Charles Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu

Philosopher who influenced the Founding Fathers and the Constitution

The Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by French philosopher Charles Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu when drafting the Constitution, most notably in connection with the separation of powers.

Born on January 18, 1689, in Bordeaux, France, Montesquieu was trained in the classics as well as the law.  In 1722 he began his literary career when he published The Persian Letters, a famous, insightful satire of Parisian and French society.  Although he published other works as well, his most influential volume was The Spirit of the Laws (1748).

The Founding Fathers, most especially James Madison, drew upon Montesquieu’s theory of the separation of powers when drafting the Constitution.  Montesquieu argued that the best way to secure liberty and prevent a government from becoming corrupted was to divide the powers of government among different actors who would check each other.  For example, Montesquieu warned that “Were the executive power not to have a right of restraining the encroachments of the legislative body, the latter would become despotic; for as it might arrogate to itself what authority it pleased, it would soon destroy all the other powers.”

Madison and the Founding Fathers took heed of Montesquieu’s warning by establishing an independent executive (the President), legislative (the Congress), and judiciary (the Supreme Court) in the federal Constitution.  Madison masterfully protected the separation of powers by establishing a thorough system of checks and balances as well.

Montesquieu died on February 10, 1755.    


For more about our Founding Fathers and their importance to our liberties today, buy a copy of America’s Survival Guide.

Picture:  Anonymous painter, 18th century; at Versailles: Musée National du Château et des Trianons.



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