Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I: The origin of a Chief, and the degrees of influence which he is enabled to acquire. - The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks
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SECTION I: The origin of a Chief, and the degrees of influence which he is enabled to acquire. - 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 origin of a Chief, and the degrees of influence which he is enabled to acquire.
Having considered the primitive state of a family during the life of the father, we may now examine the changes which happen in their situation, upon the death of this original governor, and the different species of authority to which they are then commonly subjected.
When the members of a family become too numerous to be all maintained and lodged in the same house, some of them are under the necessity of leaving it, and providing themselves with a new habitation. The sons, having arrived at the age of manhood, and being disposed to marry, are led by degrees to have a separate residence, where they may live in a more comfortable manner. They build their huts very near one to another, and each of them forms a distinct family; of which he assumes the direction, and which he endeavours to supply with the means of subsistence. Thus the original society is gradually enlarged into a village<141> or tribe; and according as it is placed in circumstances which favour population, and render its condition prosperous and flourishing, it becomes proportionably extensive, and is subdivided into a greater multiplicity of branches.
From the situation of this early community, it is natural to suppose that an uncommon degree of attachment will subsist between all the different persons of which it is composed. As the ordinary life of a savage renders him hardy and robust, so he is a stranger to all those considerations of utility, by which, in a polished nation, men are commonly induced to restrain their appetites, and to abstain from violating the possessions of each other. Different clans or tribes of barbarians are therefore disposed to rob and plunder one another, as often as they have an opportunity of doing it with success; and the reciprocal inroads and hostilities in which they are engaged become the source of continual animosities and quarrels, which are prosecuted with a degree of fury and rancour suited to the temper and disposition of the people. Thus the members of every single clan are frequently at variance with all their neighbours around them. This makes it necessary that they should be constantly upon their guard, in order to repel the numerous attacks to which they are exposed, and to avoid that barbarous treatment, which they have reason to expect, were they ever to fall under the power of their enemies. As they are divided from<142> the rest of the world, so they are linked together by a sense of their common danger, and by a regard to their common interest. They are united in all their pastimes and amusements, as well as in their serious occupations; and when they go out upon a military enterprise, they are no less prompted to show their friendship for one another, than to gratify their common passions of enmity and resentment. As they have been brought up together from their infancy, and have little intercourse with those of a different community, their affections are raised to a greater height, in proportion to the narrowness of that circle to which they are confined. As the uniformity of their life supplies them with few occurrences, and as they have no opportunity of acquiring any great variety of knowledge, their thoughts are the more fixed upon those particular objects which have once excited their attention; they retain more steadily whatever impressions they have received, and become the more devoted to those entertainments and practices with which they have been acquainted.
Hence it is, that a savage is never without difficulty prevailed upon to abandon his family and friends, and to relinquish the sight of those objects to which he has been long familiar. To be banished from them is accounted the greatest of all misfortunes. His cottage, his fields, the faces and conversation of his kindred and companions, recur incessantly to his memory, and prevent him from<143> relishing any situation where these are wanting. He clings to those well-known objects, and dwells upon all those favourite enjoyments which he has lost. The poorer the country in which he has lived, the more wretched the manner of life to which he has been accustomed, the loss of it appears to him the more insupportable. That very poverty and wretchedness, which contracted the sphere of his amusements, is the chief circumstance that confirms his attachment to those few gratifications which it afforded, and renders him the more a slave to those particular habits which he has acquired. Not all the allurements of European luxury could bribe a Hottentot to resign that coarse manner of life which was become habitual to him; and we may remark, that the “maladie du pays,” which has been supposed peculiar to the inhabitants of Switzerland, is more or less felt by the inhabitants of all countries, according as they approach nearer to the ages of rudeness and simplicity.* <144>
Those tribes that inhabit the more uncultivated parts of the earth being almost continually at war with their neighbours, and finding it necessary to be always in a posture of defence, have constant occasion for a leader to conduct them in their various military enterprises.
