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Baron de Montesquieu

1689-1755


        Charles Louis de Secondat, otherwise known as the Baron de Montesquieu, was born in the Château de la Brède, to an affluent family.  Although his family was wealthy, during his childhood he was taken care of by a poor family.  He was educated at the Oratorian school at Juilly and later at Bordeaux, where he studied history and science, and eventually became a lawyer.  His father died in 1713, leaving him in the care of his uncle, the Baron de Montesquieu.  When the latter died in 1716, de Secondat received his fortune, his office as president of the Bordeaux Parliament, and his title of Baron de Montesquieu.  He remained president of the Bordeaux parliament from 1716 to 1728.  He was a member of the Bordeaux and French Academies of Science, which aided him in his studies of the laws, customs and governments of European countries.
        Montesquieu first gained respect as a writer in 1721, with his Persian Letters.  They condemned the liberties and lifestyle of the opulent French and the church, as well as French politics and literature.  In 1734, Montesquieu released his Thoughts on the Causes of the Greatness and the Downfall of the Romans. However, Montesquieu is most famous for The Spirit of Laws, which was published in 1748. In this book, he surveyed three types of government: republic, despotism, and monarchy.  He came to these conclusions:

            1. If one person has too much power, there is no liberty.
            2. If the judiciary power is not separated from other power, there is no liberty.
            3. Power should be able to check other power.

        He called his idea of dividing the government's power into three branches the "separation of powers," finding it important to create separate branches of government with different but equal powers. Thus, the government would avoid giving too much power to one individual or one group.  Each branch of government could limit the power of the other branches, hence, no branch of the government could threaten the people's liberty. Montesquieu's separation of powers became the basis for the United States Constitution, forming the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government, giving each branch the power to check another branch's power.


  Literature by Montesquieu

Persian Letters 11 and 12
Persian Letters 13