Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I: The power of a father in early ages. - The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks
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SECTION I: The power of a father in early ages. - John Millar, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks 
The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks; or, An Inquiry into the Circumstances which give rise to Influence and Authority in the Different Members of Society, edited and with an Introduction by Aaron Garrett (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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The power of a father in early ages.
The jurisdiction and authority which, in early times, a father exercised over his children, was of the same nature with that of a husband over his wife. Before the institution of regular government, the strong are permitted to oppress the weak; and in a rude nation, every one is apt to abuse that power which he happens to possess.
After marriage is completely established in a community, the husband, as has been formerly observed, becomes the head of his family, and assumes the direction and government of all its members. It is to be expected, indeed, that in the exercise of this authority, he should have an inclination to promote the welfare and prosperity of his children. The helpless and miserable state in which they are produced, can hardly fail to excite his pity, and to solicit, in a peculiar manner, the protection of that person from whom they have derived their existence. Being thereby induced to undertake the burden of rearing and maintain-<110>ing them, he is more warmly engaged in their behalf in proportion to the efforts which he has made for their benefit, and his affection for them is increased by every new mark of his kindness. While they grow up under his culture and tuition, and begin to lisp the endearing names of a parent, he has the satisfaction of observing their progress towards maturity, and of discovering the seeds of those dispositions and talents, from the future display of which he draws the most flattering expectations. By retaining them afterwards in his family, which is the foundation of a constant intercourse, by procuring their assistance in the labour to which he is subjected, by connecting them with all his plans and views of interest, his attachment is usually continued and strengthened from the same habits and principles which, in other cases, give rise to friendship or acquaintance. As these sentiments are felt in common by the father and mother, it is natural to suppose that their affection for each other will be, in some measure, reflected upon their offspring, and will become an additional motive of attention to the objects of their united care and tenderness.
Such is, probably, the origin of that parental fondness, which has been found so extensive and universal that it is commonly regarded as the effect of an immediate propensity. But how strongly soever a father may be disposed to promote the happiness of his children, this disposition, in the breast<111> of a savage, is often counteracted by a regard to his own preservation, and smothered by the misery with which he is loaded. In many cases he is forced to abandon them entirely, and suffer them to perish by hunger, or be devoured by wild beasts. From his necessitous circumstances, he is sometimes laid under the temptation of selling his children for slaves. Even those whom the father finds it not convenient to support, are subjected to a variety of hardships from the natural ferocity of his temper; and if on some occasions they are treated with the utmost indulgence, they are, on others, no less exposed to the sudden and dreadful effects of his anger. As the resentment of a savage is easily kindled, and raised to an excessive pitch; as he behaves like a sovereign in his own family, where he has never been accustomed to bear opposition or controul, we need not wonder that, when provoked by unusual disrespect or contradiction, he should be roused and hurried on to commit the most barbarous of all actions, the murder of his own child.
The children in their early years, are under the necessity of submitting to the severe and arbitrary will of their father. From their inferiority in strength, they are in no condition to dispute his commands; and being incapable of maintaining themselves, they depend entirely upon him for subsistence. To him they must apply for assistance, whenever they are exposed to danger, or<112> threatened with injustice; and looking upon him as the source of all their enjoyments, they have every motive to court his favour and to avoid his displeasure.
The respect and reverence which is paid to the father, upon account of his wisdom and experience, is another circumstance that contributes to support his power and authority.
Among savages, who are strangers to the art of writing, and who have scarcely any method of recording facts, the experience and observation of each individual are almost the only means of procuring knowledge; and the only persons who can attain a superior degree of wisdom and sagacity are those who have lived to a considerable age.
It also merits attention that, in rude and ignorant nations, the least superiority in knowledge and wisdom is the source of great honour and distinction. The man who understands any operation of nature, unknown to the vulgar, is beheld with superstitious awe and veneration. As they cannot penetrate into the ways by which he has procured his information, they are disposed to magnify his extraordinary endowments; and they feel an unbounded admiration of that skill and learning which they are unable to comprehend. They suppose that nothing is beyond the compass of his abilities, and apply to him for counsel and direction in every new and difficult emergency. They are apt to imagine that he holds commerce<113> with invisible beings, and to believe that he is capable of seeing into futurity, as well as of altering the course of human events by the wonderful power of his art. Thus, in the dark ages, a slight acquaintance with the heavenly bodies gave rise to the absurd pretensions of judicial astrology; and a little knowledge of chemistry, or medicine, was supposed to reveal the invaluable secret of rendering ourselves immortal.
