Montesquieu

Usbek to the same


The Romans had no fewer sla­ves that we, they even had more1 ; but they made bet­ter use of them.

Far from pre­ven­ting the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of these sla­ves by for­ced means, they favo­red it on the contrary with all their power. They asso­cia­ted them as much as they could by sorts of mar­ria­ges ; by this means they filled their hou­ses with ser­vants of every sex and age and the state with num­ber­less peo­ple.

These chil­dren who in the long run cons­ti­tu­ted a mas­ter’s wealth were born without num­ber about him. He was solely res­pon­si­ble for their fee­ding and edu­ca­tion ; the fathers, free from this bur­den, merely fol­lo­wed the pen­chant of nature, and mul­ti­plied without fear of too nume­rous a family.

I have told you that among us all the sla­ves are occu­pied guar­ding our women, and nothing else ; that they are inso­far as the state is concer­ned in a per­pe­tual lethargy, so the culti­va­tion of the arts and the land has to be res­tric­ted to a few free­men and a few heads of hou­se­hold, and even they attend to them as lit­tle as pos­si­ble.

This was not the case among the Romans : the repu­blic made use with infi­nite advan­tage of this slave peo­ple. Each of them had his nest egg which he owned on condi­tions which his mas­ter impo­sed on him ; with that nest egg he wor­ked, and went in the direc­tion that his indus­try led him. One would be the ban­ker, ano­ther would go into sea trade ; one would retail his mer­chan­dise, yet ano­ther apply him­self to some mecha­ni­cal art, or else farm out and exploit land ; but there was none who did not attach him­self with all his power to making that nest egg grow, which pro­vi­ded him at the same time with com­fort in his pre­sent ser­vi­tude and the expec­ta­tion of a future free­dom. That made for a hard-wor­king peo­ple, and sti­mu­la­ted the arts and ini­tia­tive.

These sla­ves, enri­ched by their own effort and labor, obtai­ned their libe­ra­tion and became citi­zens. The repu­blic was cons­tantly re-sup­plied, and recei­ved in its bosom new fami­lies as qui­ckly as the old ones became extin­gui­shed.

I shall per­haps have occa­sion in my fol­lo­wing let­ters to prove to you that the more men there are in a state, the more com­merce flou­ri­shes there ; I shall prove just as easily that the more com­merce flou­ri­shes there, the more the num­ber of men increa­ses : these two things are mutually rein­for­cing, and neces­sa­rily favor each other.

If that is the case, how greatly this pro­di­gious num­ber of always hard-wor­king sla­ves must have grown and mul­ti­plied ! Industry and abun­dance gave rise to them, and they for their part gave rise to abun­dance and indus­try.

Paris this 16th day of the moon of Chahban 1718

See letter 108.