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CHAPTER VI: The Authority of a Master over His Servants - 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 Authority of a Master over His Servants
The condition of Servants in the primitive ages of the world.
In the foregoing chapters we have surveyed the principal distinctions of rank which occur among the free inhabitants of a country, and have endeavoured to mark the progress of society, with regard to the power of the husband, the father, and the civil magistrate. It may now be proper to consider the state of the servants, and to observe the degrees of authority which the laws and customs of different nations have bestowed upon the master.
From the situation of mankind in rude and barbarous countries, we may easily conceive in what manner any one person is, at first, reduced to be the servant of another. Before the manners of men are civilized, and a regular government has been established, persons of small fortune are subject to great inconveniencies from the disorder and violence of the times, and are frequently obliged to solicit the assistance and protection of some<244> powerful neighbour, by whom they are entertained in the station of vassals or military dependents. But those who, from their idleness, have acquired nothing, or who, by accident, have been deprived of their possessions, are necessarily exposed to much more severe calamities. They have no room or encouragement for the exercise of those beneficial trades and professions, the effects of luxury and refinement, by which, in a polished nation, a multitude of people are enabled to live in a comfortable manner. In many cases, therefore, they are under the necessity of serving some opulent person, who, upon account of their labour, is willing to maintain them; and as they are entirely dependent upon him for their subsistence, they are engaged, according to his circumstances, and according to the qualifications they possess, in all the mean and servile occupations which may be requisite for the convenience and support of his family.
In early ages, when neighbouring tribes or nations are almost continually engaged in mutual hostilities, it frequently happens that one of the parties is totally reduced under the power of another. The use that is made of a victory, upon these occasions, is such as might be expected from a fierce and barbarous people, who have too little experience or reflection to discover the utility of carrying on the trade of war with some degree of humanity. The vanquished are often put to death,<245> in order to gratify a spirit of revenge; or, if they are spared, it is only from the consideration that their future labour and service will be of more advantage to the conqueror. As in those times every individual goes out to battle at his own charges, so he claims a proportional share of the profits arising from the expedition; and of consequence obtains the absolute disposal of the captives whom he has procured by his valour, or who, in a division of the booty, are bestowed upon him as the reward of his merit.
This ancient acquisition of servants by captivity gave rise, in subsequent periods, to another method of acquiring them, by the sentence of a judge. In the primitive state of society, the public was not invested with sufficient power to punish the crimes that were committed; and when a difference arose between individuals, the injured party had frequently no other way of procuring redress than by making war upon the offender, and reducing him into captivity. In more civilized ages, when the magistrate was enabled to restrain these disorders, he sometimes afforded the same redress by his own authority, and assigned the labour and service of the criminal as an indemnification to the sufferer for the loss he had sustained.
By these three methods, by captivity, by the voluntary submission of the indigent, or by the sentence of a judge, many are reduced into a state of unlimited subjection, and become the servants of<246> those who are opulent and prosperous.1 It may be questioned, in such a case, how far a person is entitled to make use of that power which fortune has put into his hands. It is difficult to ascertain the degree of authority which, from the principles of justice and humanity, we are, in any situation, permitted to assume over our fellow-creatures. But the fact admits of no question, that people have commonly been disposed to use their power in such a manner as appears most conducive to their interest, and most agreeable to their predominant passions. It is natural to suppose that the master would set no bounds to his prerogative over those unhappy persons who, from their circumstances, were under the necessity of yielding an implicit obedience to his commands. He forced them to labour as much, and gave them as little in return for it, as possible. When he found them negligent of their employment, he bestowed upon them such correction as he thought proper; and, actuated by the boisterous dispositions of a savage, he was in some cases provoked to chastise them with a degree of severity, by which they might even be deprived of their life. When he had no use for their work, or when a good opportunity was presented, he endeavoured by a sale to dispose of them to the highest advantage. When he chose to increase the number of his servants, he sometimes encouraged and directed their multiplication; and the same authority which he exercised over the parents was<247> extended to their offspring, whom he had been at the trouble of rearing, and who were equally dependent upon him for their subsistence.
To be a servant, therefore, in those primitive times, was almost universally the same thing as to be a slave. The master assumed an unlimited jurisdiction over his servants, and the privilege of selling them at pleasure. He gave them no wages beside their maintenance; and he allowed them to have no property, but claimed to his own use whatever, by their labour or by any other means, they happened to acquire.
Thus the practice of domestic slavery appears to have been early established among the nations of antiquity; among the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Jews, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans.
The same practice obtains at present among all those tribes of barbarians, in different parts of the world, with which we have any correspondence.
There are indeed but few slaves among the greater part of the savages of America; because, from the situation of that people, they have no opportunity of accumulating wealth for maintaining any number of servants. As, in ordinary cases, they find it burdensome to give subsistence to an enemy whom they have subdued, they are accustomed to indulge their natural ferocity by putting him to death, even in cold blood. If ever they behave with humanity to their captives, it is only when,<248> being greatly reduced by the calamities of war, or by uncommon accidents, they are under the immediate necessity of recruiting their strength; and as this rarely happens, the persons whose lives have been thus preserved, are not distinguished from the children of the family into which they are brought, but are formally adopted into the place of the deceased relations, whose loss they are intended to supply.*
The Tartars, on the other hand, who have great possessions in herds and flocks, find no difficulty in supporting a number of domestics. For this reason they commonly preserve their captives, with a view of reaping the benefit that may arise from their labour; and the servitude established among that people disposes them to treat their enemies with a degree of moderation, which otherwise could hardly be expected from their fierce and barbarous dispositions.†
The same observation may be extended to the negroes upon the coast of Guinea, who, from their intercourse with the nations of Europe, derive yet greater advantages from sparing the lives of their<249> enemies. At the same time it cannot be doubted, that, as the encounters of those barbarians have upon this account become less bloody, their wars have been rendered more frequent. From the great demand for slaves to supply the European market, they have the same motives to seize the person of their neighbours, which may excite the inhabitants of other countries to rob one another of their property.* <250>
The usual effects of opulence and civilized manners, with regard to the treatment of Servants.
These institutions and customs are such as might be expected from the limited experience, as well as from the rude manners of an early age. By reducing his servants into a state of slavery, the master appears, at first sight, to reap the highest advantage from their future labour and service. But when a people become civilized, and when they have made considerable progress in commerce and manufactures, one would imagine they should entertain more liberal views, and be influenced by more extensive considerations of utility.
A slave, who receives no wages in return for his labour, can never be supposed to exert much vigour or activity in the exercise of any employment. He obtains a livelihood at any rate; and by his utmost assiduity he is able to procure no more. As he works merely in consequence of the terror in which he is held, it may be imagined that he will be idle as often as he can with impunity. This circumstance may easily be overlooked in a country where the inhabitants are strangers to improvement. But when the arts begin to flourish, when the wonderful effects of industry and skill in cheapening commodities, and in bringing them<251> to perfection, become more and more conspicuous, it must be evident that little profit can be drawn from the labour of a slave, who has neither been encouraged to acquire that dexterity, nor those habits of application, which are essentially requisite in the finer and more difficult branches of manufacture.
This may be illustrated from the price of labour in our West-India islands, where it will not be doubted that the inhabitants are at great pains to prevent the idleness of their slaves. In Jamaica, the yearly labour of a field-negro, when he is upheld to the master, is rated at no more than nine pounds, currency of that island. When a negro has been instructed in the trade of a carpenter, the value of his yearly labour will amount at the utmost to thirty-six pounds; whereas a free man is capable of earning seventy pounds yearly in the very same employment.* <252>
It is further to be observed, that, in a polished nation, the acquisition of slaves is commonly much more expensive than among a simple and barbarous people.
After a regular government has been established, the inhabitants of a country are restrained from plundering one another; and, under the authority of the magistrate, individuals of the lowest rank are sufficiently secured from oppression and injustice. In proportion to the improvement of commerce and manufactures, the demand for labour is increased, and greater encouragement is given to industry. The poor have more resources for procuring a livelihood, by such employments as are productive of little subjection or dependence. By degrees, therefore, people of inferior condition are freed from the necessity of becoming slaves in order to obtain subsistence; and the ancient agreement by which a free person resigned his liberty, and was reduced under the power of a master, being rendered more and more unusual, is at length regarded as inconsistent with the natural rights of a citizen.
Thus among the Romans, during the common-<253>wealth, and even under the emperors, no free citizen was allowed, by contract, to become the slave of another.* It was consistent with the refined laws of that people, which rescinded those unequal contracts where one party had gained an undue advantage, or even obtained an unreasonable profit at the expence of the other, to declare that a bargain by which a man surrendered all his rights to a master, and consequently received nothing in return, should have no support or encouragement from the civil magistrate.