As in all barbarous countries old men are distinguished by their great experience and wisdom, they are upon this account universally respected, and commonly attain superior influence and authority.
Among the Greeks, at the siege of Troy, the man who had lived three ages was treated with uncommon deference, and was their principal adviser and director in all important deliberations.
“Dost thou not see, O Gaul,” says Morni, in one of the poems of Ossian, “how the steps of my age are honoured? Morni moves forth, and the young meet him with reverence, and turn their eyes, with silent joy, on his course.”*
The Jewish lawgiver, whose system of laws was in many respects accommodated to the circumstances of an early people, has thought proper to enforce the respect due to old age, by making it the subject of a particular precept. “See that<114> thou rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man.”†
“I am young,” says the son of Barachel, “and ye are very old, wherefore I was afraid, and durst not show you mine opinion. I said days should speak, and multitude of years teach wisdom.”‡
When any of the Tartar nations have occasion to elect a khan or leader, they regard experience and wisdom more than any other circumstance; and for that reason they commonly prefer the oldest person of the royal family.§ It is the same circumstance that, in the infancy of government, has given rise to a senate or council of the elders, which is commonly invested with the chief direction and management of all public affairs.‖
So inseparably connected are age and authority in early periods, that in the language of rude nations the same word which signifies an old man is generally employed to denote a ruler or magistrate.¶
Among the Chinese, who, from their little intercourse with strangers, are remarkably attached to their ancient usages, the art of writing, notwith-<115>standing their improvement in manufactures, is still beyond the reach of the vulgar. This people have accordingly preserved that high admiration of the advantages arising from long experience and observation, which we commonly met with in times of ignorance and simplicity. Among them, neither birth, nor riches, nor honours, nor dignities, can make a man forget that reverence which is due to grey hairs; and the sovereign himself never fails to respect old age, even in persons of the lowest condition.
The difference in this particular, between the manners of a rude and polished nation may be illustrated from the following anecdote concerning two Grecian states, which, in point of what is commonly called refinement, were remarkably distinguished from each other.
“It happened, at Athens, during a public representation of some play, exhibited in honour of the commonwealth, that an old gentleman came too late for a place suitable to his age and quality. Many of the young gentlemen, who observed the difficulty and confusion he was in, made signs to him that they would accommodate him, if he came where they sat. The good man bustled through the crowd accordingly; but when he came to the seats to which he was invited, the jest was to sit close, and, as he stood out of countenance, expose him to the whole audience. The frolic went round all the<116> Athenian benches. But on those occasions there were also particular places assigned for foreigners: when the good man skulked towards the boxes appointed for the Lacedemonians, that honest people, more virtuous than polite, rose up all to a man, and with the greatest respect received him among them. The Athenians, being suddenly touched with a sense of the Spartan virtue and their own degeneracy, gave a thunder of applause; and the old man cried out, The Athenians understand what is good, but the Lacedemonians practise it.”*
We may easily imagine that this admiration and reverence, which is excited by wisdom and knowledge, must in a particular manner affect the conduct of children with respect to their father. The experience of the father must always appear greatly superior to that of his children, and becomes the more remarkable, according as he advances in years, and decays in bodily strength. He is placed in a situation where that experience is constantly displayed to them, and where, being exerted for their preservation and welfare, it is regarded in the most<117> favourable light. From him they learn those contrivances which they make use of in procuring their food, and the various stratagems which they put in practice against their enemies. By him they are instructed in the different branches of their domestic economy, and are directed what measures to pursue in all those difficulties and distresses in which they may be involved. They hear with wonder the exploits he has performed, the precautions he has taken to avoid the evils with which he was surrounded, or the address and dexterity he has employed to extricate himself from those misfortunes which had befallen him; and, from his observation of the past, they treasure up lessons of prudence, by which they may regulate their future behaviour. If ever they depart from his counsel, and follow their own headstrong inclination, they are commonly taught by the event to repent of their folly and rashness, and are struck with new admiration of his uncommon penetration and foresight. They regard him in the light of a superior being, and imagine that the gifts of fortune are at his disposal. They dread his curse, as the cause of every misfortune; and they esteem his blessing of more value than the richest inheritance.
