Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu was born in Bordeaux,
France, in 1689 to a wealthy family. Despite his family's wealth, de Decondat
was placed in the care of a poor family during his childhood. He later went
to college and studied science and history, eventually becoming a solicitor
(/lawyer)]. De Secondat's father died in 1713 and he was placed under the
care of his uncle, Baron de Montesquieu. The Baron died in 1716 and left de
Secondat his fortune, his office as president of the Bordeaux Parliament,
and his title of Baron de Montesquieu. Later he was a member of the Bordeaux
and French Academies of Science and studied the laws and customs and governments
of the countries of Europe. He gained fame in 1721 with his Persian Letters,
which criticized the lifestyle and liberties of the wealthy French as well as
the church. However, Montesquieu's book On the Spirit of Laws, published in
1748, was his most famous work. It outlined his ideas on how government would
Montesquieu believed that all things were made up of rules or laws that
never changed. He set out to study these laws scientifically with the hope
that knowledge of the laws of government would reduce the problems of society
and improve human life. According to Montesquieu, there were three types of
government: a monarchy, a republic , and a despotism. Montesquieu believed
that a government that was elected by the people was the best form of government.
He did, however, believe that the success of a democracy - a government in
which the people have the power - depended upon maintaining the right balance
Montesquieu argued that the best government would be one in which power
was balanced among three groups of officials. He thought Britain - which
divided power between the king, Parliament, and the judges of the English
courts - was a good model of this. Montesquieu called the idea of dividing government
power into three branches the "separation of powers." He thought
it most important to create separate branches of government with equal but
different powers. That way, the government would avoid placing too much
power with one individual or group of individuals. He wrote, "When the
law making and law enforcement powers are united in the same person... there
can be no liberty." According to Montesquieu, each branch of government
could limit the power of the other two branches. Therefore, no branch of the
government could threaten the freedom of the people. His ideas about separation
of powers became the basis for the United States Constitution.
Montesquieu Time Line
- 1689 January 18, born near Bordeaux to Jacques de Secondat, a soldier,
and Marie Francoise de Pesnel.
- 1700 Sent with two orphan cousins to the Oratorian school at Tuilly,
near Paris, where he received a classical education.
- 1705 Returns to Bordeaux and studies law at the request of hisuncle
who will leave him his title and fortune.
- 1708 Receives his licence as a lawyer
- 1709 Moves to Paris.
- 1713 Returns to Bordeaux. His father dies and he becomes the head
of the family.
- 1714 Appointed councilor of the Bordeaux Parliament.
- 1715 Marries Jeanne de Latrigue, a Calvinist
- 1716 His uncle dies leaving him the title Baron de Montesquieu
- 1721 Publication of the Lettres persanes Persian Letters.
- 1724 Writes Dialogue de Sylla et d'Eucrate and Reflexions sur
la monarchie universelle.
- 1725 Writes Le temple de Gnide.
- 1726 Sells his office and moves to Paris in order to be admitted
into the Academy.
- 1728 After a dispute by a member over his Persian Letters, is elected
into the Academy. Begins his travels to Hungary, Turkey, Italy, Germany
- 1730 Elected a member of the Royal Society in London.
- 1731 Returns to Bordeaux and becomes a member of the Free Masons.
- 1734 Publishes Considerations sur la grandeur et la decadence des
Romains (Considerations on the causes of the greatness of the Romans and
- 1748 Publishes De l'esprit des lois The Spirit of the Laws
which he had worked on for the past twenty years. It would go through twenty-two
editions before his death.
- 1750 Writes his Defense de l'Esprit des Lois et Eclaircissements.
- 1754 An addition of eleven letters are made to the Persian Letters.
- 1755 dies in Bordeaux. on Feb. 10
liveforever points out that Montesquieu did not devise the idea of separation of powers - he merely adapted the theories of John Locke. The "train of thought" runs from Thomas Hobbes to John Locke to Charles Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.