Wherever a number of people meet together in order to execute any measures of common concern, it is convenient that some person should be appointed to direct their proceedings, and prevent them from running into confusion. It accordingly appears to be a regulation, uniformly adopted in all countries, that every public assembly should have a president, invested with a degree of authority suitable to the nature of the business committed to their care. But in no case is a regulation of this kind so necessary as in the conduct of a military<145> expedition. There is no situation in which a body of men are so apt to run into disorder, as in war; where it is impossible that they should co-operate, and preserve the least regularity, unless they are united under a single person, empowered to direct their movements, and to superintend and controul their several operations.
The members of a family having been usually conducted by the father in all their excursions of moment, are naturally disposed, even when their society becomes larger, to continue in that course of action to which they have been accustomed; and after they are deprived of this common parent, to fall under the guidance of some other person, who appears next to him in rank, and has obtained the second place in their esteem and confidence.
Superiority in strength, courage, and other personal accomplishments, is the first circumstance by which any single person is raised to be the leader of a tribe, and by which he is enabled to maintain his authority.
In that rude period, when men live by hunting and fishing, they have no opportunity of acquiring any considerable property; and there are no distinctions in the rank of individuals, but those which arise from their personal qualities, either of mind or body.
The strongest man in a village, the man who excels in running, in wrestling, or in handling those weapons which are made use of in war, is, in every<146> contest, possessed of an evident advantage which cannot fail to render him conspicuous, and to command respect and deference. In their games and exercises, being generally victorious, he gains an ascendency over his companions, which disposes them to yield him pre-eminence, and to rest fully satisfied of his superior abilities. When they go out to battle, he is placed at their head, and permitted to occupy that station where his behaviour is most likely to be distinguished and applauded. His exploits and feats of activity are regarded by his followers with pleasure and admiration; and he becomes their boast and champion in every strife or competition with their neighbours. The more they have been accustomed to follow his banner, they contract a stronger attachment to his person, are more afraid of incurring his displeasure, and discover more readiness to execute those measures which he thinks proper to suggest. Instead of being mortified by his greatness, they imagine that it reflects honour upon the society to which he belongs, and are even disposed to magnify his prowess with that fond partiality which they entertain in favour of themselves.
In many savage tribes, the captain of an expedition is commonly chosen from the number of wounds he has received in battle. The Indians of Chili are said, in the choice of a leader, to regard only his superior strength, and to determine<147> this point according to the burden which he is able to carry.*
Montaigne gives an account of three West Indian savages, who came to Rouen when Charles IX. was there. “The king,” says he, “discoursed a long time with them. They were shown our manner of living, our pomp, and the several beauties of that great city. Some time after, a gentleman asked what it was that struck them most among the various objects they had seen. They answered, three things. First, They thought it very strange that so many tall men, wearing beards, and standing round the king (these in all probability were his Swiss guards) should submit voluntarily to a child; and that they did not rather choose to be governed by one of themselves.”† <148>
But when a people have begun to make improvements in their manner of fighting, they are soon led to introduce a variety of stratagems, in order to deceive their enemy, and are often no less indebted to the art and address which they employ, than to the strength or courage which they have occasion to exert. Thus, military skill and conduct are raised to higher degrees of estimation; and the experience of a Nestor, or the cunning of a Ulysses, being found more useful than the brutal force of an Ajax, is frequently the source of greater influence and authority.
This, as has been formerly observed, is the foundation of that respect and reverence which<149> among early nations is commonly paid to old men. From this cause also it happens, that the leader of a barbarous tribe, is often a person somewhat advanced in years, who, retaining still his bodily strength, has had time to acquire experience in the art of war, and to obtain a distinguished reputation by his atchievements.
The effect of these circumstances, to raise and support the authority of a leader or chief, is sufficiently obvious, and is fully illustrated, not only from the uniform history of mankind in a barbarous state, but also from a variety of particulars which may be observed in the intercourse of polished society.
“And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
“Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot, and Gilead begat Jephthah.
“And Gilead’s wife bare him sons; and his wife’s sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
“Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob; and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.<150>
“And it came to pass, in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.
“And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob.
“And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
“And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did ye not hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now, when ye are in distress?
“And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
“And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the Lord deliver them before me, shall I be your head?
“And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The Lord be witness between us, if we do not so, according to thy words.
“Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead; and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh.”* <151>
When Saul was afterwards appointed king over the Jewish nation, we find that the prophet Samuel recommends him to the people, merely upon account of his superior stature, and the advantages of his person.