As men begin to experience the happy effects of cultivating the arts of peace, and are less frequently employed in acts of hostility, they have less occasion to acquire any number of slaves by captivity. The influence of civilization upon the temper and dispositions of a people has at the same time a tendency to produce a total revolution in the manner of conducting their military operations. That ancient institution, by which every one who is able to bear arms is required to appear in the field at his own charges, becomes too heavy a burden upon those who are enervated with pleasure, or engaged in lucrative professions; and the custom of employing mercenary troops in defence of<254> the country is therefore gradually established. As an army of this kind is maintained by the government; as the soldiers receive constant pay, which is understood to be a full equivalent for their service; they appear to have no title to the extraordinary emoluments arising from the spoil of the enemy; and therefore the captives, though reduced into servitude, are no longer held as belonging to those particular persons by whom they have been subdued, but to the public, at whose expence and hazard the war is supported.†
We may take notice of a similar change in the acquisition of slaves by the sentence of a judge. In rude times, the chief aim of punishment was to gratify the resentment of the private party: and if a person accused of a crime had been found guilty, he was, for that reason, frequently delivered up as a slave to the plaintiff. But upon greater improvement of manners, the interpositions of the magistrate came to be influenced more by considerations of general utility; and as the crimes of individuals were principally considered in the light of offences against the society, it was agreeable to this idea that a criminal should become the slave of the public, and should either be employed in public works, or disposed of in the manner most advantageous to the revenue of the community.<255>
The inhabitants of a civilized country, being thus in a great measure deprived of the primitive modes of acquisition, are obliged to acquire the bulk of their slaves, either by a purchase from their poorer and more barbarous neighbours, or by propagating and rearing from the original stock which they possess. In such a situation, therefore, when we compute the expence attending the labour of a slave, not only the charge of his maintenance, but also the money laid out in the first acquisition, together with all the hazard to which his life is exposed, must necessarily be taken into the account.
When these circumstances are duly considered, it will be found that the work of a slave, who receives nothing but a bare subsistence, is really dearer than that of a free man, to whom constant wages are given in proportion to his industry.2
Unhappily, men have seldom been in a condition to examine this point with proper attention, and with sufficient impartiality. The practice of slavery being introduced in an early age, is afterwards regarded with that blind prepossession which is commonly acquired in favour of ancient usages: its inconveniencies are overlooked, and every innovation, with respect to it, is considered as a dangerous measure. The possession of power is too agreeable to be easily relinquished. Few people will venture upon a new experiment; and, amidst the general prejudices of a country, fewer still are ca-<256>pable of making it with fairness. We find, accordingly, that this institution, however inconsistent with the rights of humanity, however pernicious and contrary to the true interest of the master, has generally remained in those countries where it was once established, and has been handed down from one generation to another, during all the successive improvements of society, in knowledge, arts, and manufactures.
The advancement of a nation, in these particulars, is even frequently attended with greater severity in the treatment of the slaves.3 The simplicity of early ages admits of little distinction between the master and his servants, in their employments or manner of living; and though, from the impetuosity and violence of his temper, they may, on some occasions, be subjected to hardships, he enjoys no great superiority over them, in their dress, their lodging, or ordinary entertainment. By the introduction of wealth and luxury, this equality is gradually destroyed. The various refinements which tend to multiply the comforts and conveniencies of life; whatever contributes to ease, to pleasure, to ostentation, or to amusement, is in a great measure appropriated to the rich and the free, while those who remain in a state of servitude are retained in their primitive indigence. The slaves are no longer accustomed to sit at the same table with their master. They must look upon him as a being of a superior order, whom they are seldom permitted to approach,<257> and with whom they have hardly any thing in common; who beholds with indifference the toil and drudgery to which they are subjected, and from whom they can with difficulty procure a scanty subsistence.
What a painful and humbling comparison, what mortifying reflections does this afford to those wretches who are reduced into a state of bondage! reflections which cannot fail to sour their temper, to inspire them with malevolent dispositions, and to produce an untoward and stubborn behaviour; for it is impossible that man, by any system of management, should be so inured to oppression as, like a beast of burden, to submit entirely to the yoke, and not, on some occasions, to feel and testify resentment against the oppressor. A more severe discipline is thus rendered necessary, to conquer the obstinacy of persons, unwilling to labour in their employments. Besides, from the number of slaves which are usually maintained in a wealthy and luxurious nation, they become formidable to the state; and it is requisite that they should be strictly watched, and kept in the utmost subjection,<258> in order to prevent those desperate attempts to which they are frequently instigated in revenge of their sufferings. This is at least the pretence for that shocking barbarity to which the negroes in our colonies are frequently exposed, and which is exhibited even by persons of the weaker sex, in an age distinguished for humanity and politeness.
The prodigious wealth acquired by the Romans towards the end of the commonwealth, and after the establishment of despotism, gave rise to a degree of cruelty and oppression, in the management of their slaves, which had been unknown in former times.
It was to be expected, however, that particular enormities of this kind would at length excite the attention of the public, and would be in some<259> measure restrained by the gradual progress of government. Although the institution of slavery was permitted to remain, regulations came to be made, by which the master was prevented from such wanton exercise of his power as must have been highly prejudicial to his interest, and could only be regarded as an absurd abuse of his property.
In the Jewish law, we meet with some regulations for this purpose at an early period.
“If a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall surely be punished.
“Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
“And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.
“And if he smite out his man-servant’s tooth, or his maid-servant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.”*
At Athens, the slaves who had been barbarously treated by their master were allowed to fly for sanctuary to the temple of Theseus, and to com-<260>mence a suit at law against their master, who, if their complaint appeared well founded, was laid under the necessity of selling them.†
Various equitable laws, upon this subject, were made by the Roman emperors. At Rome, the absolute power of the master was first subjected to any limitation in the reign of Augustus, who appointed that the Praefectus urbi should afford redress to such of the slaves as had been treated with immoderate severity. In the reign of the emperor Claudius, it was enacted, that if a master abandoned the care of his slaves during their sickness, he should forfeit the property of them; and that if he put them to death, he should be held guilty of homicide. Soon after, the inhuman practice of obliging the slaves to fight with wild beasts, which was carried to a prodigious height, and which appears to have afforded a favourite entertainment to men of all ranks, was in some measure restrained. Other statutes were afterwards made, in the reigns of Adrian, of Antoninus Pius, and of Constantine, by which it was finally established, that the master who killed his own slave by design, and not from the accidental excess of chastisement, should suffer the ordinary punishment of murder.* <261>
Causes of the freedom acquired by the labouring people in the modern nations of Europe.
By what happy concurrence of events has the practice of slavery been so generally abolished in Europe? By what powerful motives were our forefathers induced to deviate from the maxims of other nations, and to abandon a custom so generally retained in other parts of the world?
The northern barbarians, who laid the foundation of the present European states, are said to have possessed a number of slaves, obtained either by captivity or by voluntary submission, and over whom the master enjoyed an unlimited authority.* <262>
When these nations invaded the Roman empire, and settled in the different provinces, they were enabled by their repeated victories to procure an immense number of captives, whom they reduced into servitude, and by whose assistance they occupied landed estates of proportionable extent. From the simple manner of living to which those barbarians had been accustomed, their domestic business was usually performed by the members of each family; and their servants, for the most part, were employed in cultivating their lands.
It appears that, upon the settlement of these invaders in the Roman empire, no immediate change was produced in their notions with respect to slavery, and that the slaves which they gradually acquired by the success of their arms were, at first, in the same condition with those which they had anciently possessed. The master exercised an unlimited power of chastising them, and might even put them to death with impunity. They were liable to be alienated, or impledged by the master at pleasure, and were incapable, either of marrying, or of entering into any other contract, without his consent. They were so much his property, that he might claim them from every possessor, by the ordinary action which was given for the recovery<263> of his goods; and in consequence of this, it was held they could have no civil rights; so that whatever was acquired by their labour belonged to the master, from whom they usually received nothing but a precarious subsistence. In a public capacity, the people of this class were viewed in a light no less humiliating; they enjoyed none of the privileges of a citizen, and were seldom permitted to give evidence against a free man in a court of justice.*
The situation, however, of these bond-men, and the nature of the employment in which they were usually engaged, had a tendency to procure them a variety of privileges from their master, by which, in a course of ages, their condition was rendered more comfortable, and they were advanced to higher degrees of consideration and rank.
As the peasants belonging to a single person could not be conveniently maintained in his house, so in order to cultivate his lands to advantage, it was necessary that they should be sent to a distance, and have a fixed residence in different parts of his estate. Separate habitations were therefore assigned them; and particular farms were committed to the care of individuals, who from their residing in the neighbourhood of one another, and forming small villages or hamlets, received the appellation of “villains.”<264>
It may easily be imagined that, in those circumstances, the proprietor of a large estate could not oversee the behaviour of his servants, living in separate families, and scattered over the wide extent of his demesnes; and it was in vain to think of compelling them to labour by endeavouring to chastise them upon account of their idleness. A very little experience would show that no efforts of that kind could be effectual; and that the only means of exciting the industry of the peasants would be to offer them a reward for the work which they performed. Thus, beside the ordinary maintenance allotted to the slaves, they frequently obtained a small gratuity, which, by custom, was gradually converted into a regular hire; and, being allowed the enjoyment and disposal of that subject, they were at length understood to be capable of having separate property.
