Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXI.: ON CONFISCATION. - An Essay on Crimes and Punishments
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CHAPTER XXI.: ON CONFISCATION. - Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments 
An Essay on Crimes and Punishments. By the Marquis Beccaria of Milan. With a Commentary by M. de Voltaire. A New Edition Corrected. (Albany: W.C. Little & Co., 1872).
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It is a maxim received at the bar, that he who forfeits his life forfeits his effects; a maxim which prevails in those countries where custom serves instead of law. So that, as we have already observed, the children of one who puts an end to his own life, are condemned to perish with hunger, equally with those of an assassin. Thus, in every case, a whole family is punished for the crime of an individual. Thus when the father of a family is condemned to the gallies for life, by an arbitrary sentence, whether it be for having harboured a preacher, or for hearing his sermon in a cavern or a desert, his wife and children are reduced to beg their bread.
That law which consists in depriving an orphan of support, and in giving to one man the possessions of another, was unknown in the times of the Roman republic. It was first introduced by Sylla, in his proscriptions, whose example one would scarce have thought worthy imitation. Nor indeed was this law adopted by Cesar, by Trajan, or by Antoninus, whose name is still pronounced with respect by all nations; and under Justinian, confiscation took place only in case of high-treason.
It seems that, in the times of feudal anarchy, princes and lords not being very rich, sought to increase their revenue by the condemnation of their subjects. Their laws being arbitrary, and the Roman jurisprudence unknown, customs either cruel or ridiculous prevailed. But now that the power of princes is founded on immense and certain revenues, there can be no need to swell their treasuries with the inconsiderable wreck of an unfortunate family.
In countries where the Roman law is established, confiscation is not admitted, except within the jurisdiction of the parliament of Toulouse. It was formerly the law at Calais, but was abolished by the English, whilst that city was in their possession. It is strange, that the inhabitants of the capital should be subject to a severer law than the people in the country: but laws, like the cottages in a village, were generally established by accident, and without attention to the regularity of a general plan.
Who would believe that, in the year 1673, in the most brilliant period of the kingdom of France, the advocate-general, Omer Talon, did in full parliament express himself, on the subject of a young lady named Canillac, in the following words:
“God says, in the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy, If thou comest into a city where idolatry reigneth, thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly and all that is therein. And thou shalt gather all the spoil thereof into the midst of the street, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof, for the Lord thy God; and it shall be an heap for ever; and there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing to thine hand.”
“In like manner, in the crime of high-treason, the children were deprived of their inheritance, which became forfeited to the king. Naboth being prosecuted quia maledixerat regi, king Ahab took possession of his effects. David being informed that Mephibosheth had rebelled, gave all his possessions to Ziba who brought him the news: tua sint omnia quæ fuerunt Mephibosheth.”
The question in dispute was, who should inherit the paternal estate of Mlle. de Canillac, which having been confiscated, was abandoned by the king to a lord of the treasury, and afterwards bequeathed by him to the testatrix. In this cause concerning a girl of Auvergne it was, that an advocate-general referred to Ahab, king of a part of Palestine, who confiscated the vineyard of Naboth, after assassinating the owner with the sword of justice: an action so abominable as to have passed into a proverb, intended to inspire mankind with detestation for such acts of tyranny. There was certainly no analogy between the vineyard of Naboth and the inheritance of Mlle. de Canillac; nor hath the murder and confiscation of the possessions of Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul, and son of Jonathan, the friend and protector of David, the least affinity with the will of this lady.
It was with such pedantry, with such foolish quotations foreign to the subject, with such ignorance of the first principles of human nature, with such prejudices ill conceived and ill applied, that laws have been explained and executed, by men who acquired reputation in their sphere. I leave to the reader that, which to tell him were superfluous.