Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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MARRIAGE. Marriage has been defined by a celebrated modern jurist: "The association of man and woman, who unite to perpetuate their species, to mutually help one another to bear the burdens of life, and to share a common destiny."


—This great institution, the first foundation of civilization, may be considered from very different points of view. The continuation of the human species, the satisfaction of its most powerful passion, moral affinity consecrated by religion, the union of civil and family interests, sometimes even of political interests, when there is question of persons of elevated rank whose august and at the same time grave mission it is to unite in themselves part of the destinies of nations, such are some of the elements which belong to the institution of marriage and are developed by it in different degrees, according to times and circumstances.—"Philosophers," says Portalis, "consider in this act principally the union of the two sexes; jurists see in it only the civil contract, and canonists only the sacrament, or what they call the ecclesiastical contract." Let us, in our turn, endeavor to show in a few words the no less important part that political economy should claim in the study of this contract, which forms in some sort the corner stone of human society, and in which it is easy to recognize, at the same time, the principle of population, the support of property, the stimulant of production, and the principal means of the preservation and transmission of wealth.


—We can find no instance in history of a people who attained any considerable development that allowed a promiscuous intermingling of the sexes. Common and constant experience shows the relative sterility of libertinism, while at the same time it proves its wretched and abandoned fruits to be much more subject to early death than those of lawful unions. Distaste for marriage has even imperiled nations which had reached quite a high degree of civilization; and the history of Rome, at the fall of the republic, presents the sight of a city the mistress of the world, threatened by her own population with wars, proscriptions and contempt for the institution that was intended to recruit her families and support the state.


—In our day a contrary danger has, undoubtedly, preoccupied the minds of a great many economists. In our society, formed under the influences of Christianity and rich in its traditions, the inconsiderate increase of population has been considered a source of dread; legislators no longer apply themselves, like those of Rome and ancient France, to encourage marriage; on the contrary, they have sometimes thought of restraining it; the number of marriages even seems to have decreased. But the very fears of some economists of our day who devote their attention especially to the restricted society of old Europe, themselves prove full well the beneficent power of an institution which, when applied to the whole world, is still so far from having achieved its work of extending and propagating the human species.


—Marriage, which peoples the earth, also confers upon each of its parts that reign of individuality which constitutes property. Want and personal foresight, which are the generative principles of appropriation, in reality acquire their full intensity only in heredity, which extends the view of the possessor beyond the term of his present existence. Marriage alone, then, gives to the principle of appropriation the full latitude of its horizon. It is marriage which, by the urgent and tender incentive of heredity, develops man's individual property; it is marriage which transforms this property into patrimony, and furnishes the most salutary and efficacious stimulant to the production of wealth. Thus the accumulated work of generations, in the different branches of human activity, every day enlarges the majestic basis of civilization in the world.


—History frequently confirms, by striking coincidences, this remarkable solidarity between the institution of marriage and that of property, of which theory affords us but a passing glimpse. Sparta, for example, wished to submit the union of the sexes to the direction of the state, and thus reduce this sacred union, so nobly styled by a Roman jurist the communication of the divine and human law * * *, to a mere pairing of animals. The Doric city at the same time included property in the agrarian distribution made by Lycurgus. Conjugal faith, the law of paternity, the sentiment of individual property, were destined to be confounded in Lacedemonia in one same sacrifice.


—Mark the economy of these great institutions upon which humanity rests. Marriage, which founds property upon the family which it creates, is at the same time eminently fitted, by the fruitful union of the different faculties which it unites, to procure the preservation of the patrimony which it has acquired. The physical strength of man, the ingenious and assiduous care of his companion, present in the preservation of the goods of the family, not less than in the education of the children, a first application of that division of labor which is justly brought forward by political economy as one of the most powerful means of progress in human activity.