“And when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.
“And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king.”*
In like manner, when the family of this prince was deprived of the crown, the minds of the people were prepared for that revolution by the opinion which they entertained of the superior valour and military accomplishments of his successor.
“And it came to pass, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music.
“And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”†
After mankind have fallen upon the expedient of taming and pasturing cattle, in order to render<152> their situation more comfortable, there arises another source of influence and authority which was formerly unknown to them. In their herds and flocks they frequently enjoy considerable wealth, which is distributed in various proportions, according to the industry or good fortune of different individuals; and those who are poor become dependent upon the rich, who are capable of relieving their necessities, and affording them subsistence. As the pre- eminence and superior abilities of the chief are naturally exerted in the acquisition of that wealth which is then introduced, he becomes of course the richest man in the society; and his influence is rendered proportionably more extensive. According to the estate which he has accumulated, he is exalted to a higher rank, lives in greater magnificence, and keeps a more numerous train of servants and retainers, who, in return for that maintenance and protection which they receive from him, are accustomed in all cases to support his power and dignity.‡
The authority derived from wealth, is not only greater than that which arises from mere personal accomplishments, but also more stable and permanent. Extraordinary endowments, either of mind or body, can operate only during the life of the<153> possessor, and are seldom continued for any length of time in the same family. But a man usually transmits his fortune to his posterity, and along with it all the means of creating dependence which he enjoyed. Thus the son, who inherits the estate of his father, is enabled to maintain an equal rank, at the same time that he preserves all the influence acquired by the former proprietor, which is daily augmented by the power of habit, and becomes more considerable as it passes from one generation to another.
Hence that regard to genealogy and descent which we often meet with among those who have remained long in a pastoral state. From the simplicity of their manners, they are not apt to squander or alienate their possessions; and the representative of an ancient family is naturally disposed to be ostentatious of a circumstance which contributes so much to increase his power and authority. All the Tartars, of whatever country or religion, have an exact knowledge of the tribe from which they are descended, and are at great pains to ascertain the several branches into which it is divided.”*
For the same reason the dignity of the chief, which in a former period was frequently elective, is, among shepherds, more commonly transmitted<154> from father to son by hereditary succession. As the chief possesses the largest estate, so he represents the most powerful family in the tribe; a family from which all the rest are vain of being descended, and the superiority of which they have been uniformly accustomed to acknowledge. He enjoys not only that rank and consequence which is derived from his own opulence, but seems entitled to the continuance of that respect and submission which has been paid to his ancestors; and it rarely happens that any other person, though of superior abilities, is capable of supplanting him, or of diverting the course of that influence which has flowed so long in the same channel.
The acquisition of wealth in herds and flocks, does not immediately give rise to the idea of property in land. The different families of a tribe are accustomed to feed their cattle promiscuously, and have no separate possession or enjoyment of the ground employed for that purpose. Having exhausted one field of pasture, they proceed to another; and when at length they find it convenient to move their tents, and change the place of their residence, it is of no consequence who shall succeed them, and occupy the spot which they have relinquished.