When Phenix, in the Iliad, bewails his misfortune in having no children, he imputes it to the curse of his father, which he had incurred in his youth.<118>
“And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my Father! And Esau lift up his voice and wept.”†
To these observations it may be added, that the authority of the father is confirmed and rendered more universal, by the force and influence of custom.
We naturally retain, after we are old, those habits of respect and submission which we received in our youth; and we find it difficult to put ourselves upon a level with those persons whom we have long regarded as greatly our superiors. The slave, who has been bred up in a low situation, does not immediately, upon obtaining his freedom, lay aside those sentiments which he has been accustomed to feel. He retains for some time the idea of his former dependence, and, notwithstanding the change of his circumstances, is disposed to continue that respect and reverence which he owed to his master. We find that the legislature, in some countries, has even regarded and enforced these natural sentiments. By the Roman law a freed man was, through the whole<119> of his life, obliged to pay to his patron certain attendance on public occasions, and to show him particular marks of honour and distinction.* If ever he failed in the observance of these duties, he was thought unworthy of his liberty, and was again reduced to be the slave of that person to whom he had behaved in so unbecoming a manner.†
A son who, in a barbarous age, has been accustomed from his infancy to serve and to obey his father, is in the same manner disposed for the future to continue that service and obedience. Even after he is grown up, and has arrived at his full strength of body, and maturity of judgment, he retains the early impressions of his youth, and remains in a great measure under the yoke of that authority to which he has hitherto submitted. He shrinks at the angry countenance of his father, and trembles at the power of that arm whose severe discipline he has so often experienced, and of whose valour and dexterity he has so often been a witness. He thinks it the highest presumption to dispute the wisdom and propriety of those commands to which he has always listened, as to an oracle, and which he has been taught to regard as the infallible rule of his conduct. He is<120> naturally led to acquiesce in that jurisdiction which he has seen exerted on so many different occasions, and which he finds to be uniformly acknowledged by all the members of the family. In proportion to the rigour with which he is treated, his temper will be more thoroughly subdued, and his habits of implicit submission and obedience will be the stronger. He looks upon his father as invested by Heaven with an unlimited power and authority over all his children, and imagines that, whatever hardships they may suffer, their rebellion against him, or resistance to his will, would be the same species of impiety, as to call in question the authority of the Deity, and arraign the severe dispensations with which, in the government of the world, he is sometimes pleased to visit his creatures.
From these dispositions, which commonly prevail among the members of his family, the father can have no difficulty to enforce his orders, whereever compulsion may be necessary. In order to correct the depravity, or to conquer the rebellious disposition of any single child, he can make use of that influence which he possesses over the rest, who will regard the disobedience of their brother with horror and detestation, and be ready to contribute their assistance in punishing his transgression.
In the history of early nations, we meet with a great variety of facts, to illustrate the nature and<121> extent of that jurisdiction and authority which originally belonged to the father, as the head and governor of his family.
We are informed by Caesar, that among the Gauls the father had the power of life and death over his children;* and there is reason to believe, that, in the ancient German nations, his jurisdiction was no less extensive.†
By the early laws and customs of Arabia, every head of a family seems, in like manner, to have enjoyed an absolute power over his descendants. When the sons of Jacob proposed to carry their brother Benjamin along with them into Egypt, and their father discovered an unwillingness to part with him, “Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.”‡ Moses appears to have intended that the father should not, in ordinary cases, be at liberty to take away the life of his children in private; as may be concluded from this particular institution, that a stubborn and rebellious son should be stoned to death before the elders of the city.* It was further enacted by this legislator, that a man might sell his daughter for a slave or concubine to those of his own nation, though he was not permitted to dispose of her to a stranger.<122>
“If a man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do.
