Amendment V

Document 7

Montesquieu, Spirit of Laws, bk. 26, CH. 15


15.--That we should not regulate by the Principles of political Laws those Things which depend on the Principles of civil Law

As men have given up their natural independence to live under political laws, they have given up the natural community of goods to live under civil laws.

By the first, they acquired liberty; by the second, property. We should not decide by the laws of liberty, which, as we have already said, is only the government of the community, what ought to be decided by the laws concerning property. It is a paralogism to say, that the good of the individual should give way to that of the public; this can never take place, except when the government of the community, or, in other words, the liberty of the subject is concerned; this does not affect such cases as relate to private property, because the public good consists in everyone's having his property, which was given him by the civil laws, invariably preserved.

Cicero maintains, that the Agrarian laws were unjust; because the community was established with no other view than that everyone might be able to preserve his property.

Let us, therefore, lay down a certain maxim, that whenever the public good happens to be the matter in question, it is not for the advantage of the public to deprive an individual of his property, or even to retrench the least part of it by a law, or a political regulation. In this case we should follow the rigor of the civil law, which is the palladium of property.

Thus when the public has occasion for the estate of an individual, it ought never to act by the rigor of political law; it is here that the civil law ought to triumph, which, with the eyes of a mother, regards every individual as the whole community.

If the political magistrate would erect a public edifice, or make a new road, he must indemnify those who are injured by it; the public is in this respect like an individual who treats with an individual. It is fully enough that it can oblige a citizen to sell his inheritance, and that it can strip him of the great privilege, which he holds from the civil law, of not being forced to alienate his possessions.

After the nations which subverted the Roman Empire had abused their very conquests, the spirit of liberty called them back to that of equity. They exercised the most barbarous laws with moderation: and if any one should doubt the truth of this, they need only read Beaumanoir's admirable work on jurisprudence, written in the twelfth century.

They mended the highways in his time as we do at present. He says, that when a highway could not be repaired, they made a new one as near the old as possible; but indemnified the proprietors at the expense of those who reaped any advantage from the road. They determined at that time by the civil law; in our days, we determine by the law of politics.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment V, Document 7
The University of Chicago Press

The Spirit of Laws. 1748. Translated by Thomas Nugent, 1750.

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