After the master came to reside at a distance from the bulk of his servants, and had embraced the salutary policy of bribing them, instead of using compulsion, in order to render them active in their employment, he was less apt to be provoked by their negligence; and as he had seldom occasion to treat them with severity, the ancient dominion which he exercised over their lives was at length entirely lost by disuse.
When a slave had been for a long time engaged in a particular farm, and had become acquainted with that particular culture which it required, he<265> was so much the better qualified to continue in the management of it for the future; and it was contrary to the interest of the master that he should be removed to another place, or employed in labour of a different kind. By degrees, therefore, the peasants were regarded as belonging to the stock upon the ground, and came to be uniformly disposed of as a part of the estate which they had been accustomed to cultivate.
As these changes were gradual, it is difficult to ascertain the precise period at which they were completed. The continual disorders which prevailed in the western part of Europe, for ages after it was first over-run by the German nations, prevented for a long time the progress of arts among the new inhabitants. It was about the twelfth century that a spirit of improvement, in several European countries, became somewhat conspicuous; and it may be considered as a mark of that improvement, with respect to agriculture, that about this time, the villains had obtained considerable privileges; that the master’s power over their life was then understood to be extinguished; that the chastisement to which they had been formerly subjected was become more moderate; and that they were generally permitted to acquire separate property.* <266>
The effect of the foregoing circumstances is even observable in the history of the Greeks and Romans, among whom the peasants were raised to a better condition than the rest of their slaves. They were indeed bound to serve the proprietor during life, and might have been sold along with the ground upon which they were employed; but their persons were not subject to the absolute jurisdiction of their master; they had the privilege of marrying without his consent; they received wages in return for their labour, and were understood to have a full right of property in whatever goods their industry had enabled them to accumulate.†
It should seem, however, that the limited territory possessed by these ancient nations prevented the farther extension of the privileges bestowed upon their peasants: seven acres were originally the utmost extent of landed property which a Roman citizen was permitted to enjoy; a portion which he was able to cultivate with his own hands, or with no other assistance but that of his own<267> family; and there is reason to believe that, for several centuries, no individual acquired such an estate as gave occasion to his retaining many servants for the management of it, or could render the inspection and government of those whom he employed a matter of great trouble or difficulty.*
But after the wide and populous countries under the Roman dominion were subdued and laid waste by the small tribes of the Germans, very extensive landed estates, together with an adequate number of slaves, were immediately acquired by particular persons. As the people retained their primitive simplicity of manners, and were in a great measure strangers to commerce, these large possessions remained for ages without being dismembered. And thus, during all the successive improvements of agriculture, the proprietor of an estate, embarrassed with the multitude of his villains, was obliged to repose a confidence in them, and came by degrees to discover more clearly the utility of exciting them to industry by the prospect of their own private advantage.
The same motives, by which the master was induced to reward his slaves for their labour, determined him afterwards to increase his bounty in proportion to the work which they performed. Having no opportunity of looking narrowly into their management, he was commonly led to esti-<268>mate their diligence according to their success; and therefore, when they brought him a good crop, he made an addition to their wages, at the same time that he allowed them to expect a suitable compensation for their future labour and economy. This at length gave rise to an express stipulation, that their profits should depend upon the fertility of their different farms, and that, in all cases, they should be permitted to retain a certain share of the produce, in consideration of their labour.
An expedient so obvious and well calculated for promoting the industry of the peasants, could hardly fail to be generally embraced in all the countries of Europe, as soon as the inhabitants became attentive to the improvement of their estates. The remains of this practice are still to be found in Scotland, where, in some cases, the landlord is accustomed to stock the farm, and the tenant pays him a rent in kind, consisting of a certain proportion of the fruits.*
By this alteration, the villains entered into a sort of copartnership with their master; and having always a prospect of gain, according to the vigour or talents which they exerted, they were enabled to earn a more comfortable subsistence, and were even gradually raised to affluence. The acqui-<269>sition of wealth paved the way to a farther extension of their privileges. Those who had obtained something considerable found themselves in a condition to stock their own farms, and to offer a fixed rent to the master, upon condition of their being allowed to retain the surplus for their own emolument. An agreement of this kind, so advantageous to both parties, was concluded without any difficulty. As the tenant secured to himself the whole profit arising from his industry, the landlord was freed from the hazard of accidental losses, and obtained not only a certain, but frequently an additional revenue from his lands.4
Thus, by degrees, the ancient villanage came to be entirely abolished. The peasants, who cultivated their farms at their own charges, and at their own hazard, were of course emancipated from the authority of their master, and could no longer be regarded as in the condition of servants. Their personal subjection was at an end. It was of no consequence to the landlord how they conducted themselves; and, provided they punctually paid his rent, nothing farther could be required of them. There was no reason to insist that they should remain in the farm longer than they pleased; for the profits it afforded made them, commonly, not more willing to leave it than the proprietor was to put them away. When agriculture became so beneficial a trade, when the state of those who followed that profession had been rendered so comfortable, no<270> person had any difficulty to procure a sufficient number of tenants to labour his estate. It was, on the contrary, sometimes difficult for the farmer to obtain land sufficient for the exercise of his employment; and, after he had been at pains to improve the soil, he was in danger of being dispossessed by the proprietor, before he was indemnified for the trouble and expence which he had sustained. This made it necessary to stipulate that he should be allowed to remain for a certain time in the possession, and gave rise to leases, for a term of years, and even sometimes for life, or for a longer period, according to the circumstances or inclination of the parties.
The modern nations of Europe continued for a long time to be almost entirely unacquainted with manufactures; and, as they had no other slaves but those which were employed in agriculture, the privileges acquired by the villains had therefore a tendency to produce a total extinction of servitude. By degrees, however, as the people began to improve their circumstances, and to multiply the comforts and conveniencies of life, their attention was more and more diverted to other employments. At the same time that the villains were engaged in cultivating the ground, they were also bound to perform any other services which the master thought proper to require, and were often called to assist him in practice of those few mechanical arts which were then understood. Particular persons acquiring a singular dexterity in these occupa-<271>tions, were distinguished upon that account, and came to be more frequently employed than their neighbours. In proportion to the liberty which they enjoyed as peasants, they were enabled with more advantage to prosecute this collateral business; and while they received a reward for the crop which they produced upon their farms, they were not restrained from working, for hire, in that peculiar trade or profession which they were qualified to exercise. As the progress of luxury and refinement multiplied these occupations, and rendered the profits which they afforded superior in many cases to those which were derived from agriculture, individuals were gradually led to quit the latter employment, and to attach themselves entirely to the former. In that state of the country, the children of farmers were frequently bred to manufactures; and a number of tradesmen and artificers, having arisen in different villages, were advanced to consideration and esteem, in proportion as their assistance became more essentially necessary in supplying the wants of mankind. According to the wealth which this new order of men had accumulated, they purchased immunities from their master; and, by permitting him to levy tolls and duties upon their commerce, they were enabled to secure his patronage and protection. Thus the privileges acquired by the peasants appear to have given rise to domestic freedom, which was communicated to the trading part of the inhabitants; while the em-<272>ployment of the latter became, on the other hand, the source of great opulence and contributed, as has been formerly observed, to raise the people of inferior rank to political independence.
Other circumstances may be mentioned, which, in a subordinate manner, have, perhaps, contributed something to this remarkable change of European manners.
The establishment of Christianity has been supposed by many to be the principal circumstance which rooted out the practice of slavery, so universally permitted and encouraged among all the heathen nations. There is no doubt that the spirit of this religion, which considers all mankind as children of the same Father, and as all equally the objects of his paternal care and affection, should inspire them with compassion for the miseries of each other, and should teach the opulent and the proud to consider those who are depressed with labour and penury as creatures of the same species, to treat them with mildness and humanity, and to soften the rigours to which their severe and unequal fortune has unavoidably subjected them. But it does not seem to have been the intention of Christianity to alter the civil rights of mankind, or to abolish those distinctions of rank which were already established. There is no precept of the gospel by which the authority of the master is in any respect restrained or limited; but, on the contrary, there are several passages from which it<273> may be inferred that slaves, even after they had embraced the Christian religion, were not absolved from any part of the duties formerly incumbent upon them.*
We accordingly find that slavery remained all over Europe for several centuries after Christianity became the established religion: not to mention that this institution is still retained in Russia, in Poland, in Hungary, and in several parts of Germany; and that it is at present admitted without limitation, in the colonies which belong to the European nations, whether in Asia, Africa, or America. The Quakers of Pennsylvania, are the first body of men in those countries, who have discovered any scruples upon that account, and who seem to have thought that the abolition of this practice is a duty they owe to religion and humanity.*
It has likewise been imagined that the state of the clergy, their great influence and ambition, to-<274>gether with that opposition between the civil and ecclesiastical powers, which subsisted for a long time in most of the nations of Europe, were favourable to the lower ranks of men, and contributed to limit and destroy the ancient practice of villanage. The learning, the ideas of policy, and, above all, the peaceable manners of ecclesiastics, naturally produced an aversion to the disorders incident to the feudal governments, and disposed them to shelter the weak and defenceless from the tyranny of their superiors.
