The Communication of PunishmentJune 14, 2022
Should punishment be extended to those who are no way concerned in the crime?
We should use some precautions in deciding this.
Precaution 1: There is a difference between a loss DIRECTLY occasioned by any act, and one resulting but INDIRECTLY from it.
A direct injury is when anyone is deprived of what belongs to him.
An indirect injury is that which prevents anyone from possessing what he otherwise would have done, by destroying the condition or means, which gave him such a right.
As an example, Ulpian says, “if any one has opened a well in his own ground, by which the subterraneous streams of water, that would have passed to the lands of another, are cut off, here no fault is imputable to the person who has only exercised his own right.”
And in another place, he says, it makes a great difference, whether any one directly does an injury, or is only indirectly and unintentionally instrumental in preventing another from reaping advantages, which he would otherwise have enjoyed.
It is absurd, says Paulus, another legal authority, for men to be called rich before they possess the means of being so. Thus when the property of parents is forfeited, it is felt as an inconvenience by their children; though it cannot be considered as a direct punishment inflicted upon them, because that property would never have been theirs, unless the parents had retained it to their last breath.
On which Alphenus has made a just observation, in saying, that, by the punishment of the father, children lose that which would have come to them from him, but things, which they do not receive from him, such as the gifts of nature, or those derived from any other quarter, remain untouched. Cicero relates that in this manner the children of Themistocles were reduced to want, nor does he think it unjust that the children of Lepidus should share the same fate.
He says that it is an ancient custom, and the received usage of all states, the hardship of which nevertheless was greatly softened by the laws of Rome at a later period. Thus when a whole people is implicated in the misconduct of the majority, which holds the representative character of the state, and consequently loses its civil liberties, its fortifications, and other privileges, the loss affects innocent individuals, but only in those things, which they could not have enjoyed, except as belonging to that community.
The offence of one man may sometimes occasion inconvenience or loss to another, and yet that offence may not be considered as the immediate cause of the action, which is grounded on the exercise of a right. This may be explained by an example.
Thus if any one has engaged for another’s debt, he brings himself into the dilemma named in the264 ancient proverb, that being bound for any one is the next stage to ruin; but it is a MAN’S OWN PROMISE, and NOT ANOTHER’S HAVING INCURRED A DEBT, that is the real cause of his obligation. For as a person, who has given security for a purchaser, is not, properly speaking, bound by the PURCHASE, but by his own PROMISE: so if any one has engaged to be responsible for a delinquent, it is his own ENGAGEMENT, and not the ACT OF THAT DELINQUENT, which creates his obligation. And hence the inconvenience of that kind which any one incurs, must be measured not by the delinquency of another, but by his own power to enter into any such voluntary engagement.
In consequence of which no one can give surety to suffer death for another; because no one has such power over his own life, as to take it away himself, or to be bound to forfeit it for another. Though the ancient Greeks and Romans thought otherwise, and therefore they maintained that a surety might be put to death for any one, as may be seen in the well known story of Damon and Pythias, and hostages were frequently punished in this manner.
What has been said of life may be applied to the limbs also, which no man has a right to part with, except for the preservation of the whole body. But if any one has engaged to suffer banishment, to submit to a pecuniary fine, or any other means of satisfying justice, any thing he suffers on this account will not, strictly speaking, be considered as a PERSONAL punishment, but as the performance of an agreement.
Something like this occurs in the right, which any one possesses dependent on another’s will, both with respect to the right of individuals to private property, and to the more extensive right to demesnes possessed by a state. For if any one is deprived of such a thing owing to another’s fault, here the executive power depriving that person, is not inflicting a punishment on HIM, but only exercising a prior right.
Having laid down these distinctions, we may observe that it is impossible that an innocent person should suffer for another’s crime.
This does not proceed from the reasons given by Paulus, who maintains that punishment is designed for the reformation of the offender. For it seems possible that an example may be made, extending beyond the person of the criminal himself, when it affects, in its consequences, those, who are nearly related to him.
So that it is not for the sake of example only that punishment is inflicted, but because the obligation thereto arises from the demerit of the offending party. Now every demerit must be of a personal nature, as it proceeds from a man’s own will, over which he is supposed to exercise a perfect controul.
In the law given to the Hebrews, God threatens to avenge the impiety of fathers upon their children. But he has sovereign dominion over our lives and substance, as being his gift, which he may take away from any one, whenever he pleases, without assigning his reasons. Therefore if he thinks proper to take away by a premature or violent death the children of Achan, Saul, Jeroboam or Ahab, he is exercising over them the right of sovereignty, as well as that of punishment; imposing by that awful example the more severe penalty upon the parents.
For if they survive their children, which was what the divine law had most in view, and therefore did not extend these threats beyond the time of great grand-children, a period to which the age of man might reach, it is certain that parents would be severely punished by such a sight, the most afflicting of any they could witness. Or if they should not survive such an event, to die under such an apprehension would be a great calamity.
But it is proper to remark that examples like those are never employed by God, except against crimes affecting his divine Majesty, as false worship, perjury or sacrilege. Indeed those threats of divine vengeance are not always enforced; especially where any extraordinary virtue shines in the characters and conduct of the children: as may be seen in the xviii. chapter of the prophesy of Ezekiel. Plutarch has discussed this topic with great eloquence in his book on the remote vengeance of God.
As the Gospel so clearly unfolds the future punishments of the wicked, all the threats contained in that new covenant terminate in the persons of the offenders themselves. But the ways of providence in these respects are not the rule which men can follow. For God, even without any reference to crime, is the sovereign lord and disposer of human life, a commission which man is only allowed to execute against the perpetrators of certain crimes. Wherefore as that same divine law forbids parents to be put to death for the offences of children, so it exempts children from the same punishment for the actions of their fathers: a lenity which is greatly commended266 by Josephus and Philo. The same commendation is bestowed by Isocrates upon the laws of Egypt; and by Dionysius of Halicarnassus upon those of Rome.
But if it is unjust in human laws to punish the misconduct of parents in the persons of their children, how much more severe was the law of the Persians and Macedonians extending the penalties for crimes against the state to every branch of the offender’s relatives, in the most remote degree, a law surpassing all others in rigour?
What has been said respecting the punishment of children for the offences of their fathers or forefathers, may be applied to the relation subsisting between sovereigns and subjects. For it is a relation springing from the contract of society, which makes the sovereign the essential head, life and soul of that body, in which his people form the members. As the civil community therefore with its sovereign or head forms but one body, there can be no separation of interests, but what affects one part must be prejudicial or serviceable to the whole.
Why should an heir, it has been sometimes asked, be bound by other debts of his ancestor, and not feel the effects of his punishment for misconduct? to which answer may be given, that the heir represents the person of the deceased not in his merits or demerits, which are purely personal, but in his property; an artificial mode of preserving unbroken the chain of succession and descent.
Hence it follows, that if in addition to the demerit of an offence, any new grounds of obligation should arise connected with the punishment, they must be discharged not properly as a punishment, but as a debt. Thus the heir will be liable to pay the costs awarded by a judgment after a contested suit, which is considered in the light of a contract.