemies also to the
constitution. Thus it was that the victory over the Persians in the
straits of Salamis corrupted the republic of Athens;[4] and thus the
defeat of the Athenians ruined the republic of Syracuse.[5]

Marseilles never experienced those great transitions from lowness to

grandeur; this was owing to the prudent conduct of that republic, which
always preserved her principles.

5. Of the Corruption of the Principle of Aristocracy. Aristocracy is

corrupted if the power of the nobles becomes arbitrary: when this is the
case, there can no longer be any virtue either in the governors or the

If the reigning families observe the laws, it is a monarchy with several

monarchs, and in its own nature one of the most excellent; for almost
all these monarchs are tied down by the laws. But when they do not
observe them, it is a despotic state swayed by a great many despotic

In the latter case, the republic consists only in the nobles. The body

governing is the republic; and the body governed is the despotic state;
which forms two of the most heterogeneous bodies in the world.

The extremity of corruption is when the power of the nobles becomes

hereditary;[6] for then they can hardly have any moderation. If they are
only a few, their power is greater, but their security less: if they are
a larger number, their power is less, and their security greater,
insomuch that power goes on increasing, and security diminishing, up to
the very despotic prince who is encircled with excess of power and

The great number, therefore, of nobles in an hereditary aristocracy

renders the government less violent: but as there is less virtue, they
fall into a spirit of supineness and negligence, by which the state
loses all its strength and activity.[7]

An aristocracy may maintain the full vigour of its constitution if the

laws be such as are apt to render the nobles more sensible of the perils
and fatigues than of the pleasure of command: and if the government be
in such a situation as to have something to dread, while security
shelters under its protection, and uncertainty threatens from abroad.

As a certain kind of confidence forms the glory and stability of

monarchies, republics, on the contrary, must have something to
apprehend.[8] A fear of the Persians supported the laws of Greece.
Carthage and Rome were alarmed, and strengthened by each other. Strange,
that the greater security those states enjoyed, the more, like stagnated
waters, they were subject to corruption!

6. Of the Corruption of the Principle of Monarchy. As democracies are

subverted when the people despoil the senate, the magistrates, the
judges of their functions, so monarchies are corrupted when the prince
insensibly deprives societies or cities of their privileges. In the
former case the multitude usurp the power, in the latter it is usurped
by a single person.

"The destruction of the dynasties of Tsin and Soui," says a Chinese

author, "was owing to this: the princes, instead of confining
themselves, like their ancestors, to a general inspection, the only one
worthy of a sovereign, wanted to govern everything immediately by
themselves."[9] The Chinese author gives us in this instance the cause
of the corruption of almost all monarchies.

Monarchy is destroyed when a prince thinks he shows a greater exertion

of power in changing than in conforming to the order of things; when he
deprives some of his subjects of their hereditary employments to bestow
them arbitrarily upon others; and when he is fonder of being guided by
fancy than judgment.

Again, it is destroyed when the prince, directing everything entirely to

himself, calls the state to his capital, the capital to his court, and
the court to his own person.

It is destroyed, in fine, when the prince mistakes his authority, his

situation and the love of his people, and when he is not fully persuaded
that a monarch ought to think himself secure, as a despotic prince ought
to think himself in danger.

7. The same Subject continued. The principle of monarchy is corrupted

when the first dignities are marks of the first servitude, when the
great men are deprived of public respect, and rendered the low tools of
arbitrary power.

It is still more corrupted when honour is set up in contradiction to

honours, and when men are capable of being loaded at the very same time
with infamy[10] and with dignities.

It is corrupted when the prince changes his justice into severity; when

he puts, like the Roman emperors, a Medusa's head on his breast;[11] and
when he assumes that menacing and terrible air which Commodus ordered to
be given to his statues.[12]

Again, it is corrupted when mean and abject souls grow vain of the pomp

attending their servitude, and imagine that the motive which induces
them to be entirely devoted to their prince exempts them from all duty
to their country.

But if it be true (and indeed the experience of all ages has shown it)

that in proportion as the power of the monarch becomes boundless and
immense, his security diminishes, is the corrupting of this power, and
the altering of its very nature, a less crime than that of high treason
against the prince?

8. Danger of the Corruption of the Principle of monarchical Government.

The danger is not when the state passes from one moderate to another
moderate government, as from a republic to a monarchy, or from a
monarchy to a republic; but when it is precipitated from a moderate to a
despotic government.

Most of the European nations are still governed by the principles of

morality. But if from a long abuse of power or the fury of conquest,
despotic sway should prevail to a certain degree, neither morals nor
climate would be able to withstand its baleful influence: and then human
nature would be exposed, for some time at least, even in this beautiful
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