In those dark and superstitious ages, the church was, at the same time, most successful in establishing her authority over the lowest and most ignorant of the people, and was therefore led, in a particular manner, to exert her power and abilities in protecting that order of men by which she was most firmly supported. As dying persons were frequently inclined to make considerable donations for pious uses, it was more immediately for the interest of churchmen, that people of inferior condition should be rendered capable of acquiring property, and should have the free disposal of what they had acquired.
The progress of ecclesiastical rapacity seems at length to have produced a custom that villains, who obtained their liberty by the influence of the clergy, should reward their benefactors; and that the manumission should, for this reason, be confirmed by the church. In these circumstances,<275> the ministers of religion did not fail to recommend the manumission of slaves, as an action highly proper to atone for the offences of a sinner; and ecclesiastical censures were, in some cases, inflicted upon the master, when he refused to allow his villains the liberty of alienating their goods by a testament. So much does this appear to have been an object of attention, that a bull was published by Pope Alexander III exhorting the Christian world to a general emancipation of the villains.*
It was not, however, to be expected that, from such interested views, the clergy would be disposed to strike at the root of servitude, or to employ their casuistry in overthrowing an institution upon which so great a part of their own property depended. Like physicians, they were far from thinking it necessary to swallow that medicine which they had prescribed to the people; and while they appeared so extremely liberal with regard to the estates of the laity, they held a very different conduct with relation to the villains in their own possession. These being appropriated to pious uses, and being only held in usufruct, were not to be alienated by the present incumbent. Thus we meet with many ecclesiastical regulations, both in France and Germany, by which it is provided that no bishop, or priest, shall manumit a slave in the patrimony of<276> the church, without purchasing two others of equal value to be put in his place.*
The state of the civil government, in most of the countries of Europe, may be regarded as another circumstance which had some influence in abolishing domestic slavery. From the aristocratical constitution established in these kingdoms, the sovereign was engaged in long and violent<277> struggles with his barons; and being often incapable of carrying his measures by direct force, he was obliged to employ every artifice that his situation would admit, in order to humble his rivals, and reduce them under subjection. For this purpose he frequently exerted his authority in protecting the villains from the tyranny of the master; and thus endeavoured to undermine the power of the nobles, by withdrawing the submission of their immediate dependents.
While the monarch was, upon this account, endeavouring to protect the villains possessed by his barons, and to raise them to such a condition as might render them less dependent upon their masters, he found means of deriving some revenue from the people of that class, upon pretence of confirming, by royal authority, the privileges that were bestowed upon them. Other reasons, in the mean time, induced the sovereign to give particular encouragement to the bond-men upon his own demesnes; as these, under the shelter of the crown, had been enabled to acquire a degree of opulence, not only by their advances in agriculture, but also by their application to trade and manufactures, and consequently were in a condition to purchase freedom and immunities by pecuniary compositions, or by submitting to regular duties for the support of government. From such political considerations, we find that repeated efforts were made, and many regulations were introduced by different<278> princes of Europe, for extending and securing the liberties and rights of the lower and more industrious part of their subjects.*
In this manner domestic slavery, having gradually declined for ages, has at last been exploded from the greater part of Europe. In several European kingdoms, this has happened, from the natural progress of manners, and without any express interposition of the legislature. Thus in England, the peasants having, in consequence of their situation, acquired successive privileges, many of them were promoted to the rank of vassals or free-holders, while the rest, advancing more slowly, have remained in the condition of those who are called copy-holders at present. So late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth it appears that real bond-men were still to be found in many parts of the kingdom.†
In Scotland the slavery of the villains, which was probably of a similar nature to what obtained in the other countries of Europe, appears in like manner to have gone into disuse without any aid of statute; but the period when this change was effected has not been ascertained by lawyers or historians.* <279>
The remains of bondage which are still to be found in the case of colliers and salters in Scotland, and of those who work in the mines in some other parts of Europe, are sufficient to point out the chief circumstance, from which, in all other cases, the ancient institution has been so generally abolished. In a coal-work, as the different workmen are collected in one place, instead of being scattered, like the ordinary peasants, over an extensive territory, they were capable of being put under the care of an overseer, who might compel them to labour; and the master did not so immediately feel the necessity of resigning that authority over them with which he was invested.†
After domestic liberty had been thus, in a great measure, established in those European nations which had made the greatest improvement in agriculture, America was discovered; the first settlers in which, from their distance, and from the little attention that was paid to them by the government of their mother countries, were under no necessity of conforming to the laws and customs of Europe. The acquisition of gold and silver was the great object by which the Spaniards were directed in their settlements upon that continent; and the native inhabitants, whom they had conquered, were reduced into slavery and put to work in the mines.<280> But, these being either exhausted by the severity with which they were treated, or not being thought sufficiently robust for that kind of labour, negro-slaves were afterwards purchased for this purpose from the Portuguese settlements on the coast of Africa. When sugar-plantations were erected, the same people were employed in these, and in most other kinds of work which came to be performed in that part of the world. Thus the practice of slavery was no sooner extinguished by the inhabitants in one quarter of the globe, than it was revived by the very same people in another, where it has remained ever since, without being much regarded by the public, or exciting any effectual regulations in order to suppress it.*
It merits particular attention, that the chief circumstance which contributed to procure freedom to the slaves in Europe, had no place in our American plantations. From the manner of working the mines, a number of slaves are usually collected together, and may therefore be placed under the command of a single person, who has it in his power to superintend their behaviour, and to punish their negligence. The same observation is applicable to the planting of sugar, and to the other occupations in our colonies, in which the negroes perform the same sort of work which in Europe is<281> commonly performed by cattle, and in which, of consequence, many servants are kept upon the same plantation. As the slaves are continually under the lash of their master, he has not been forced to use the disagreeable expedient of rewarding their labour, and of improving their condition by those means which were found so necessary, and which were employed with so much emolument, to encourage the industry of the peasants in Europe.<282>
Political consequences of Slavery.
In the history of mankind, there is no revolution of greater importance to the happiness of society than this which we have now had occasion to contemplate. The laws and customs of the modern European nations have carried the advantages of liberty to a height which was never known in any other age or country. In the ancient states, so celebrated upon account of their free government, the bulk of their mechanics and labouring people were denied the common privileges of men, and treated upon the footing of inferior animals. In proportion to the opulence and refinement of those nations, the number of their slaves was increased, and the grievances to which they were subjected became the more intolerable.
The citizens of Athens, according to an enumeration of Demetrius Phalerius, are said to have amounted to 21,000, the strangers residing in that city to 10,000, and the slaves possessed by the whole people, to no less than 400,000.* There is reason to believe, however, that, in this enumeration of the free men, none but the heads of families are<283> included, and in that of the slaves, every individual is comprehended; for an account of the former would probably be taken with a view to the taxes imposed upon each head of a family, and the latter, it is most likely, would be numbered, like cattle, in order to ascertain the wealth of each proprietor. Thus, allowing five persons to each family, the Athenian slaves exceeded the free men in the proportion of between two and three to one.†
In the most flourishing periods of Rome, when luxury was carried to so amazing a pitch, the proportion of the inhabitants reduced into servitude was in all probability still greater. The number of slaves possessed by particular Roman citizens was prodigious. T. Minucius, a Roman knight, is said to have had 400.* Pliny mentions one Caecilius, who bequeathed in his testament upwards of 4000 slaves.† And Athenaeus takes notice, that the Roman slaves, belonging to individuals, often<284> amounted to 10,000, or even to 20,000; and sometimes, to a greater number.‡
The negro-slaves in the West-Indies are commonly said to exceed the free people nearly as three to one; and it has been supposed that the disproportion between them is daily increasing.
It may in general be observed, that according as men have made greater progress in commerce and the arts, the establishment of domestic freedom is of greater importance; and that, in opulent and polished nations, its influence extends to the great body of the people, who form the principal part of a community, and whose comfortable situation ought never to be overlooked in the provisions that are made for national happiness and prosperity.
In whatever light we regard the institution of slavery, it appears equally inconvenient and pernicious. No conclusion seems more certain than this, that men will commonly exert more activity when they work for their own benefit, than when they are compelled to labour for the benefit merely of another. The introduction of personal liberty has therefore an infallible tendency to render the inhabitants of a country more industrious; and, by producing greater plenty of provisions, must necessarily increase the populousness, as well as the strength and security of a nation.
Some persons have imagined that slavery is conducive to population, on account of the frugality<285> with which the slaves are usually maintained, and on account of the attention which is given by the master to their multiplication.