“If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her to a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.”†
In the empire of Russia, the paternal jurisdiction was formerly understood to be altogether supreme and unlimited.‡ Peter the Great appears to have been so little aware that the customs of his own country might differ from those of other nations, that in his public declaration to his clergy, and to the states civil and military, relative to the trial of his son, he appeals to all the world, and affirms, that, according to all laws human and divine, and, above all, according to those of Russia, a father, even among private persons, has a full and absolute right to judge his children, without appeal, and without taking the advice of any person.§
Among the Tartars, nothing can exceed the respect and reverence which the children usually pay to their father. They look upon him as the sovereign lord and master of his family, and consider it as their duty to serve him upon all occasions. In those parts of Tartary which have any inter-<123>course with the great nations of Asia, it is also common for the father to sell his children of both sexes; and from thence the women and eunuchs, in the harams and seraglios, belonging to men of wealth and distinction in those countries, are said to be frequently procured.‖
Upon the coast of Africa, the power of the father is carried to the most excessive pitch, and exercised with the utmost severity. It is too well known to be denied, that, in order to supply the European market, he often disposes of his own children for slaves; and that the chief part of a man’s wealth is supposed to consist in the number of his descendants. Upon the slave-coast, the children are accustomed to throw themselves upon their knees, as often as they come into the presence of their father.*
The following account, given by Commodore Byron, may serve, in some measure, to show the spirit with which the savages of South America are apt to govern the members of their family.
“Here,” says he, “I must relate a little anecdote of our Christian Cacique. He and his wife had gone off, at some distance from the shore, in their canoe, when she dived for sea-eggs; but not meeting with great success, they returned a good deal out of humour. A little boy of theirs,<124> about three years old, whom they appeared to be doatingly fond of, watching for his father and mother’s return, ran into the surf to meet them: the father handed a basket of sea-eggs to the child, which being too heavy for him to carry, he let it fall; upon which the father jumped out of the canoe, and catching the boy up in his arms, dashed him with the utmost violence against the stones. The poor little creature lay motionless and bleeding, and in that condition was taken up by the mother, but died soon after. She appeared inconsolable for some time; but the brute his father shewed little concern about it.”†
The exposition of infants, so common in a great part of the nations of antiquity, is a proof that the different heads of families were under no restraint or controul in the management of their domestic concerns. This barbarous practice was probably introduced in those rude ages when the father was often incapable of maintaining his children, and from the influence of old usage, was permitted to remain in later times, when the plea of necessity could no longer be urged in its vindication. How shocking soever it may appear to us, the custom of exposing infant-children was universal among the ancient inhabitants of Greece, and was never abolished even by such of the Greek states as were<125> most distinguished for their learning and politeness.*
According to the laws and customs of the Romans, the father had anciently an unlimited power of putting his children to death, and of selling them for slaves. While they remained in his family, they were incapable of having any estate of their own, and whatever they acquired, either by their own industry, or by the donations of others, became immediately the property of their father. Though with respect to every other person they were regarded as free, yet with respect to their father they were considered as in a state of absolute slavery and subjection; and they could neither marry, nor enter into any other contract, without his approbation and consent.†
In one respect, the power of a father over his sons appears, in ancient Rome, to have extended even farther than that of a master over his slaves.<126> If upon any occasion a son had been sold by his father, and had afterwards obtained his freedom from the purchaser, he did not thereby become independent, but was again reduced under the paternal dominion. The same consequence followed, if he had been sold and manumitted a second time; and it was only after a third purchase, that the power of his father was altogether dissolved, and that he was permitted to enjoy any real and permanent advantage from the bounty of his master.
This peculiarity is said to have been derived from a statute of Romulus, adopted into the laws of the twelve tables, and affords a sufficient proof that the Romans had anciently no idea of a child living in the family, without being considered as the slave of his father.*
In those early ages, when this practice was first introduced, the Roman state was composed of a few clans, or families of barbarians, the members of which had usually a strong attachment to one another, and were at variance with most of their<127> neighbours. When a son therefore had been banished from his family by the avarice of his father, we may suppose that, as soon as he was at liberty, he would not think of remaining in a foreign tribe, or of submitting to the hardships of procuring his food in a state of solitude, but that he would rather choose to return to his own kindred, and again submit to that jurisdiction, which was more useful from the protection it afforded, than painful from the service and obedience which it required.
It is probable, however, that if in this manner a child had been frequently separated from the company of his relations, he would at length grow weary of returning to a society in which he was the object of so little affection, and in which he was treated with so much contempt. How long he would be disposed to maintain his former connexions, and how often he would be willing to restore that property which his father had abandoned, seems, from the nature of the thing, impossible to ascertain. But whatever might be the conduct of the son, it seems to have been intended by the statute of Romulus, that, after a third sale, the property of the father should be finally extinguished, and that he should never afterwards recover a power which he had exercised with such immoderate severity.<128>
[* ]Lathmon. [[Poems of Ossian, 177.]]
