Chapter 21

The Prince's Clemency

September 9, 2015

CLEMENCY is the characteristic of monarchs. In republics, whose principle is virtue, it is not so necessary.

In despotic governments, where fear predominates, it is less customary, because the great men are to be restrained by examples of severity. It is more necessary in monarchies, where they are governed by honour, which frequently requires what the very law forbids. Disgrace is here equivalent to chastisement; and even the forms of justice are punishments. This is because particular kinds of penalty are formed by shame, which on every side invades the delinquent.

The great men, in monarchies, are so heavily punished by disgrace, by the loss (though often imaginary) of their fortune, credit, acquaintances, and pleasures, that rigour, in respect to them, is needless= it can tend only to divest the subject of the affection he has for the person of his prince, and of the respect he ought to have for public posts and employments.

As the instability of the great is natural to a despotic government, so their security is interwoven with the nature of monarchy.

So many are the advantages which monarchs gain by clemency, so greatly does it raise their fame and endear them to their subjects, that it is generally happy for them to have an opportunity of displaying it; which, in this part of the world, is seldom wanting.

Some branch, perhaps, of their authority, but never hardly the whole, will be disputed= and, if they sometimes fight for their crown, they do not fight for their life.

But some may ask, When is it proper to punish, and when to pardon? — This is a point easier felt than prescribed. When there is danger in the exercise of clemency, it is visible= nothing so easy as to distinguish it from that imbecillity which exposes princes to contempt and to the very incapacity of punishing.

The emperor Maurice† made a resolution never to spill the blood of his subjects. Anastasius‡ punished no crimes at all. Isaac Angelus took an oath, that no one should be put to death during his reign. Those Greek emperors had forgot that it was not for nothing they were intrusted with the sword.

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