With regard to the former circumstance, it ought to be considered, that the work of a labourer depends very much upon the subsistence which he receives. As by living in too great affluence he may occasion an useless consumption of provisions, so by obtaining too little he is rendered less fit for the exercise of those employments by which mankind are supported. To promote the populousness of a country, the mechanics and labouring people should be maintained in such a manner as will yield the highest profit from the work which they are capable of performing; and it is probable that they will more commonly procure the enjoyments of life according to this due medium, when they provide their own maintenance, than when it depends upon the arbitrary will of a master, who, from narrow and partial views, may imagine that he has an interest to diminish the expence of their living as much as possible. To those who have occasion to know the extreme parsimony with which the negro-slaves in our colonies are usually maintained, any illustration of this remark will appear superfluous.
With respect to the care of the master to encourage the multiplication of his slaves, it must be obvious that this is of little moment, unless it be accompanied with an increase of the means of their<286> subsistence. If slavery be always unfavourable to industry, and tend to hinder the improvement of a country, the number of inhabitants will be proportionably limited, in spite of all the regulations that can be made, and of all the encouragement that can be given to the propagation of the species. It is impossible even to multiply cattle beyond a certain extent, without having previously enriched the pastures upon which they are fed.
But slavery is not more hurtful to the industry than to the good morals of a people. To cast a man out from the privileges of society, and to mark his condition with infamy, is to deprive him of the most powerful incitements to virtue; and, very often, to render him worthy of that contempt with which he is treated. What effects, on the other hand, may we not expect that this debasement of the servants will produce on the temper and disposition of the master? In how many different ways is it possible to abuse that absolute power with which he is invested? And what vicious habits may be contracted by a train of such abuses, unrestrained by the laws, and palliated by the influence of example. It would seem that nothing could exceed the dishonesty and profligacy of the Roman slaves, unless we except the inhumanity and the extravagant vices which prevailed among the rest of the inhabitants.
Various statutes were made to restrain the manumission of slaves, and to prevent the dignity of<287> a Roman citizen from being communicated to such infamous persons. “Such is the confusion of our times,” says Dionysius of Halicarnassus, “so much has the Roman probity degenerated into shameful meanness, that some, having gathered money by robberies, prostitutions, and all kinds of wickedness, are enabled to procure their freedom, and to become Romans; others, associating with their masters, in poisonings, murders, and crimes committed both against the gods and the commonwealth, are rewarded in the same manner.”*
It has been alledged that, in one respect, the institution of slavery is beneficial to a nation, as it affords the most convenient provision for those who are become unable to maintain themselves. The maintenance of the poor, is doubtless, a very important object, and may be regarded as one of the most difficult branches in the police of a country. In the early periods of society, when family-attachments are widely extended, the rich are commonly willing to take care of their indigent relations; and from the dispositions of a people unacquainted with luxury, those persons who have no other resource may expect relief from the occasional charity of their neighbours. But in a commercial and populous nation, in which the bulk of the people must work hard for their livelihood, many individuals are, by a variety of accidents, reduced to indi-<288>gence; while at the same time, from their numbers, as well as from the prevailing spirit of the age, their misery is little regarded by their fellow-creatures. The cunning impostor, in such a case, may sometimes carry on a profitable trade of begging; but the real object of distress is apt to be overlooked, and without some interposition of the public, would often perish from want. Poors-rates therefore, in some shape or other, must be established; and from the nature of such an establishment, it is usually attended with much expence, and liable to many abuses. In a country where slavery is practised, no such inconvenience is felt. As the master may be obliged, in all cases, to maintain his slaves, no assessment is necessary, no charges are incurred in collecting and distributing money, for the benefit of the poor: not to mention, that the nuisance of common begging is thus effectually removed.
It must be owned that this is a frugal regulation; but that it will answer the purpose is far from being so evident. When the same person, who is subjected to a tax, is also entrusted with the application of the money, what security is there that he will ever apply it to the uses for which it is intended? When a master is ordered to support his slaves, after they have become unfit for labour, what measures can be taken to secure their obedience? As it is plainly his interest to get free of this burden, what reason have we to expect that<289> he will submit to it longer than he thinks fit? In a matter of domestic economy, how is it possible for the public to watch over his conduct, or to observe one of a thousand instances in which he may neglect his decayed servants, or withhold from them the common necessaries of life? Instead of maintaining the poor, therefore, this is only a method of starving them in the most expeditious, and perhaps in the most private manner. In perusing the Roman history, with relation to this subject, we meet with enormities which fill the mind with horror. Among that people it appears that, notwithstanding all the laws that were made by emperors, of the best intentions and possessed of absolute power, the master did not even think it necessary to conceal his barbarity, or to show more regard to his slaves, than is usually shown to cattle which, from age or diseases, are no longer of service to the owner.
Considering the many advantages which a country derives from the freedom of the labouring people, it is to be regretted that any species of slavery should still remain in the dominions of Great Britain, in which liberty is generally so well understood, and so highly valued.
The situation of the colliers and salters in Scotland may seem of little consequence, as the number of persons engaged in that employment is not very great, and their servitude is not very grievous. The detriment, however, which arises from thence to the proprietor of such works is manifest. No<290> man would choose to be a slave if he could earn nearly the same wages by living in a state of freedom. Each collier, therefore, must have an additional premium for his labour, upon account of the bondage into which he is reduced: otherwise he will endeavour to procure a livelihood by some other employment.* <291>
Many of the coal-masters begin to be sensible of this, and wish that their workmen were upon a different footing; although, with a timidity natural to those who have a great pecuniary interest at stake, they are averse from altering the former practice, until such alteration shall be rendered universal by an act of parliament. But whatever advantages might accrue to them from a general law abolishing the slavery of the colliers, it seems evident that these advantages would be reaped in a much higher degree by any single proprietor who should have the resolution to give liberty to his workmen, and renounce the privileges which the law bestows upon him, with respect to those who might afterwards engage in his service. If the slavery of the colliers tends to heighten their wages, surely any one master who should be freed from this inconvenience before the rest, would be in the same circumstances with a manufacturer who produces a commodity at less expence than his neighbours, and who is thereby enabled to undersell them in the market.*
The slavery established in our colonies is an object of greater importance, and is, perhaps, attended with difficulties which cannot be so easily<292> removed. It has been thought, that the management of our plantations requires a labour in which free men would not be willing to engage, and which the white people are, from their constitution, incapable of performing. How far this opinion is well founded, according to the present manner of labouring in that part of the world, seems difficult to determine, as it has never been properly examined by those who are in a condition to ascertain the facts in question. But there is ground to believe that the institution of slavery is the chief circumstance that has prevented those contrivances to shorten and facilitate the more laborious employments of the people, which take place in other countries where freedom has been introduced.
Notwithstanding the connection between our colonies and the mother-country, the instruments proper for some of the most common branches of labour are little known in many parts of the West Indies. In Jamaica the digging of a grave gives full employment to two men for a whole day; as from the want of proper tools it is necessary to make a large hole no way adapted to the human figure. I am informed, that, unless it has been procured very lately, there is hardly a spade in the whole island. In procuring firewood for boiling sugar, &c. a work that takes up about five or six weeks yearly, no use is made of the saw, but the trees are cut with an ax into logs of about 30 inches in length. Instead of a flail the negroes<293> make use of a single stick in threshing the Guinea-corn; so that in this and in winnowing, ten women are capable of doing no more work in a day, than, with our instruments and machinery, two men would perform in two hours. From the want of a scythe or sickle, they are obliged every night to cut with a knife, or pull with their hands, a quantity of grass sufficient to serve their horses, mules, and black cattle.†
With regard to the planting of sugar, experiments have been made, in some of the islands, from which it appears that, in this species of cultivation, cattle might be employed with advantage, and that the number of slaves might be greatly diminished.* But these experiments have been little regarded, in opposition to the former usage, and in opposition to a lucrative branch of trade which this innovation would in a great measure destroy.
At any rate, the interest of our colonies seems to demand that the negroes should be better treated, and even that they should be raised to a better condition. The author of a late elegant account of our American settlements has proposed, that small wages should be given them as an encouragement to industry.5 If this measure were once be-<294>gun, it is probable that it would gradually be pushed to a greater extent; as the master would soon find the advantage of proportioning the wages of the slaves to the work which they performed. It is astonishing that so little attention has hitherto been paid to any improvements of this nature, after the good effects of them have been so fully illustrated in the case of the villains in Europe. The owner of a sugar or tobacco plantation, one would think, might easily estimate the average value of the crop which it had formerly yielded, and could run no hazard, whatever profit he might reap, by allowing the people employed in the cultivation to draw a share of any additional produce obtained by their labour and frugality.
It affords a curious spectacle to observe, that the same people who talk in a high strain of political liberty, and who consider the privilege of imposing their own taxes as one of the unalienable rights of mankind, should make no scruple of reducing a great proportion of their fellow-creatures into circumstances by which they are not only deprived of property, but almost of every species of right. Fortune perhaps never produced a situation more calculated to ridicule a liberal hypothesis, or to show how little the conduct of men is at the bottom directed by any philosophical principles.
