Front Page Titles (by Subject) § 192.: Wife in legal subjection to the husband—Its justification.— - A Treatise on State and Federal Control of Persons and Property in the United States considered from both a Civil and Criminal Standpoint, vol. 2
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§ 192.: Wife in legal subjection to the husband—Its justification.— - Christopher G. Tiedeman, A Treatise on State and Federal Control of Persons and Property in the United States considered from both a Civil and Criminal Standpoint, vol. 2 
A Treatise on State and Federal Control of Persons and Property in the United States considered from both a Civil and Criminal Standpoint (St. Louis: The F.H. Thomas Law Book Co., 1900). Vol. 2.
Part of: A Treatise on State and Federal Control of Persons and Property in the United States considered from both a Civil and Criminal Standpoint, 2 vols.
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Wife in legal subjection to the husband—Its justification.—
As a matter of abstract or natural justice, the husband and wife must stand on a plane of equality; neither has the right of control, and both can claim the enjoyment of the same general rights. There are many conscientious people who think differently; but apart from the influence or teachings of the Bible on this subject, with every such person the thought is but the resultant of his desires and prejudices. Considering the married couple in a state of isolation, eliminating every influence they may exert upon other individuals, their offspring for example, or upon the general welfare of the State, the conclusion is irresistible, that any subjection by law of the wife to the commands of the husband would be a deprivation of the wife’s liberty without due process of law, and, therefore, void under our constitutional limitations. And such would likewise be the conclusion, considering the couple in their relation to society, and to their offspring, if the ideal marriage became the rule, and absolute harmony and compatibility of temper prevailed in every household. This is, however, at least for the present, an unattainable ideal. There are many individual couples, who have attained this ideal of the domestic relation, where each is “solicitous of the rights of the other,” and where “committing a trespass” is “the thing feared, and not being trespassed against,” and self-sacrifice, not encroachment, the ruling principle.1 With such couples there is no subjection of the wife to her husband, and there is never any inequality of position, where the true, genuine sentiment of love inspires every act; for the subjection of one to the other is incompatible with the reign of love.
But this is not always the case. Indeed, such a relation between husband and wife constitutes the exception, rather than the rule. In the words of Herbert Spencer,2 “to the same extent that the triumph of might over right is seen in a nation’s political institutions, it is seen in its domestic ones. Despotism in the State is necessarily associated with despotism in the family.” The remnant of the savage within us still nurses the desire to rule, and the instinct of selfishness, when unchastened by the principles of altruism, is displayed in the dealings of husband and wife, as of man with man. Might is right, between whatever parties the question may arise. Left, therefore, in a state of nature, it will be a rare exception that the parties to a marriage will sustain an equality of rights; as a general rule, one of them will be the ruler while the other will be the subject, sometimes submissive, but usually more or less rebellious. In most cases, in which this state of affairs exists at all, the contention and discord continue during life, unless before death a beneficent divorce law enables the parties to take leave of each other and go their way alone. Discord in the family destroys all the benefits that might be expected to accrue to the community, even if it does not amount to a positive breach of the peace. It demoralizes the offspring as well as the parties themselves; and if by a regulation of their conduct towards each other the State could secure a reasonable degree of harmony, the result would justify the interference as tending to promote the general welfare.
How shall this intercourse be regulated? Shall the State require the maintenance of substantial equality between two people whom nature has endowed unequally, both mentally and physically? I do not mean in this connection to assert and defend the position, often taken, that women are essentially and radically inferior to men. I merely desire to make the statement, that as a general proposition the man rules, it may be by greater intellectual strength, or it may be by brute force or financial inequality, probably in most cases by the latter. It sometimes happens, but it is the exception, that the woman is the stronger, and she then rules, whatever the law might have to say upon the subject. The maintenance of a fictitious equality, one that is not the legitimate product of the social forces, by the mandate of the law,—even if that were possible, and it is not,—would not tend to increase harmony in the domestic relations. Left to themselves the stronger will rule, and the stronger will rule notwithstanding the law proclaims an equality. Harmony can only be approximated by legalizing the rule of the stronger, at the same time placing around it such safeguards as will secure for the weaker protection against the tyranny and cruelty of the stronger. The wife is not subjected by the law to the control of the husband, because the husband has a right to rule, but because he is generally the stronger, and will have the mastery even though the law might give the control to the weaker. If women were usually the stronger sex, the husband would be in subjection to them, as they are now, when the husband finds more than his match in his wife. In the management of the things and interests which they hold in common, the husband rules by nature as by law.
Legalizing his natural control, the ancient law in many countries held him responsible to others for all the acts of trespass which the wife may commit. Even to this day, in most of the States, a husband is responsible to third persons for all wrongs against them committed by his wife; while he is to a certain extent responsible to the State for all the crimes committed by his wife in his presence. Whichever of these facts, the husband’s control or his responsibility for his wife’s acts, be considered the primal fact, the other must be the legitimate and necessary consequence. In proportion that his power of control is diminished, must his responsibility for her acts be lessened, until the happy era is reached, when there will be neither control nor responsibility. But what degree of control and responsibility is to be permitted is left to the legislative discretion.
Spencer’s Social Statics, p. 188.
Social Statics, p. 179.