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ought to be common to them, nor of those particular circumstances which arise either from the nature of the country, or from the genius of the people. It is this which we must now explain.
That political liberty which every citizen ought to enjoy, is the common law of all governments, at least moderate governments, and consequently just ones. This liberty is not an absurd license of doing every thing we wish to do, but the power of doing every thing that the laws permit. It may be considered either in its relation to the constitution, or in its relation to the citizen. There are in the constitution of every state two sorts of powers, the legislative and the executive; and this last has two objects, the internal police, and its relation to foreign interests. It is from the legitimate distribution and proper subdivision of these different powers, that the greatest perfection of political liberty with relation to the constitution depends. M. de Montesquieu brings as a proof of this the constitution of the Roman republic, and that of England. He finds the principle of the last in that fundamental law of the government of the ancient Germans, that affairs of small importance were determined by the chiefs, and that great affairs were brought before the tribunal of the nation, after they had been first debated by them. M. de Montesquieu does not examine whether the English enjoy actually or not that high political liberty which their constitution gives them ; it is enough for him that it is established by their laws. He is still farther from writing a satire upon other states : he believes on the contrary, that an excess even of good is not always desirable ; that extreme liberty, like extreme slavery, has its inconveniencies; and that in general human nature is most adapted to a middling state of freedom.
Political liberty, considered with relation to a citizen, consists in that security in which he lives under shelter of the laws; or at least in an opinion of this security which makes no one citizen entertain any fear of another. It is principally by the nature and proportion of punishments, that this liberty is established or destroyed. Crimes against religion ought to be punished by a privation of those advantages which religion procures ; crimes against morality, by shame; crimes against the public tranquillity, by imprisonment or banishment; crimes against its security, by more grievous punishments. Writings ought to be less punished than actions; simple thoughts ought never to be so. Accusations which are not according to the forms of law, spies, anonymous letters, all those resources of tyranny which are equally disgraceful to such as are the instruments of them, and to those who make use of them, ought to be proscribed in every good monarchical government. Nobody ought to be permitted to accuse but in face of the law, which always punishes either the accused person or the calumniator. In every other case, those who govern ought to say, with the Emperor Constantius: We cannot suspect a man against whom no accuser appeared, when at the same time he did not want an enemy. It is a very fine institution by which a public officer charges himself, in the name of the state, with the prosecution of crimes; as this answers all the good purposes of informers without being exposed to those sordid interests, those inconveniencies, and that infamy, which attend them.
The greatness of taxes ought to be in a direct proportion with public liberty. Thus, in democracies they may be greater than elsewhere, without being burthensome; because every citizen looks upon them as a tribute which he pays to himself, and which secures the tranquillity and fortune of every member of it. Besides, in a democratical state, an unjust application of the public revenue is more difficult, because it is easier to find it out, and to punish it; he who is intrusted with it being obliged to give an account of it, as it were, to the first citizen who requires it of him.
In every government, of whatever sort, the least burthensome kind of tax is that which is laid upon merchandize; because the citizen pays without perceiving it. An excessive number of troops in time of peace is only a pretence to load the people with taxes, a means of enervating the state, and an instrument of slavery.
That administration of the revenues which makes the whole produce of it enter into the public treasury is beyond comparison least chargeable to the people, and consequently more advantageous when it can take place than the farming out of these taxes, which always leaves in the hands of private persons part of the revenue of the state. But above all, every thing is ruined (these are the author's own words) when the profession of a farmer of the revenues becomes honourable ; and it becomes so, when luxury is at a great height. To permit some men to acquire vast fortunes out of what belongs to the public, to plunder them in their turn, as was formerly practised in certain states, is to repair one injustice by another, and to commit two ills instead of one.
Let us now come, with M. de Montesquieu, to those particular circumstances which are independent of the nature of government, and to which laws ought to be adapted. The circumstances which arise from the nature of the country, are of two sorts; the one has a relation to the climate, the other to the soil. Nobody doubts but that the climate has an influence upon the habitual disposition of the bodies, and consequently upon the characters of men ; on which account. laws ought to be framed agreeable to the nature of the clime in indifferent things, and, on the contrary, to resist its bad effects. Thus, in countries where the use of wine is hurtful, that law which forbids it is a very good one: in countries where the heat of the climate inclines people to laziness, that law which encourages labour is a very proper one. The government can then correct the effects of the climate ; and this is enough to obviate that reproach which has been thrown upon the Spirit of Laws, as if it attributed every thing to cold and heat: for, besides that heat and cold are not the only circumstances by which climates are distinguished, it would be as absurd to deny certain effects of climate, as to attribute. every thing to it.