In those provinces, however, of North America, where few slaves have ever been maintained, and where slavery does not seem to be recommended<295> by the nature of those employments in which the people are usually engaged, there may be some ground to expect that its pernicious effects upon industry will soon be felt, and that the practice will of course be abandoned. It is said that some of the provincial assemblies in that country have lately resolved to prevent or discourage the importation of negroes; but from what motives this resolution has proceeded, it is difficult to determine.*
The advancement of commerce and the arts, together with the diffusion of knowledge, in the present age, has of late contributed to the removal of many prejudices, and been productive of enlarged opinions, both upon this and upon a variety of other subjects. It has long been held, in Britain, that a negro-slave, imported into this country, obtained thereby many of the privileges of a free man. But by a late judgment in the court of king’s-bench, it was found that the master could not recover his power over the servant by sending him abroad at pleasure.†
By a still more recent decision of the chief court in Scotland, it was declared, “That the dominion assumed over this negro, under the law of Jamaica, being unjust, could not be supported in<296> this country to any extent: that therefore the defender had no right to the negro’s service for any space of time; nor to send him out of the country against his consent.”‡
This last decision, which was given in 1778, is the more worthy of attention, as it condemns the slavery of the negroes in explicit terms, and, being the first opinion of that nature delivered by any court in the island, may be accounted an authentic testimony of the liberal sentiments entertained in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Note on the Editions
Millar’s Ranks went through notable transformations in three lifetime editions and in the fourth, posthumous edition reproduced here. It also was translated into German twice and into French once.
The first edition was divided into five chapters.1 The second edition added further section headings within the chapters and important new material in the footnotes. For example, the strikingly Humean discussion of liberty concluding the fifth chapter of the third edition was added as a lengthy footnote in the second edition. The third edition had a new title, a new chapter division, and extensive new material. Most notably, Millar thought his discussion of “The Changes Produced in the Government of a People, by their Progress in Arts, and in Polished Manners” to be sufficiently important to merit its own chapter and so separated the fourth chapter in the prior edition into two distinct chapters. He also moved many of the quotations that were in footnotes into the main body of the text and added many additional citations in the final chapter as a result of momentous changes in slavery laws between the publication of the first and the third edition. The fourth, posthumous edition is essentially the third edition with the addition of Craig’s “Life.” The printings of the three lifetime editions were as follows:
1. Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society
By John Millar, Esq.
Professor of Laws in the University of Glasgow.
Printed by W. and J. Richardson,
John Murray, No 32, Fleet-Street,
Opposite St. Dunstan’s Church.
xv, 242 pp.
1a. Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society
By John Millar, Esq.
Professor of Laws in the University of Glasgow.
Dublin: Printed by T. Ewing, in Capel-Street
xiv, 240 pp.
[The Dublin edition is almost identical to the London edition. The type used is the same; the line spacing is slightly different. Lehmann suggests it may be a pirated volume.]
2. Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society
By John Millar, Esq.
Professor of Law in the University of Glasgow
The Second Edition, Greatly Enlarged.
London: Printed for J. Murray, No 32, Fleet Street, Opposite St. Dunstan’s Church.
xxii, 312 pp.
3. 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
By John Millar, Esq. Professor of Law in the University of Glasgow.
The Third Edition,
Corrected and Enlarged.
Printed for J. Murray, No. 32, Fleet Street, Facing St. Dunstan’s Church.
viii, 362 pp.
3a. 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.
By John Millar, Esq. Professor of Law in the University of Glasgow.
Printed and sold by J. J. Tourneisen
iv, 284 pp.
[This is a reprint of the third edition.]
There were two German translations:
Johann Millar, Esquire, Bemerkungen über den Unterschied der Stände in der bürglichen Gesellschaft (Leipzig: Engelhart Benjamin Schwidert, 1772), iii, 237 pp. [a translation of the first edition].
John Millar, Aufklärungen über Ursprung und Fortschritte des Unterschieds der Stände und des Ranges, in Hinsicht auf Kultur und Sitten bei den vorzüglichsten Nationen (Leipzig: Weygand, 1798), viii, 392 pp. [a translation of the third edition].
And one French translation:
John Millar, Observations sur les commencemens de la société (Amsterdam: Arkstée et Merkus, 1773), xxiv, 423 pp. [a translation of the second edition, published in Paris under a false imprint; Millar’s French translator was the great Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Suard, who translated Hume, Robertson, and Macpherson as well].
Millar’s Preface to the First Edition
Millar drastically rewrote his introduction to the Ranks for the third edition. The introduction to the first edition is very much worth reading because it is one of the most compact and erudite descriptions ever written of the empiricist attitude in the human sciences. It is reproduced here with Millar’s original title of “Preface.”
Those who have examined the manners and customs of nations have had chiefly two objects in view. By observing the systems of law established in different parts of the world, and by remarking the consequences with which they are attended, men have endeavoured to reap advantage from the experience of others, and to make a selection of those institutions and modes of government which appear most worthy of being adopted.<ii>
To investigate the causes of different usages, hath also been esteemed an useful as well as an entertaining speculation. When we contemplate the amazing diversity in the manners of different countries, and even of the same country at different periods; when we survey the distinctions of national characters, and the singular customs that have prevailed; we are led to discover the various dispositions and sentiments with which man is endowed, the various powers and faculties which he is capable of exerting. When at the same time we consider how much the character of individuals is influenced by their education, their professions, and their peculiar circumstances, we are enabled, in some measure, to account for the behaviour of different nations. From the situation of a people in different ages and countries, they are presented with particular views of expediency; they form<iii> peculiar maxims, and are induced to cultivate and acquire a variety of talents and habits. Man is every where the same; and we must necessarily conclude, that the untutored Indian and the civilized European have acted upon the same principles.
Thus, by real experiments, not by abstracted metaphysical theories, human nature is unfolded; the general laws of our constitution are laid open; and history is rendered subservient to moral philosophy and jurisprudence. The manners and customs of people may be regarded as the most authentic record of their opinions, concerning what is right or wrong, what is praise-worthy or blamable, what is expedient or hurtful. In perusing such records, however, the utmost caution is necessary; and we must carefully attend to the circumstances in which they were<iv> framed, in order to ascertain the evidence which they afford, or to discern the conclusions that may be drawn from them. As the regulations of every country may have their peculiar advantages, so they are commonly tinctured with all the prejudices and erroneous judgments of the inhabitants. It is therefore by a comparison only of the ideas and the practice of different nations, that we can arrive at the knowledge of those rules of conduct, which, independent of all positive institutions, are consistent with propriety, and agreeable to the sense of justice.
When these enquiries are properly conducted, they have likewise a tendency to restrain that wanton spirit of innovation which men are apt to indulge in their political reasonings. To know the laws already established, to discern the causes from which they have arisen, and the<v> means by which they were introduced; this preliminary step is essentially requisite, in order to determine upon what occasions they ought to be altered or abolished. The institutions of a country, how imperfect soever and defective they may seem, are commonly suited to the state of the people by whom they have been embraced; and therefore in most cases, they are only susceptible of those general improvements, which proceed from a gradual reformation of the manners, and are accompanied with a correspondent change in the condition of society. In every system of law or government, the different parts have an intimate connection with each other. As it is dangerous to tamper with the machine, unless we are previously acquainted with the several wheels and springs of which it is composed, so there is reason to fear, that the violent alteration of any single part may<vi> destroy the regularity of its movements, and produce the utmost disorder and confusion.
The following observations are intended to illustrate the natural history of mankind in several important articles. This is attempted, by pointing out the more obvious and common improvements in the state of society, and by showing the influence of these upon the manners, the laws, and the government of a people.
In the first chapter the author has considered the ideas entertained in different ages, with respect to the rank and condition of the two sexes. From these, the chief regulations concerning marriage, and the rights of the husband and wife, are evidently derived.<vii>
He has endeavored, first of all, to show the effects of poverty and barbarism, with regard to the passions of sex, with regard to the general occupations of a people, and with regard to the degree of consideration which is paid to the women as members of society.
He has next proceeded to take notice of the refinements in the state of our passions, arising from the acquaintance of wealth; first in moveables, by the invention of pasturing cattle; and afterward in land, by the application of mankind to the cultivation of the earth.
In the third place, he has examined the alterations produced, in the condition of the fair sex, by the improvement of the more necessary arts and manufactures, and by the influence of civilization and regular government.<viii>
Lastly, he has attempted to delineate the changes, in this respect, introduced by the cultivation of the elegant arts, and by the progress of a people in opulence and luxury.
After the rights of the husband and wife, those that subsist between parents and their children come next to be examined. In the second chapter, some observations are made, concerning the authority which, in the rudest periods, a father is accustomed to exercise over his children. The limitations, upon the branch of jurisdiction, arising from the improvements of a later age, are afterwards considered.
Having reviewed the primitive government of a family, the author has proceeded, in the third chapter, to enquire into the state of a tribe or village, composed of several families; to point out the origin of a chief, who is raised to the head of their society;<ix> and the various branches of authority assumed by the early magistrate, according to the different species of property which the people have had an opportunity of acquiring.
