Montesquieu

The consent of fathers is based on their autho­rity, in other words on their right of pro­perty ; it is fur­ther based on their love, their rea­son, and on the uncer­tainty of their chil­dren’s rea­son, whom age keeps in a state of igno­rance, and pas­sions in a state of eupho­ria.

In small repu­blics, or sin­gu­lar ins­ti­tu­tions which we have men­tio­ned, there can be laws that give magis­tra­tes over­sight of the mar­ria­ges of chil­dren of citi­zens, which nature had already given to fathers. Love of the public wel­fare can be such that it equals or sur­pas­ses every other love. Thus did Plato want magis­tra­tes to regu­late mar­ria­ges ; thus did the Lacedæmonian magis­tra­tes direct them.

But in ordi­nary ins­ti­tu­tions, it is for the fathers to arrange their chil­dren’s mar­ria­ges : their pru­dence in this regard will always be super­ior to any other pru­dence. Nature gives to fathers a desire to pro­vide suc­ces­sors to their chil­dren which they scar­cely feel for them­sel­ves. In the various degrees of pro­geny, they see them­sel­ves moving gra­dually toward the future. But where would we be if vexa­tion and ava­rice pro­gres­sed to the point of usur­ping the autho­rity of fathers ? Let us lis­ten to Thomas Gage1 on the conduct of the Spaniards in the Indies :

“To increase the num­ber of peo­ple who pay the tri­bute, all Indians who are fif­teen must marry, and the time of the Indians’ mar­riage has even been set at four­teen for males and thir­teen for girls. They base this on a canon that says that malice can sup­ple­ment age.”2 He saw one of these counts being taken ; it was, he says, some­thing sha­me­ful. Thus, in the one act on earth that ought to be the freest, the Indians are still sla­ves.

Relation of Thomas Gage [A New Survey of the West Indies], p. 171.

[La malice peut suppléer à l’âge : “It is said in jurisprudence that malice can supplement age when a minor is more clever for doing mischief than his age allows” (Furetière).]