Of Promulgation of the Laws
Promulgation of the Reasons Thereof.

Jeremy Bentham

Section 1

Promulgation of the Laws.

Let us suppose the general code completed, and that the seal of the sovereign has been set to it. What remains to be done?

That a law may be obeyed, it is necessary that it should be known: that it may be known, it is necessary that it be promulgated. But to promulgate a law, it is not only necessary that it should be published with the sound of trumpet in the streets; not only that it should be read to the people; not only even that it should be printed: all these means may be good, but they may be all employed without accomplishing the essential object. They may possess more of the appearance than the reality of promulgation. To promulgate a law, is to present it to the minds of those who are to be governed by it in such manner as that they may have it habitually in their memories, and may possess every facility for consulting it, if they have any doubts respecting what it prescribes.

There are many methods of attaining this end: none of them ought to be neglected; but it has been too common to neglect them all. The forgetfulness of legislators in this respect has exceeded every thing which could have been imagined. I speak more particularly of modern legislators. We shall find models deserving of imitation in antiquity; and it is astonishing that the example which should have had the greatest weight among Christian nations, should have had scarcely any influence in this respect. They have borrowed from Moses, laws which possessed only a relative and local utility; but they have not imitated him in that which bears the noblest character of wisdom, and which is suited to all times and all places.

It is said by some naturalists, that the ostrich is among the most stupid of birds, inasmuch as it leaves its eggs in the sand, unmindful that the passing foot may crush them. If this were true, Bacon, who has converted into sources of wisdom so many of the ancient fables, might have turned it into an apologue; and the legislator who, after having framed his laws, abandons their promulgation to chance, and thinks that his task is finished when the most important of his duties has only begun, would have been represented by the ostrich.

It is true, that before laws can be promulgated, they must exist. That which is called tin written law, which consists of rules of jurisprudence, is a law which governs without existing. The learned may exercise their ingenuity in guessing at it; but the unlearned citizen can never know it. Were these rules to receive an authentic form, and to be promulgated, they would no longer be mere rules, but would become real laws. To render them such, has been one of the great objects of my plan; and the facility of promulgation has been one of the principal objects which I have had in view. It is with this view that I have divided the general code into particular codes, that they may be separated or collected together, according to the powers and wants of the individuals whom they respectively concern.

To promulgate the English laws as they exist at present; to pile the decisions of the judges upon the top of the statutes of parliament, would be chimerical: it would be to present the sea to those that thirst: it would do nothing for the mass of the people, who would not be able to comprehend them. A point, say the mathematicians, has no parts---so neither are there any parts in chaos.

If the laws be good, it is desirable that they should be known; if otherwise, the knowledge of them may be mischievous: for example, if you leave in your code bad coercive laws, persecuting laws, it is well that they remain undiscovered by informers. If your laws of procedure favour the impunity of crimes; if they afford means of eluding justice, of evading taxes, of cheating creditors, it is well that they remain unknown. But what other system of legislation besides this will gain by being unknown?

There are some laws which seem to have a natural notoriety: such are those which concern crimes against individuals; as theft, personal injuries, fraud, murder, &c. But this notoriety does not extend to the punishment, which, however, is the motive upon which the legislature relies for procuring obedience to the law. It does not extend even to those circumstances, often so delicate, which must be noticed before the line of demarcation can be traced among so many crimes differently punished, nor even to those actions which are either innocent or meritorious.

The dissemination of the laws ought to be regulated by the number of persons whom they concern. The universal code ought to be promulgated to all. The particular codes ought to be set before the classes to which they respectively refer. A road-book is useful, but it is of most use to those who are to be guided by its regulations, and who wish to travel.

The universal code of all secular books would be the most valuable, and almost the only one necessary for all; if not as a book of law, at least as a book of morals.

The sacred books command men to be honest: a good code would explain in what justice consists, and would exhibit in what manner it was possible to be unjust.

Probity, prudence, benevolence; these are the subjects of morality. The law ought, however, to include all that relates to probity; all that teaches men to live together without injuring each other.

