A Commentary and Review of Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws"

Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de
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Thomas Jefferson, trans.
First Pub. Date
Philadelphia: William Duane
Pub. Date

A Commentary and Review of
Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws.

Ignorance of the signification of words, which is want of understanding, disposeth men to take on trust, not only the truth they know not, but also the errors, and which is more, the nonsense of them they trust: for neither error nor sense can, without a perfect understanding of words, be detected.
Hobbes' Leviathan, Chap. II.

The most certain means of rendering a people free and happy, is to establish a perfect method of education.

The Author,

To his fellow citizens of the United States of America.


I am a Frenchman by birth and education. I was an early friend to the revolution of France, and continued to support it, until those entrusted with its helm, had evidently changed its direction. Flying then from the tyrannies of the monster Robespierre, I found, and still enjoy, safety, freedom, and hospitality, among you. I am grateful for these boons, and anxious to shew that gratitude, by such services as my faculties and habits enable me to render. Reading and contemplation have been the occupations of my life, and mostly on those subjects which concern the condition of man. Montesquieu's immortal work on the Spirit of Laws, could not fail, of course, to furnish matter for profound consideration. I have admired his vivid imagination, his extensive reading, and dextrous use of it. But I have not been blind to his paradoxes, his inconsistencies, and whimsical combinations. And I have thought the errors of his book, the more important to be corrected, as its truths are numerous, and of powerful influence on the opinions of society. These opinions attemper the principles on which governments are administered, on which so much depend the happiness and misery of man. Few nations are in a situation to profit by the detection of political errors, or to shape their practice by newly developed truths. This is the eminent advantage of the country in which I write. Had its language been more familiar to me, I should with pleasure have made it the original medium of submitting to you my reflections, and of explaining the grounds of my cordial esteem for the principles of your government. Their translation, however, is committed to one well skilled in both languages, and, should it be desired at any future time, the original composition shall be at the command of those for whom it has been written.

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