Montesquieu

Clemency is the dis­tinc­tive attri­bute of monarchs. In the repu­blic, where the prin­ci­ple is vir­tue, it is less neces­sary. In the des­po­tic state, where fear rules, less use is made of it, because the gran­dees of the state must be contai­ned by exam­ples of seve­rity. In monar­chies, where one is gover­ned by honor, which often demands what the law for­bids, it is more neces­sary. There, dis­fa­vor is an equi­va­lent of punish­ment ; the very for­ma­li­ties of trials are punish­ments. In that case shame comes from every direc­tion to cons­ti­tute indi­vi­dual kinds of punish­ment.

Grandees are so greatly puni­shed by dis­fa­vor and by the often ima­gi­nary loss of their for­tune, their influence, their fre­quen­ta­tions, and their plea­su­res, that rigor applied to them is need­less ; it can only serve to take away the love sub­jects have for the prince’s per­son, and the res­pect they should have for those in autho­rity.

As the ins­ta­bi­lity of gran­dees is in the nature of des­po­tic govern­ment, their secu­rity par­ti­ci­pa­tes in the nature of monar­chy.

Monarchs have so much to gain from cle­mency, it is fol­lo­wed by so much love, and they derive so much glory from it, that it is almost always a wel­come thing for them to have the oppor­tu­nity to exer­cise it ; and that is almost always pos­si­ble in our lands.

Some branch of their autho­rity may be contes­ted, but almost never their entire autho­rity ; and if some­ti­mes they fight for the crown, they do not fight for life.

But, you might say, when is it neces­sary to punish, and when to par­don ? That is some­thing that can­not be pres­cri­bed so much as sen­sed. When cle­mency has dan­gers, those dan­gers are quite visi­ble ; it is easily dis­tin­gui­shed from the weak­ness that leads the prince to contempt, and even to power­less­ness to punish.

The empe­ror Maurice1 resol­ved never to shed the blood of his sub­jects. Anastasius2 did not punish cri­mes. Isaac Angelos swore that during his reign he would have no one put to death. The Greek empe­rors had for­got­ten it was not for nothing that they wore a sword.

Evagrius, Historia ecclesiastica.

Fragment of Suidas in Constantine Porphyrogenitus [p. 212–219, in Greek].