By the union of several tribes, a larger society is formed, requiring a greater variety of regulations, for securing the rights of individuals, and for maintaining the publick tranquility. This makes the subject of the fourth chapter; which may be divided into two parts:
The first relates to the political constitution, derived from a simple confederacy among these independent communities. As in the different governments, produced by an association of this sort, we every where observe a great degree of uniformity; we may also discover certain peculiar circumstances, by which the constitution of some<x> states is particularly distinguished. One of the most remarkable of these is the establishment of the feudal law; which makes so great a figure in the history of Europe, and has been the subject of so much investigation and controversy. Concerning the origin of the feudal institutions, and concerning the time and manner in which they were introduced, the author has ventured to deliver an opinion, which has the appearance of reconciling the different facts, collected by antiquaries and lawyers in support of their various and opposite conjectures.
The second part of that chapter contains remarks upon the alterations in the police and government of a country, arising from the progress of its inhabitants, in manufactures and commerce, and in that refinement of manners which is the natural consequence of affluence and security.<xi>
The consideration of the distinctions of rank, among the free inhabitants of a country, is followed by an enquiry into the state of persons of inferior condition, who, in order to procure subsistence, are obliged to labour in the service of others, and who form the great body of the people. In prosecuting this enquiry, the author has first considered the state of servants, in the primitive ages of the world. He has next attempted to point out those variations in their condition, which have proceeded from the usual improvements of society, in law and government; and, lastly, to give an account of that singular revolution, by which the laws of Europe are, in this respect, so eminently distinguished.
Upon the whole it has been the author’s design to explain the causes of various manners and customs, rather than to enter<xii> into any formal discussion concerning the political advantages or disadvantages of which they have been productive; and it appeared unnecessary to give a separate detail of the laws of any one country, or to take notice of particular institutions, further than as they contributed to show the natural progress of human society.
[The final paragraph is identical with the final paragraph of the text of the fourth edition.]
Millar’s “Lectures on Government”
As mentioned in the Introduction to this volume, the Ranks grew out of Millar’s Lectures on Government. The university regularly published outlines of the courses. Below is the first section of the course in 1771, the year of publication of the Ranks. I have presented the first section of the 1771 course and the section headings of the succeeding topics in order that the reader might see the place of the Ranks in Millar’s system of teaching and its connection to the Historical View. I have followed the 1771 course with the corresponding sections of the course outline twenty years later to indicate how it had changed.
A Course of Lectures on Government; Given Annually in the University. Glasgow. M.DCC.LXXI
Of the Origin and Progress of Government in Society.
This subject illustrated from a view of particular Governments.
[Eighteen historical lectures on governments ranging from those of Athens, Sparta, and Rome to that of contemporary Scotland.]
Present state of Government in Great Britain.
[Thirteen lectures on British government.]
A Course of Lectures on Government; Given Annually in the University.
By John Millar,
Professor of Law.
Of the Origin and Progress of Government in Society.
The History of Government illustrated from a view of the Constitution in particular contries.
[Twenty-one historical lectures on government.]
Present state of Government in Great Britain.
[Fourteen lectures on British government.]
The following texts are the works that Millar drew on in the footnotes to Ranks. They are not necessarily the editions Millar consulted, although I have tried to use the editions he would likely have used whenever I could identify them. I have also included ancient works that Millar cites in a specific contemporary edition, for example, Gillies’ Lysias or Pope’s Odyssey and Iliad. The remaining ancient works are listed in a separate section.
I have given Roman titles in Latin and Greek titles in English because for the most part Millar did not cite Greek works by Greek titles. Millar cited ancient titles in abbreviated form, but his abbreviations should become evident when compared with this list.
Roman, German, and Medieval Legal Works and Other Sources
Besides the omnipresent Digest, Codex, and Institutes of Justinian, Millar made use of the Codex Theodosianus, Gaius’s Institutionem iuris civilis Commentarii, Ulpian’s Fragments, the Lex Salica and Lex Burgundionum, Marculfus’s Formulae, the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament.
Translations Used in Preparation of This Edition
This book is set in Adobe Garamond, a modern adaptation by Robert Slimbach of the typeface originally cut around 1540 by the French typographer and printer Claude Garamond. The Garamond face, with its small lowercase height and restrained contrast between thick and thin strokes, is a classic “old-style” face and has long been one of the most influential and widely used typefaces.
Printed on paper that is acid-free and meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, z39.48-1992. (archival)
Book design by Louise O Farrell
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Stevens Point, Wisconsin
[1. ]Smith presented five different ways of acquiring slaves in his lectures (LJ [A] iii.145–47), all of which fit into Millar’s neater threefold division.
[* ]These captives are worse treated by some of the American nations than by others; but in fact they are always retained in the condition of slaves. See Lafitau, Moeurs de Sauvages Ameriquains, 4to. tom. 2. p. 308.
[† ]See the accounts which are given of the conquests made by Genghizkhan. Histoire generale des voyages, tom. 9. liv. 3. chap. 3. § 11.
[* ]Histoire generale des voyages, tom. 3. 4. 5.
[* ]In North America, where slaves are said to be much better treated than in the West-India islands, it is believed, the expence of a negro-slave, for common labour, is not much inferior to that of a free labourer. In the Jerseys, and in New York, the expence of a negro-slave may be stated as follows:
A free labourer, in those provinces, when hired by the year, receives from 24 l. to 30 l. yearly; to which may be added 15 l. for maintenance. And in balancing this account we must take in the risk that the negro, when purchased, may not be fit for the purpose, and that his labour may be of little value.
[* ]See Hein. Ant. Rom. lib. l. tit. 5. §. 6. This regulation, however, admitted of an exception, where a man fraudulently suffered himself to be sold in order to share in the price; in which case he became the slave of the person whom he had defrauded. L. 3 Dig. quib. ad libert. proclam. non licet. [[XL. 13 Quibus ad libertatem proclamare non licet.]]
[† ]It is accordingly held, in the later Roman law, that a soldier is entitled to no part of the plunder acquired in war, unless from the special donation of the emperor. L. 20. §. 1. Dig. de capt. et postl. [[Digest XLIX.15 “De Captivis et de postliminio et redemptis ab hostibus.” l. 36. §. 1. c. de donat. Digest XXXIX.5 “De donationibus.”]]
[2. ]This passage, and much of the argument following it, parallels Smith’s “economic” argument against slavery in LJ (A) iii.112–17, LJ (B) 138, and Wealth of Nations, III.ii.9.
[3. ]“We may observe that the state of slavery is a much more tolerable one in [a] poor and barbarous country than in a rich and polished one” (Smith, LJ [A] iii.105).
[* ]Plaut. Amphitr. [[ll. 170–73:
[* ]Juven. Sat. 6. [[479–86: “One will have a rod broken over his back, another will be bleeding from a strap, a third from the cat; some women engage their executioners by the year. While the flogging goes on the lady will be daubing her face, or listening to her lady friends, or inspecting the widths of a gold embroidered robe. While thus flogging and flogging, she reads the lengthy Gazette, written right across the page, till at last, the floggers being exhausted, and the inquisition ended, she thunders out a gruff, “Be off with you!” Her household is governed as cruelly as a Sicilian court.” Ramsay, trans.
[* ]Exodus, chap. xxi. ver. 20, 21, 26, 27. It has been a question whether the last quoted laws, in ver. 26 and 27, related to the slaves acquired from foreign nations, or only to such of the Israelites as had been reduced into a state of servitude. Grotius is of the latter opinion. Vide Grot. com. ad cit. cap. [[Grotius, Annotationes in Vetus Testamentum, XXI: 27.]]
[† ]See Potters’ Antiquities of Greece, book 1. chap. 10.
[* ]Vide Hein. antiq. Rom. lib. 1. tit. 8.
[* ]The following account is given by Tacitus, concerning the state of the slaves among the ancient Germans, “Aleam,” says he, speaking of that people, “sobrii inter seria exercent, tanta lucrandi perdendique temeritate ut cum omnia defecerunt, extremo ac novissimo jactu, de libertate, et de corpore contendant. Victus voluntariam servitutem adit. Quamvis junior, quamvis robustior, alligare se ac venire patitur; ea est in re prava pervicacia: ipsi fidem vocant: servos conditionis hujus per commercia tradunt, ut se quoque pudore victoriae exsolvant. [[“Surprisingly, gambling for them is a serious matter, in which they engage when sober; so recklessly do they win and lose that when all is gone they stake their bodily freedom on the last and final throw. The loser willingly becomes a slave; although perhaps the younger and stronger, he suffers himself to be bound and sold. Such is their persistence in a thoroughly bad business: they themselves call it honour. Slaves of this sort they exchange in trade, to free themselves from the shame of victory” (XXIV.2, Rives, trans.).
[* ]Potgiesserus de statu servorum, lib. 2. cap. 1, 3, 4, 5, 9. Ibid. cap. 10. § 3, 7, 8. Ibid. lib. 3. § 1, 3.