—The intimate harmony which exists between the institution of marriage and the institution of property has been frequently manifested also by the comparison of the laws relative to inheritance with those which regulated, in such, different manner, the conditions of conjugal union and the prohibitions with which different legislators have surrounded it. "When a legislator," says Portalis, "had established a certain order of succession the observance of which he considered important for the political constitution of the state, he so regulated marriage that it was never allowed between persons whose union could disturb or alter this order; we find examples of this solicitude in some of the republics of ancient Greece." A law of Athens, for example, allowed a man to marry his half-sister on his father's side, but not his half-sister on his mother's side, in order to prevent the union under one owner of two estates, and consequently of two inheritances.


—Marriage, besides, has not attained everywhere the same economic and moral dignity which it possesses in our modern Christian society. This great institution may be found in the world under two entirely distinct forms, which mark one of the principal divisions in the history of civilization.


—Monogamy, which is in our eyes the perfect type of marriage, puts man and woman on an equality, in so far as their moral and physical differences will permit. It was, however, but rarely met with in antiquity as a general and obligatory institution, although the appreciation of its perfection was from the earliest ages acknowledged by many legal enactments. In this respect, as in many others, Roman civilization justly lays claim to the honor of having in some sense prepared the way for the revolution which Christianity completed in the world, and of having powerfully contributed to inaugurate, by the elevated morality of its laws, the true principles of reason and of social progress. It may be truly said, on the other hand, that the indissolubility of marriage was established by Christianity alone, and that pagan Rome created a sort of permanent exception thereto by the institution of divorce.


—Polygamy, to consider it only under its most general form—that is, the form which allows a man several wives—by this very fact unwarrantably subjects the weaker sex to the caprice, fickleness and domination of the stronger.


—All the salutary effects of marriage are in part perverted by polygamy, which, however, was the general law of antiquity, and one which is still obeyed by half the world.


—The experience of Mohammedan countries proves that polygamy is unfavorable to population, and the Turkish historians themselves show that the Christian families in the Ottoman states are the most numerous. Moreover, the sole effect of polygamy is to concentrate and monopolize, to the advantage of a few, the union of the sexes, which are about equal in number. How can such an institution offer any advantages for the progress of population? If, after having invaded Europe, Mohammedanism has been driven back within the narrow limits of its first conquests, polygamy is one of the chief causes which must ever hold it bound and powerless.


—Polygamy does not establish a real family; it places between the children of a common father the influence of maternal rivalry, as a dire germ of inevitable discord. Property itself does not seem to attain its perfect form by the side of this system of conjugal union. With the wife but an uninterested slave, and the family destroyed, individual property seems shaken to its very foundation, and is absorbed, as is ordinarily the case in Mohammedan countries, in the sovereign domain of the head of the state. Human liberty, property and the dignity of the family can exist only by mutually sustaining each other. From an economic point of view, therefore, as well as from a moral standpoint, polygamy is a debasement of marriage, of which monogamy is the only normal and faithful expression. Side by side with the contract which unites their lives there are different forms of agreement regulating the interests of the man and woman joined by the conjugal tie.


—From universal community to absolute separation of goods there are numerous gradations admitted by law, which we do not propose to describe here in detail. The economist finds in the system of community of goods between husband and wife, marked advantages for commerce and the circulation of wealth; the moralist sees in it the wife elevated by a greater responsibility, and stimulated by an interest in the common prosperity of the household more positive than that resulting only from conjugal sympathy and maternal solicitude. The jurist, who is acquainted with the anxiety, the fitness, and sometimes with the sad experience of families, is less absolute in his preferences, and often refrains from applying to the circumstances and interests, which he would conciliate, the means necessary to secure the desired result for the sake of the end of marriage and the good of those interested in conjugal union.


—Such is the power of this great institution of marriage, that by the morality of the domestic hearth which it consecrates, by the principles of labor and economy which it propagates, by the spirit of property which it nourishes, by its influence over the destiny of the family which it is called upon to regulate, it is of interest everywhere to the progress of the world and the development of civilization.


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