Montesquieu

It is obvious that when, in a repu­bli­can govern­ment, there are many sla­ves, many must be eman­ci­pa­ted. The dilemma is that if you have too many sla­ves, they can­not be contai­ned ; and if you have too many eman­ci­pa­ted sla­ves, they can­not live, and become a bur­den to the repu­blic ; not to men­tion that the repu­blic can also be in dan­ger from too many eman­ci­pa­ted sla­ves and from too many sla­ves. The laws must the­re­fore take cogni­zance of these pro­blems.

The various laws and sena­tus consulta that were made in Rome for and against sla­ves, some­ti­mes to hin­der and some­ti­mes to abet eman­ci­pa­tions, make clear the pre­di­ca­ment they faced in this regard. There were even times when they dared not make laws. When under Nero the senate was asked to allow patrons to re-enslave eman­ci­pa­ted men who were ungra­te­ful, the empe­ror wrote that they had to judge indi­vi­dual cases, and legis­late nothing in gene­ral.1

I am hardly in a posi­tion to say what rules a good repu­blic must make on this mat­ter ; it depends too much on the cir­cum­stan­ces. Here are a few obser­va­tions.

One should not make a consi­de­ra­ble num­ber of eman­ci­pa­tions all at once and by a gene­ral law. We know that among the Volscians, the eman­ci­pa­ted, having become mas­ters of the suf­fra­ges, pas­sed an abo­mi­na­ble law giving them the right to be the first to bed girls who mar­ried free­born men.2

There are various man­ners of intro­du­cing new citi­zens pro­gres­si­vely into the repu­blic. The laws can favor the pecu­lium and put sla­ves in a posi­tion to pur­chase their free­dom ; they can set a term for ser­vi­tude, like the laws of Moses which had limi­ted the ser­vi­tude of Hebrew sla­ves to six years.3 It is a sim­ple mat­ter to eman­ci­pate a cer­tain num­ber of sla­ves every year, among those who by their age, health, and indus­try will have means of living. One can even cure the disease in its root : since the majo­rity of sla­ves are bound to the various occu­pa­tions to which they are assi­gned, to trans­fer some of these employs to the free­born, for exam­ple trade or navi­ga­tion, is to reduce the num­ber of sla­ves.

When there are many freed men, the civil laws must spe­cify what they owe to their patrons, or the eman­ci­pa­tion contract must fix those duties ins­tead.

It is clear that their condi­tion must be more favo­red in the civil state than in the poli­ti­cal state, because even in a popu­lar govern­ment autho­rity ought not to fall into the hands of the popu­lace.

In Rome, where there were so many freed men, the poli­ti­cal laws were admi­ra­ble with res­pect to them. They were given lit­tle, and exclu­ded from almost nothing ; they indeed had some share in legis­la­tion, but almost no influence on the reso­lu­tions that could be pas­sed. They could share in admi­nis­tra­tive roles and even in the pries­thood,4 but this pri­vi­lege was in a sense nul­li­fied by their disad­van­ta­ges in elec­tions. They had the right to enter the mili­tia, but to be a sol­dier requi­red a cer­tain cens. Nothing pre­ven­ted the eman­ci­pa­ted from uni­ting in mar­riage with free­born fami­lies, but they were not allo­wed to join the fami­lies of sena­tors.5 Finally, their chil­dren were free­born, although they them­sel­ves were not.

Tacitus, Annals, book XIII.

Supplément to Freinsheim, 2nd Decade, book V.

Exodus, ch. xxii.

Tacitus, Annals, book III.

Oration of Augustus in Dio, book LVI.