Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter 8: Marriage - The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy
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Chapter 8: Marriage - William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, Foreword by D.L. Le Mahieu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Whether it hath grown out of some tradition of the Divine appointment of marriage in the persons of our first parents, or merely from a design to impress the obligation of the marriage-contract with a solemnity suited to its importance, the marriage-rite, in almost all countries of the world, has been made a religious ceremony;* although marriage, in its own nature, and abstracted from the rules and declarations which the Jewish and Christian Scriptures deliver concerning it, be properly a civil contract, and nothing more.
With respect to one main article in matrimonial alliances, a total alteration has taken place in the fashion of the world; the wife now brings money to her husband, whereas anciently the husband paid money to the family of the wife; as was the case among the Jewish patriarchs, the Greeks, and the old inhabitants of Germany.* This alteration has proved of no small advantage to the female sex: for their importance in point of fortune procures to them, in modern times, that assiduity and respect, which are always wanted to compensate for the inferiority of their strength; but which their personal attractions would not always secure.
Our business is with marriage, as it is established in this country. And in treating thereof, it will be necessary to state the terms of the marriage vow, in order to discover:
1. What duties this vow creates.
2. What a situation of mind at the time is inconsistent with it.
3. By what subsequent behaviour it is violated.
The husband promises, on his part, “to love, comfort, honour, and keep, his wife”: the wife on hers, “to obey, serve, love, honour, and keep, her husband”; in every variety of health, fortune, and condition: and both stipulate “to forsake all others, and to keep only unto one another, so long as they both shall live.” This promise is called the marriage vow; is witnessed before God and the congregation; accompanied with prayers to Almighty God for his blessing upon it; and attended with such circumstances of devotion and solemnity as place the obligation of it, and the guilt of violating it, nearly upon the same foundation with that of oaths.
The parties by this vow engage their personal fidelity expressly and specifically; they engage likewise to consult and promote each other’s happiness; the wife, moreover, promises obedience to her husband. Nature may have made and left the sexes of the human species nearly equal in their faculties, and perfectly so in their rights; but to guard against those competitions which equality, or a contested superiority, is almost sure to produce, the Christian Scriptures enjoin upon the wife that obedience which she here promises, and in terms so peremptory and absolute, that it seems to extend to every thing not criminal, or not entirely inconsistent with the woman’s happiness. “Let the wife,” says St. Paul, “be subject to her own husband in every thing.” “The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit,” says the same apostle, speaking of the duty of wives, “is, in the sight of God, of great price.” No words ever expressed the true merit of the female character so well as these.
The condition of human life will not permit us to say, that no one can conscientiously marry, who does not prefer the person at the altar to all other men or women in the world: but we can have no difficulty in pronouncing (whether we respect the end of the institution, or the plain terms in which the contract is conceived), that whoever is conscious, at the time of his marriage, of such a dislike to the woman he is about to marry, or of such a subsisting attachment to some other woman, that he cannot reasonably, nor does in fact, expect ever to entertain an affection for his future wife, is guilty, when he pronounces the marriage vow, of a direct and deliberate prevarication; and that, too, aggravated by the presence of those ideas of religion, and of the Supreme Being, which the place, the ritual, and the solemnity of the occasion, cannot fail of bringing to his thoughts. The same likewise of the woman. This charge must be imputed to all who, from mercenary motives, marry the objects of their aversion and disgust; and likewise to those who desert, from any motive whatever, the object of their affection, and, without being able to subdue that affection, marry another.
The crime of falsehood is also incurred by the man who intends, at the time of his marriage, to commence, renew, or continue, a personal commerce with any other woman. And the parity of reason, if a wife be capable of so much guilt, extends to her.
The marriage-vow is violated,
I. By adultery.
II. By any behaviour which, knowingly, renders the life of the other miserable; as desertion, neglect, prodigality, drunkenness, peevishness, penuriousness, jealousy, or any levity of conduct which administers occasion of jealousy.
A late regulation in the law of marriages, in this country, has made the consent of the father, if he be living, of the mother, if she survive the father, and remain unmarried, or of guardians, if both parents be dead, necessary to the marriage of a person under twenty-one years of age. By the Roman law, the consent et avi et patris was required so long as they lived. In France, the consent of parents is necessary to the marriage of sons, until they attain to thirty years of age; of daughters, until twenty-five. In Holland, for sons till twenty-five; for daughters, till twenty. And this distinction between the sexes appears to be well founded; for a woman is usually as properly qualified for the domestic and interior duties of a wife or mother at eighteen, as a man is for the world, and the more arduous care of providing for a family, at twenty-one.
The constitution also of the human species indicates the same distinction.*
[* ]It was not, however, in Christian countries required that marriages should be celebrated in churches, till the thirteenth century of the Christian aera. Marriages in England during the Usurpation, were solemnised before justices of the peace: but for what purpose this novelty was introduced, except to degrade the clergy, does not appear.
[* ]The ancient Assyrians sold their beauties by an annual auction. The prices were applied by way of portions to the more homely. By this contrivance, all of both sorts were disposed of in marriage.
[* ]Cùm vis prolem procreandi diutiùs haereat in mare quàm in foeminâ, populi numerus nequaquam minuetur, si seriùs venerem colere inceperint viri.