“Is not the whole land before thee?” says Abraham to Lot his kinsman; “Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou de-<155>part to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”*
The wild Arabs, who inhabit a barren country, are accustomed to change their residence every fortnight, or at least every month.† The same wandering life is led by the Tartars; though, from the greater fertility of their soil, their migrations are perhaps less frequent.‡
If people in this situation, during their temporary abode in any one part of a country, should cultivate a piece of ground, this also, like that which is employed in pasture, will naturally be possessed in common. The management of it is regarded as an extraordinary and difficult work, in which it is necessary that they should unite and assist one another; and therefore, as each individual is entitled to the fruit of his own labour, the crop, which has been raised by the joint labour of all, is deemed the property of the whole society.§ <156>
Thus among the natives of the island of Borneo, it is customary, in time of harvest, that every family of a tribe should reap so much grain as is sufficient for their maintenance; and the remainder is laid up by the public, as a provision for any future demand.‖ Similar practices have probably taken place in most countries, when the inhabitants first applied themselves to the cultivation of the earth. “The Suevi,” according to Caesar, “are by far the greatest and most warlike of the German tribes. They are said to possess an hundred villages; from each of which a thousand armed men are annually led forth to war. The rest of the people remain at home; and cultivate the ground for both. These the following year take arms, and the former, in their turn, remain at home. Thus neither agriculture, nor the knowledge and practice of the military art is neglected. But they have no separate landed possessions belonging to individuals, and are not allowed to reside longer than a year in one place. They make little use of grain; but live chiefly upon milk and the flesh of their cattle, and are much addicted to hunting.”* <157>
But the settlement of a village in some particular place, with a view to the further improvement of agriculture, has a tendency to abolish this ancient community of goods, and to produce a separate appropriation of landed estates. When mankind have made some proficiency in the various branches of husbandry, they have no longer occasion to exercise them by the united deliberation and counsel of a whole society. They grow weary of those joint measures, by which they are subjected to continual disputes concerning the distribution and management of their common property, while every one is desirous of employing his labour for his own advantage, and of having a separate possession, which he may enjoy according to his own inclination. Thus, by a sort of tacit agreement, the different families of a village are led to cultivate different portions of land apart from one another, and thereby acquire a right to the respective produce arising from the labour that each of them has bestowed. In order to reap what they have sown, it is necessary that they should have the management of the subject upon which<158> it is produced; so that from having a right to the crop, they appear of course entitled to the exclusive possession of the ground itself. This possession, however, from the imperfect state of early cultivation, is at first continued only from the seed-time to the harvest; and during the rest of the year, the lands of a whole village are used in common for pasturing their cattle. Traces of this ancient community of pasture grounds, during the winter season, may still be discovered in several parts of Scotland. But after a person has long cultivated the same field, his possession becomes gradually more and more complete; it is continued during the whole year without interruption; and when by his industry and labour he has increased the value of the subject, he seems justly entitled, not only to the immediate crop that is raised, but to all the future advantages arising from the melioration of the soil.
The additional influence which the captain of a tribe or village is enabled to derive from this alteration of circumstances, may be easily imagined. As the land employed in tillage is at first possessed in common, the different branches of husbandry are at first carried on, and even the distribution of the produce is made, under the inspection of their leader, who claims the superintendence of all their public concerns.
Among the negroes upon the banks of the river Gambia, the seed-time is a period of much festivity. Those who belong to the same village unite in cul-<159>tivating the ground, and the chief appears at their head, armed as if he were going out to battle, and surrounded by a band of musicians, resembling the bards of the Celtic nations, who, by singing and playing upon musical instruments, endeavour to encourage the labourers. The chief frequently joins in the music; and the workmen accompany their labour with a variety of ridiculous gestures and grimace, according to the different tunes with which they are entertained.*
Upon the Gold Coast each individual must obtain the consent of the chief before he has liberty to cultivate so much ground as is necessary for his subsistence. At the same time when a person has been allowed to cultivate a particular spot, it should seem that he has the exclusive privilege of reaping the crop.* This may be considered as one step towards the appropriation of land.
When men are disposed to separate and divide their landed possessions, every family, according as it is numerous and powerful, will be in a condition to occupy and appropriate a suitable extent of territory. For this reason the chief, from his superior wealth in cattle, and the number of his domestics, as well as from his dignity and personal abilities, can hardly fail to acquire a much larger estate, than any other member of the community. His retainers must of consequence be increased in<160> proportion to the enlargement of his domain, and as these are either maintained in his family, or live upon his ground in the situation of tenants at will, they depend entirely upon him for subsistence. They become, therefore, necessarily subservient to his interest, and may at pleasure be obliged either to labour or to fight upon his account. The number of dependents whom he is thus capable of maintaining will be so much the greater, as, from the simplicity of his manners, he has no occasion to purchase many articles of luxury, and almost his whole fortune is consumed in supplying the bare necessaries of life.
