Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XVII.: A bad Method of giving Laws. - Complete Works, vol. 2 The Spirit of Laws
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CHAP. XVII.: A bad Method of giving Laws. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 2 The Spirit of Laws 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 2.
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A bad Method of giving Laws.
THE Roman emperors manifested their will like our princes, by decrees and edicts; but they permitted, which our princes do not, both the judges and private people to interrogate them by letters in their several differences; and their answers were called rescripts. The decretals of the popes are rescripts, strictly speaking. It is plain, that this is a bad method of legislation. Those who thus apply for laws are improper guides to the legislator; the facts are always wrong stated. Julius Capitolinus† says, that Trajan often refused to give this kind of rescripts, lest a single decision, and frequently a particular favour, should be extended to all cases. Macrinus† resolved to abolish all those rescripts; he could not bear that the answers of Commodus, Caracalla, and all those other ignorant princes, should be considered as laws. Justinian thought otherwise, and he filled his compilement with them.
I would advise those who read the Roman laws, to distinguish carefully between this sort of hypotheses, and the Senatus-consulta, the Plebiscita, the general constitutions of the emperors, and all the laws founded on the nature of things, on the frailty of women, the weakness of minors, and the public utility.
[† ]See Julius Capitolinus in Macrino.