[* ]Potgiesserus de statu serv. lib. 2. cap. 1. § 24. A singular proof of the moderation of the masters in correcting their slaves, about this period, is mentioned by the same author, as follows:
[† ]Vide Hein. antiq. Rom. lib. 1. tit. 3. § 8.—1. un cod. de colon. Thrac. 1. 21. [[Codex XI.52 “De colonis Thracensibus.” cod. de agric. et censit. novell. 162. cap. 3. Codex XI.48 “De agricolis censitis vel colonis.”]]
[* ]See Dr. Wallace, on the numbers of mankind. [[Wallace for the most part seems to have argued against the position Millar is advocating; for example, “almost every page of antient history demonstrates the great multitude of slaves; which give occasion to a melancholy reflection, that when the world was best peopled, it was not a world of free men, but of slaves” (92). Wallace generally stressed household slavery (90), and this may be why Millar invokes him here. Hume’s “Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations,” which Millar cited in the first and second editions of Ranks and whom Wallace argued amiably against, seems a much better support for his claim. Cf. Hume, Essays, 387–88 (II.ix.13).]]
[* ]The stock which is delivered by the master to his tenant goes under the name of “steel-bow goods” in the law of Scotland. At the end of the lease the tenant is bound to restore the same in quantity and quality to the master. [[See Stair, Institutions of the Laws of Scotland, I.11.4. Smith discussed “steel-bow” tenants in LJ (A) iii.123–26, LJ (B) 292–93, and Wealth of Nations, III.ii.13–14.]]
[4. ]See Smith, LJ (A) 128–33, LJ (B) 141, and Wealth of Nations, III.ii.12.
[* ]Thus Onesimus, notwithstanding his conversion to Christianity, is understood by the apostle Paul to continue still the slave of Philemon [[Onesimus was a runaway slave whom Paul met in prison and converted to Christianity; and it is not supposed that the master, who was also a Christian, was under an obligation to relinquish any part of his authority, far less to give liberty to his servant. See St. Paul’s epistle to Philemon. See also, to the same purpose, Rom. chap. xiii ver. 1, &c.—Ephes. chap. vi. ver. 5.—Coloss. chap. iii. ver. 22.—1 Tim. chap. vi. ver. 1, 2.—Tit. chap. ii. ver. 9, 10.—1 Pet. chap. ii. ver. 18.—1 Cor. chap. vii. ver. 21, 22. See Smith’s similar discussion of the role of Christianity in the abolition of slavery at LJ (A) iii.127–28 and LJ (B) 142.]]
[* ]See the publications on this subject by Anthony Benezet. [[A Philadelphia Quaker of French extraction, Anthony Benezet (1713–84) was the most important activist and pamphleteer of the early antislavery movement. See particularly: Observation on the inslaving, importing and purchasing of Negroes; A short account of that part of Africa, inhabited by the negroes; A caution and warning to Great Britain and her colonies, in a short representation of the calamitous state of the enslaved Negroes in the British dominions; Some historical account of Guinea, its situation, produce and the general disposition of its inhabitants.]]
[* ]See Boulainvil. sur les Parl. de France. let. 4. Potgiesserus de stat. serv. lib. 2. cap. 10. § 12.—Ibid. cap. 11. § 2. [[Millar is referring to Alexander III’s order in 1167 to the Muslim ruler of Valencia not to enslave Christian subjects. See Wealth of Nations, III.ii.12.]]
[* ]See the different decrees of councils referred to by Potgiesserus de stat. serv. lib. 4. cap. 2. § 4, 5.
[* ]See Boulanvil. lettres sur les Parl. des France. let. 4, 5.
[† ]See observations on the statutes, chiefly the more ancient: 1 Rich. II. 1377. Smith’s Commonwealth of Eng. B. 3 chap. 10.
[* ]With regard to the state of the villains, while they existed in Scotland, see Regiam Majestatem. lib. 2. cap. 11, 12, 13, 14. Quoniam Attachiamenta. cap. 56. [[Regiam Majestatem was a compilation of the old Scots law, and Quoniam Attachiamenta a manual of court procedure. Although both are fourteenth-century works, they draw together much older Scots law.]]
[† ]The right of the master, with regard to the labour of colliers and salters, is secured by statute, parl. 1606. c. 11. [[The notorious Colliers Act essentially made colliers and salters—coal miners and charcoal producers—serfs, insofar as they were bound to their masters, transferable when the mines they worked were sold, and punishable as slaves for running away (those who aided them were punished as well). The bondage of the colliers was not a vestige of old feudal practice but rather had been instituted to keep skilled laborers from leaving the mines. The act was limited in 1775 and repealed only in 1799. In other words, there was still slavery of a sort in Scotland when the last lifetime edition of the Ranks appeared. Recent research, however, has shown that the practice was not as brutal as Millar made out and that the status of colliers did not change much after 1799. See Christopher A. Whatley, “The Dark Side of the Enlightenment? Sorting out Serfdom” in Eighteenth-Century Scotland: New Perspectives, ed. T. M. Devine and J. R. Young (East Lothian, Scotland: Tuckwell Press, 1999), 259–74. (Thanks to Richard Sher for the reference.)]]
[* ]See Anderson’s history of commerce, vol. 1. p. 336—The first importation of negro-slaves into Hispaniola was in the year 1508. Ibid.
[* ]Athenaeus lib. 6. cap. 20. Under the administration of Pericles the free citizens of Athens were not so numerous. See Plutarch, in Pericles. [[This remark does not appear to correspond to a particular passage in Plutarch’s Life of Pericles.]]
[† ]Mr. Hume supposes that, in the above enumeration, none but heads of families, either of the slaves or free men, are included; from which it would follow that, throwing aside the strangers, the slaves exceeded the citizens nearly as twenty to one; and as this disproportion is highly incredible, he is of opinion that the number of slaves should be reduced to 40,000. But the precise reduction to this number is entirely arbitrary; and upon the supposition which I have made, there will be no reason to suspect the account either of exaggeration or inaccuracy. [[Hume, “Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations,” Essays, 427 (II.xi.111).]]
[* ]Seneca de tranquillitate, cap. 8.
[† ]Lib. 33. cap. 10. [[Pliny Naturalis Historia XXXIII.47 .]]
[‡ ][[Athenaeus History Lib. 6. cap. 20.]]
[* ]Dion. Hal. Antiq. Rom. lib. 3. [[Actually IV.24 .]]
[* ]The following facts, with regard to the comparative price of the labour of colliers in Scotland and England, and of that of colliers in comparison with other labourers, in both countries, have been communicated to the author by a gentleman of great knowledge and observation. [[The “gentleman” is likely Adam Smith, since Smith discussed the colliers at LJ (A) iii.127–30 and LJ (B) 139 and provided documentary evidence of their wages. Millar presumably got this information from Smith’s lectures and personal discussion. See also Wealth of Nations, I.x.b.15.
[* ]By a late act of parliament such regulations have been made as, in a short time, will probably abolish the remains of that servitude to which this order of men have been so long subjected. [[See note p. 269.]]
[† ]These observations were made about the year 1765, and relate more immediately to the parishes of Vere, Hanover, and St. Thomas in the vale.
[* ]See American Husbandry, published in 1775. [[John Mitchell and Arthur Young, American Husbandry. Containing an Account of the Soil, Climate, Production, and Agriculture of the British Colonies in North-America and the West-Indies (London: J. Bew, 1775), II:138, 146.]]
[5. ]Benjamin Rush favorably quotes a letter from Granville Sharpe in An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements, on the Slavery of the Negroes in America, in which Sharpe suggests that slaves be paid wages one working day every week as a step in the abolition of slavery (Benjamin Rush, An Address, pp. 20–21n). Rush’s Vindication, cited by Millar in the next note, was published in a volume with An Address.
[* ]See [[Benjamin Rush a vindication of the address to the inhabitants of the British settlements on the slavery of the negroes in America, by a Pennsylvanian, printed at Philadelphia, 1773.]]
[† ]In the case of Somerset, the negro, decided in 1772. [[James Somerset was owned by Charles Stewart, a Bostonian. Stewart brought Somerset to England, where he escaped. After Somerset’s recapture, Stewart sent him on a ship to Jamaica. Granville Sharpe, the antislavery activist, convinced Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, to issue a writ of habeas corpus. The ship was stopped, Somerset returned to England, and the case proceeded. Eventually Mansfield ruled in Somerset’s favour and Somerset was freed.]]
[‡ ]Joseph Knight, a negro, against John Wedderburn, 15th January 1778. [[Sir John Wedderburn brought his slave Joseph Knight from Jamaica to Scotland where after a few years Knight petitioned the courts for his freedom. Wedderburn made a distinction between perpetual servitude—using the colliers as precedent—and slavery, and won an initial case in 1774. Knight appealed and eventually won the case in 1778.]]
[1. ]Chapter I. Of the rank and condition of women in different ages