[† ]Leviticus, chap. xix. ve. 32.
[‡ ]Job, chap. xxxii.
[§ ]Histoire generale des voyages. [[Histoire Generale des Voyages volume XIX contains Gmelin’s Travels, but I have been unable to find the passage in question.]]
[‖ ]This was the case among the Jews.—Among the North Americans, see Charlevoix [[Histoire et description générale, letter XVII.—Among the ancient Romans the elders formed the senate, and were called Patres.]]
[¶ ]In the language of the Arabs, see D’Arvieux trav. Arab. [[The Chevalier d’Arvieux’s Travels, 99. This also is the case in the German and most of the modern languages of Europe.]]
[* ]Notwithstanding that old men are commonly so much respected among savages, they are sometimes put to death when so far advanced in years as to have lost the use of their faculties. This shows, that the estimation in which they are held does not proceed from a principle of humanity, but from a regard to the useful knowledge they are supposed to possess. [[The anecdote is from Cicero De Senectute 18.]]
[* ]Pope’s translation of the Iliad, book 9. l. 582.
[† ]Genesis, chap. xxvii. ver. 38.
[* ]Operae officiales. [[This is the technical term in Roman law for the relation Millar describes in the body of the text.]]
[† ]Vide Heineccii antiq. Rom. lib. 1. Tit. 6. §. 9. Dig. Tit. de oper. libert. [[Digest XXXVIII.1 “De operas libertorum.” Inst. §. 1. de cap. deminut. l. un. I.xvii. De capitis minutione. Cod. de ingrat. liber. Codex VIII.49 “De Ingratis Liberis.”]]
[* ]Caesar de bel. Gall. lib. 6.
[† ]See Heineccius elem. jur. German. [[Elementa Iuris Germanici, Tum Veteris, Tum Hodierni (Naples, 1770), I.VI § CXXXV.]]
[‡ ]Genesis, chap. xlii. ver. 37.
[* ]Deuteronomy, chap. xxi. ver. 18.
[† ]Exodus, chap. xxi. ver. 7.
[‡ ]Sigon. de antiq. jur. civ. Roman. lib. 1. cap. 10. [[Carlo Sigonio, De Antiquo Iure Civium Romanorum Libri Duo.]]
[§ ]See [[Friedrich Christian Weber Present State of Russia, published 1722 201, 221.]]
[‖ ]Histoire generale des voyages [[vol. IX.—Chardin. tom. 1. Jean Chardin, Journal du Voyage du chevalier Chardin (no passage corresponds exactly).]]
[* ]Histoire generale des voyages, tom. 4. liv. 10. chap. 3.
[† ]Narrative of the honourable John Byron [[148–49.]]
[* ]Aelian mentions the Thebans alone as having made a law forbidding the exposition of infants under a capital punishment, and ordaining, that if the parents were indigent, their children, upon application to the magistrate, should be maintained and brought up as slaves. Aelian var. hist. lib. 2. cap. 7. [[Aelian Varia Historia. See also Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, V.2.15.]]
[† ]Dion. Halicar. lib. 11. l. 11. Dig. de lib et postum. § 3. [[Digest XXVIII.2 “De liberis et postumis heredibus instituendis vel exheredandis.” Inst. per quas person. cuiq. adquir. l. ult. Institutes II.9 “Per quas personas nobis adquiritur.” Cod. de impub. et al. subst. l. 4. Codex “De impuberum et de aliis sustitutionibus.” Dig. de judic. § 6. Digest VI.26 “De iudiciis: ubi quisque agere vel conveneri debeat.” Inst. de inut. stip. Institutes III.19 “De inutilibus stipulationibus.”
[* ]This statute, which was afterwards transferred into the twelve tables, is thus handed down to us. “Endo liberis justis jus vitae, necis, venumdandique potestas ei esto. Si pater filium ter venumduit, filius a patre liber esto.” Ulp. frag. 10. 1. [[“Concerning the right of life or death and the power of selling, belonging to just free men. If the father sells the son three times, the son is free from the father.” This is from the fourth of the twelve tables, the oldest extant written Roman Law, which is preserved only in fragments. The writings of Ulpian (d. 228), one of the most important Roman jurists and legal editors, make up a large portion of the Digest.]]