As punishments become more mild, clemency and pardon are less necessary. Happy the nation in which they will be considered as dangerous. Clemency, which has often been deemed a sufficient substitute for every other virtue in sovereigns, should be excluded in a perfect legislation, where punishments are mild, and the proceedings in criminal cases regular and expeditious. This truth will seem cruel to those who live in countries where, from the absurdity of the laws and the severity of punishments, pardons and the clemency of the prince are necessary. It is indeed one of the noblest prerogatives of the throne, but, at the same time, a tacit disapprobation of the laws. Clemency is a virtue which belongs to the legislator, and not to the executor of the laws; a virtue which ought to shine in the code, and not in private judgment. To shew mankind that crimes are sometimes pardoned, and that punishment is not the necessary consequence, is to nourish the flattering hope of impunity, and is the cause of their considering every punishment inflicted as an act of injustice and oppression. The prince in pardoning gives up the public security in favour of an individual, and, by his ill-judged benevolence, proclaims a public act of impunity. Let, then, the executors of the laws be inexorable, but let the legislator be tender, indulgent, and humane. He is a wise architect who erects his edifice on the foundation of self-love, and contrives that the interest of the public shall be the interest of each individual, who is not obliged, by particular laws and irregular proceedings, to separate the public good from that of individuals, and erect the image of public felicity on the basis of fear and distrust; but, like a wise philosopher, he will permit his brethren to enjoy in quiet that small portion of happiness, which the immense system, established by the first cause, permits them to taste on this earth, which is but a point in the universe.
A small crime is sometimes pardoned if the person offended chooses to forgive the offender. This may be an act of good nature and humanity, but it is contrary to the good of the public: for although a private citizen may dispense with satisfaction for the injury he has received, he cannot remove the necessity of example. The right of punishing belongs not to any individual in particular, but to society in general, or the sovereign. He may renounce his own portion of this right, but cannot give up that of others.Back to: Of Education. [Chapter 45, Of Crimes and Punishments]