The practice of having slaves, established in the warm countries of Asia and America, and rejected in the temperate climates of Europe, affords our author an opportunity of treating of slavery in a state. Men having no more right over the liberty, than over the lives of each other, it follows that slavery, generally speaking, is against the law of nature. In effect, the right of slavery cannot arise from war, because it could not then be founded on any thing but the redemption of one's life, and nobody has a right over the life of one who no longer attacks him; nor from that sale which a man may make of himself to another, since every citizen, being accountable for his life to the state, is still more so for his liberty, and consequently has no title to sell it. Besides, what could be a proper price for such a sale? It cannot be the money given to the seller, because the moment he sells himself every thing that belongs to him becomes the property of his master: now a sale without a price is as chimerical, as a contract without a condition. There could never be but one just law in favour of slavery; this was that Roman law which made a debtor become the slave of a creditor: and even this law, to be equitable, ought to limit the slavery, both with respect to its degree, and time of duration. , Slavery can only be tolerated in despotic states, where freemen, too weak against the government, endeavour to become, by their usefulness, the slaves of
those who tyrannise over the state; or in those climates, where heat so enervates the body and weakens the courage, that men cannot be ineited to a laborious task but by the fear of punishment. Near to civil slavery may be placed domestic slavery, or that in which women are kept in certain countries. This can only take place in those countries of Asia where they are in a condition to live with men before they can make use of their reason ; marriageable by the law of the climate, children by that of nature. This subjection becomes still more necessary in those countries where polygamy is established : a custom which M. de Montesquieu does not pretend to justify, in so far as it is contrary to religion; but which, in places where it is received, and, only speaking politically, may have a foundation to a certain degree, either from the nature of the climate, or the relation which the number of women bears to that of men. M. de Montesquieu speaks upon this occasion of repudiation and divorce; and he shows, from good reasons, that repudiation once admitted, ought to be permitted to women as well as to men.
If the climate has so much influence on domestic and civil slavery, it has no less on political slavery; that is, upon what subjects one nation to another. The people in the north are stronger and more courageous than those of the south : these must then in general be conquered, those conquerors; these slaves, those free. And history confirms this: Asia has been eleven times conquered by the people of the north; Europe has sufferered fewer revolutions.
With respect to laws relative to the nature of the soil, it is plain, that democracy is better adapted than monarchy to barren countries, where the earth has occasion for all the industry of men. Besides, liberty, in this case, is a sort of recompense for the difficulty of labour. More laws are necessary for a people which follows agriculture, than for one which tends flocks; for this, than for a hunting people; for a people which makes use of money, than for one that does not : in a word, the particular genius of a nation ought to be attended to. Vanity, which augments objects, is a good spring for government; pride, which under-values them, is a dangerous one. The legislator ought to respect, to a certain degree, prejudices, passions, abuses. He ought to imitate Solon, who gave the Athenians not those laws which were best in themselves, but the best which they were capable of receiving: the gay character of this people required gentle, the austere character of the Lacedemonians, severe laws. Laws are a bad method of changing the manners and customs ; it is by rewards and example that we ought to endeavour to bring that about. It is, however, true, at the same time, that the laws of a people, when they do not grossly and directly tend to shock its manners, must insensibly have an influence upon them, either to confirm or change them.
After having in this manner deeply considered the Nature and Spirit of Laws with relation to different kinds of climates and people, our author returns again to consider states in that relation which they bear to each other. At first, when comparing them in a general manner, he could only view them with respect to the prejudice which they can do each other : here he considers them with respect to those mutual succours which they can give. Now these succours are principally founded on commerce. If the spirit of commerce naturally produces a spirit of interest, which is different from the sublimity of moral virtues, it also renders the people naturally just, and averse to idleness and living on plunder. Free people who live under moderate governments, must be more given to it, than enslaved nations. No nation ought ever to exclude from its commerce another nation without great reasons. Besides, liberty, in this way is not an absolute privilege granted to merchants to do what they will ; a power which would be often prejudicial to them : it consists in laying no restraints on merchants but for the advantage of commerce. In a monarchy, the nobility ought not to apply to it, and still less the prince. In a word, there are some nations to which commerce is disadvantageous; but they are not such as stand in need of nothing, but such as stand in need of every thing; a paradox which our author renders intelligible by the example of Poland, which wants every thing except corn, and which, by that commerce which it carries on with it, deprives the common people of the necessaries of life, to gratify the luxury of the nobility. M. de Montesquieu takes occasion, when treating of those laws which commerce requires, to give us an history of its different revolutions: and this part of his Book is neither the least interesting, nor the least curious. He compares the impoverishment of Spain by the discovery of America, to the fate of that weak prince in the fable, ready to perish for hunger, because he had requested of the Gods that every thing he touched should be turned into gold. The use of money being one considerable part of the object of commerce, and its principal instrument, he was of opinion that he ought, in consequence of this, to treat of the different operations with respect to money, of exchange, of the payment of public debts, of lending but money for interest, the rules and limits of