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The Spirit of the Laws (1748)

Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), a French philosopher and jurist, wrote The Spirit of the Laws. In this work, he pointed to the English Bill of Rights as an ideal model of government. He also posited that

• the best form of government combines monarchy with administrative authority made of distinct and separated powers (the legislative, executive, and judicial branches) with checks and balances of power.

• Punishments should not be excessive, but should be moderate, and should fit the crime.

• Citizens should respect the beliefs of others and practice religious toleration.

Blackstone commented on Montesquieu’s theories as “constitutionalism of liberty and complexity.” James Madison was greatly influenced by Montesquieu and incorporated many of his ideas—most notably that of separated powers —into the Virginia Plan and finally the Constitution and Bill of Rights.