Montesquieu: His 3 Influences In Creating The U.S Constitution

Born18th of January, 1689
Died10th of February, 1775
Famous Quote“The less men think, the more they talk.”
Known ForFrench judge, historian, political philosopher, father of modern legal constitutional theory
Region of WorldFrance, 17th and 18th century
Further ReadingCould The U.S Have Survived With The Articles Of Confederation and The 3 Ways Cicero Influenced The Development of The U.S

An early 18th century philosopher named Montesquieu and his work heavily influenced the creation of the U.S constitution. Most people today remember Thomas Hobbes and John Locke for their influence but few people are aware of the 3rd influence, Montesquieu.

There are 3 ways in which Montesquieu’s work influenced the creation of the United States constitution. First, Montesquieu’s publication of The Spirit of Law led to the modern legal system in the U.S constitution. Second, Montesquieu’s work emphasized the separation of powers within a government. Third, Montesquieu emphasized that all efficient governments are created to ensure the preservation of liberty for their citizens.

These 3 influences forever changed the development of both U.S history and world history. Historians know from letters of correspondence from Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton that Montesquieu was a primary driving force for the creation of the U.S constitution.

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Without further ado, here are the 3 influences of Montesquieu in creating the U.S Constitution.

Montesquieu’s Publication Of The Spirit of Law Led To The Modern Legal System In The U.S Constitution

One of the main ways in which Montesquieu influenced the creation of the U.S constitution was through his 1748 century publication The Spirit of Law.

Within this monumental publication Montesquieu argues that human nature and emotion should be factored into the legal system of a government. Effective governments that last a long time allow for laws to be bent or broken in favor of certain societal values.

Montesquieu breaks all Human governments in history down into three sections.

The first style of government is democratic republics. Here the spirit of the law allows for laws to be broken for virtue to help preserve or save the individual’s society.

The second style of government is monarchies. Here the spirit of the law allows for people to break the law to achieve higher honor or prestige in the monarchy’s eyes.

The third style of government is despotic. Here the spirit of the law allows for people to break the law out of fear of repercussion from the ruler.

For Montesquieu all government systems in the world must have a spirit of law that is one of the top 3. Further, one style of government is paired with another form it will eventually fail.

As a result of this the founding fathers built the U.S constitution to resemble Montesquieu’s version of The Spirit of Law. This is why U.S Citizens are tried not by a high court or dictator but rather by their peers.

The U.S judicial system is built around the concept that a person must be found guilty of not only committing a crime but also their peers must find the crime worthy of punishment.

As a result of this foundation Montesquieu’s version of law has been used as a credible defense in several high ranking court cases in U.S history. Once such example happened in 1973 when President Nixon’s defense cited Montesquieu.

Montesquieu helped create the legal framework for the judiciary branch of the U.S constitution. Because of this Montesquieu is remembered as a major influence in the creation of the U.S constitution.

Montesquieu Emphasized A Separation Of Powers In Government

One of the main ways that Montesquieu influenced the creation of the U.S constitution was by advocating for a separation of powers in government.

Montesquieu was writing about a separation of government powers during a time of absolute monarchy across Europe. Because of this his publications would be banned throughout Europe.

However, in the United States Montesquieu would begin to gain a massive following. Several prominent founding fathers of the United States personally read Montesquieu’s work and often cited him.

Montesquieu read and built off his contemporary John Locke’s work on the social contract by stating that governments should be separated into three equal parts.

The first part was the executive section of government. Here a government would operate under one person who held complete control over their section of government. This would allow rapid response to problems of state.

The second part was the legislative section of government. Here Montesquieu stated that the people should elect a person from among their peers to establish a committee that would create and refine laws.

The third part was the judicial section of government. Here judges would be elected for life and serve to enforce the circuit courts throughout the government.

This three part system of government would ensure that the social contract that Locke proposed would not be easily broken.

The U.S constitution directly borrows this three part system of government. In the United States the government is built around 3 branches. The executive, legislative, and judicial.

As such, Montesquieu directly influenced the creation of the U.S constitution.

Montesquieu Emphasized That All Efficient Governments Are Created To Ensure The Liberty Of Their Citizens

One of the main ways that Montesquieu influenced the creation of the U.S Constitution was by emphasizing that all effective governments are created to preserve the liberty of their citizen body.

To Montesquieu this liberty was not the ability to do whatever one wants. Rather it was political liberty. This is the ability to be able to influence one’s direct surroundings and government. Today this means that a person with political liberty is under no other form of government than the one they have a direct ability to influence.

Montesquieu states that the reason that democratic/republic governments are so successful over history was because they could rapidly implement ideas while also growing.

This was monumental. The U.S founding fathers decided to create a new form of government with the U.S Constitution that would work from the ground up to preserve individual political liberty.

The U.S constitution created a blank canvas of a government where each individual U.S citizen could use their political liberty to shape it. The reason that amendments exist in the U.S constitution is because of Montesquieu.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article on the 3 influences of Montesquieu in the creation of the U.S constitution.

Montesquieu remains a fascinating subject of research. Few people in history have had as much impact on the development of world governments as him. Potential historians will find substantial material to build out a research project on Montesquieu.

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Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.

Sincerely,

Nick