The estate which is acquired by a chief, after the appropriation of land, is not only more extensive than what he formerly possessed in herds and flocks, but at the same time is less liable to be destroyed or impaired by accidents; so that the authority which is founded upon it becomes more permanent, and is apt to receive a continued accumulation of strength by remaining for ages in the same family.<161>
[* ]Mr. Kolben relates, that one of the Dutch governors at the Cape of Good Hope brought up an Hottentot according to the fashions and customs of the Europeans, teaching him several languages, and instructing him fully in the principles of the Christian religion, at the same time clothing him handsomely, and treating him in all respects as a person for whom he had an high esteem, and whom he designed for some beneficial and honourable employment. The governor afterwards sent him to Batavia, where he was employed under the commissary for some time, till that gentleman died; and then he returned to the Cape of Good Hope. But having paid a visit to the Hottentots of his acquaintance, he threw off all his fine clothes, bundled them up, laid them at the governor’s feet, and desired he might be allowed to renounce his Christianity, and to live and die in the religion and customs of his ancestors; only requesting that he might be permitted to keep the hanger and collar which he wore, in token of his regard to his benefactor. While the governor was deliberating upon this, scarce believing the fellow to be in earnest, the young Hottentot took the opportunity of running away, and never afterwards came near the Cape, thinking himself happy that he had exchanged his European dress for a sheep-skin, and that he had abandoned the hopes of preferment for the society of his relations and countrymen. [[Peter Kolben, The Present State of the Cape of Good-Hope, VIII.7 (pp. 106–7).
[* ]“Lorsqu’ils se soulevérent, et qu’il fut question d’élire un capitaine entre eux, ils prirent une grosse poutre, le chargérent sur leur épaules tour a tour, et celui qui la soutint le plus long tems, eut le commandement sur eux. Il y en eut beaucoup qui la soutirent 4. 5. et 6. heures; mais enfin il y en eut un la soutint 24. heures; et celui-la fût reconnu pour chef.” Voyage d’Olivier de Noort. Recueil de voy. qui ont. servi a l’etab. de la comp. dans les Indes Orient. des Pais Bas. [[“Once they rose up, and needed to elect a captain amongst them, they took a heavy beam, each one bore it on their shoulders in turn, and he who held it the longest obtained the command of the others. Many could hold the beam for 4, 5 or 6 hours; but one held it for 24 hours, and he was recognized as chief” (Voyage autour du monde, 65).]]
[† ]Montaigne’s essays. p. 169. Paris, 1604, 8vo. [[The passage is from “On the Cannibals,” in Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, trans. M. A. Screech (London: Penguin, 1987), 240.
[* ]Judges, chap. x. ver. 18; chap. xi. ver. 1. &c.
[* ]1 Samuel, chap. x. ver. 23, 24.
[† ]1 Samuel, chap. xviii. ver. 6, 7.
[‡ ]The admiration and respect derived from the possession of superior fortune, is very fully and beautifully illustrated by the eloquent and ingenious author of the “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” [[Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, I.iii.3.]]
[* ]Histoire generale des voyages, tom. 9. liv. 3. chap. 3. p. 33.
[* ]Genesis, chap. xiii. ver 9.—We read, however, of Abraham’s buying a field for the particular purpose of a burying place, and of his having weighed, as the price, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.
[† ]See D’Arvieux’s travels [[182.]]
[‡ ]See Professor Gmelin’s travels into Siberia [[chap. 15, I:303–4.]]
[§ ]That land is appropriated by tribes before it becomes the property of individuals, has been observed by Dr. Stuart, in his acute dissertation concerning the antiquity of the English constitution. [[Stuart, Historical Dissertation, 30–31.]]
[‖ ]Modern universal history, vol. 9. [[“Conquests and Settlements of the Portuguese in the East Indies,” 333.]]
[* ]Suevorum gens est longe maxima et bellicosissima Germanorum omnium. Ii centum pagos habere dicuntur: ex quibus quotannis singula millia armatorum, bellandi causa, suis ex finibus educunt. Reliqui domi manent: pro se atque illis colunt. Hi rursus invicem anno post in armis sunt: illi domi remanent. Sic neque agricultura, neque ratio, neque usus belli intermittitur. Sed privati et separati agri apud eos nihil est; neque longius anno remanere uno in loco, incolendi causa, licet: neque multum frumento, sed maximam partem lacte atque pecore vivunt, multumque sunt in venationibus. Caesar de bell. Gall. lib. 4. cap. 1.
[* ]Histoire generale des voyages, tom. 3. liv. 7. chap. 13.
[* ]Histoire generale des voyages, tom. 4. liv. 9. chap. 7. §. 5.