There will then remain for morality, prudence and benevolence: but secure probity, and prudence will have fewer snares to escape, and will walk more securely: prevent men from injuring one another, and benevolence will have fewer sufferings to relieve.



It ought to be made the chief book; one of the first objects of instruction in all schools: it formed the foundation of instruction among the Hebrews; and tradition relates, that the Jewish kings were required to make a copy of the whole law with their own hands.

In those cases in which a certain degree of education is required as a pre-requisite to the enjoyment of a certain employment, the aspirant might be required to produce an exact copy of the code, written with his own hand, or translated into a foreign language.

The most important parts of it might be committed to memory, and repeated as a catechism: that, for example, which contains the definition of offences, and the reasons for their being ranged into classes.

In this manner, before sixteen years of age, without hindrance to any other studies, the pupils in public schools would become more conversant with the laws of their country, than those lawyers at present are, whose hair has grown grey in the contentions of the bar. The change would arise out of the nature of the laws themselves.

The pupils might translate the national code into the dead languages; they might translate them into the living languages; they might turn them into verse, the mother tongue of the laws.

``Teach your children'', said an ancient philosopher, ``what they ought to know when they are men, and not what they ought to forget.'' This philosopher would not have condemned the new study I propose.


Why should not the reading of the laws form, as it did among the Jews, a part of divine service? Would not the association of ideas be beneficial? Would it not be well to represent the supreme Being as the protector of the laws of property and security? Would it not add dignity to the ceremony, if the laws respecting parents and children were read upon the performance of baptism? and the laws respecting husbands and wives at the time of marriage?

This public reading in places of worship would be, as respects the most ignorant classes, a means of instruction, as little costly as it would be interesting; and the code would be unnecessarily voluminous, if it would not be possible to read it through many times in the year.

Different Places.

The laws which only concern certain places; as markets, theatres, highways; ought to be fixed up in the places themselves, where it is desirable that they should be present to the minds of those who have to observe them. There are few men who would dare to violate a law, speaking as it were to all eyes, and addressing itself to all as to so many witnesses upon whom it would call to bear testimony against the evil doer.


If the nation which ought to obey the same laws is composed of different peoples, speaking different languages, it is proper that an authentic translation of the code should be made into each of these languages. It is also proper that it should be translated into the languages of the principal nations of Europe. The interests of these nations are so mingled, that they have all occasion to understand the law of the others. Besides, it would prevent a stranger from falling into those faults which he might otherwise commit through ignorance of the law, and also guard him from the snares which otherwise might be laid for him by abusing his ignorance. Hence would arise security for commerce, and confidence in transactions among foreign nations. It is a proceeding called for by candour and honesty.

Have you any thing contrary to the ordinances of the king? is the foolish and insidious question asked at many custom-houses of the stranger, who, perhaps for the first time, enters the kingdom. How should he know those ordinances? He might reply, does the king himself know them? My reply may constitute either a snare or an offence. Show me your ordinances in my own language, and then, if I deceive you, punish me.

Particular Codes.

In taking up a condition, every citizen should be obliged to provide himself with. the code which relates to that condition. The code, according to its extent, should be printed as a book,or on a sheet. In those cases in which the whole code cannot be printed on a sheet, an abridgement or index to it ought so to be. This sheet should be required to be stuck up in a fixed place, and its exhibition in this manner should be made a matter of police, as it respects shops, places of amusement, theatres, &c. The rogues would doubtless be disposed to throw a veil over so unwelcome a witness against them; in the same manner as certain devotees are reported to have done, when they wished not to be seen by their saints.

Laws concerning Contracts.

There is one species of promulgation specially adapted to agreements among individuals and to wills. With regard to things of sufficient value, it might be required that they should be written upon stamped paper, which would bear upon its margin a notice of the laws concerning the transaction to which it referred. This plan is borrowed from English jurisprudence: but the instances in which it has been employed are very few, in comparison with those in which it has been neglected, and in which it would have been equally useful. I have gathered with carefulness this precious seed, that its cultivation may be extended.

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