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Title: Paternal authority
Original Title: Pouvoir paternel
Volume and Page: Vol. 13 (1765), pp. 255–256
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: Claude Blanchi
Subject terms:
Natural law
Civil law
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Paternal authority." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Claude Blanchi. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Pouvoir paternel," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 13. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Paternal authority." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Claude Blanchi. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Pouvoir paternel," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 13:255–256 (Paris, 1765).
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Paternal authority, rights and jurisdiction of a father and of a mother over their children.

While this expression paternal authority would appear to vest all the authority over the children in their father, reason shows us that mothers have rights and authority equal to those of fathers; for the obligations imposed on children originate equally from the mother and the father, as both are equally responsible for bringing them into the world. Thus the positive laws of God that relate to the obedience of children join the father and the mother without any differentiation; both possess a kind of ascendancy and jurisdiction over their children, not only when they are born, but also during their childhood.

The authority of fathers and mothers over their children proceeds from their obligation to take care of them while in the immature state of childhood. Both parents are compelled to educate their children, to cultivate their mind and to govern their actions until they reach the age of reason. Then, when the children attain that stage which made their father and mother free individuals, it is their turn to be free.

It follows from the above that all the rights and authority of fathers and mothers are based on this obligation imposed by God and nature upon men, as well as upon other creatures, to safeguard those whom they have brought to life until they are able to govern themselves. So we are born free as well as rational, although at first we do not use our reason and our freedom; as we age, time enables the former as well as the latter, and thus we can see how natural freedom and subordination to parents can co-exist, and how both are based on the same principle.

Paternal authority is not arbitrary, and so little does it belong to the father and the mother by some particular rights of nature, that they hold it only as custodians and tutors of their children; thus when they abandon their children by forswearing their fatherly affection, they lose that authority which is inseparably annexed to their providing food and education → to them. This authority is fully transferred to the foster father of an abandoned child, and belongs to him as much as a similar authority belongs to the natural father of another child.

In this way, paternal authority is more an obligation than an actual power over the children; however, the children's duty to honor father and mother is a permanent and undiminished obligation that nothing can abolish or reduce. It belongs so indivisibly to the father and the mother that the authority of the father cannot deprive the mother of her rights, nor can the father release his son from honoring her who carried him in her womb. This honor, this respect, all that the Latins call piety , is imperatively owed to fathers and mothers for life, irrespective of status and circumstances, although it is true that neither the father nor the mother has any actual authority over the acts of their grown up children, nor over their property. However, it is easy to imagine that, in the early ages of the world and in places that were sparsely populated, when families were splitting up to occupy vacant territories, a father would become the prince of his family, the governor and master of his children, not only during their early years, but even after those children had reached the age of freedom and maturity.

It should not be concluded from the foregoing that paternal authority is at the origin of government by one individual, as being the most congruous with nature; indeed, besides the fact that the mother shares this authority, if paternal authority is connected with government by one individual, then the authority of brothers after the death of their father, or that of first cousins after the death of the brothers, is connected with government by many; finally, political power rests upon and necessitates the alliance of several families.

It is more correct to think that the government of fathers and mothers is based on reason; their children are of their blood; they are born in a family headed by the father and the mother; during their infancy, they cannot provide for their own needs, or ensure their own safety and education → ; all these circumstances call for a legitimate authority of the father and mother over the children they have brought into the world.

Of all the powers, this authority is the least misused in countries where custom makes better citizens than do the laws. It is the most sacred of all magistracies, and it is the only one that does not depend on conventions, as it even pre-existed them. Under a republic, where force is not so coercive as under other types of governments, laws must make up for this lack of strength by codifying paternal authority. In Sparta, every father had the right to punish the child of another. In Rome, paternal power waned as the republic appeared. In monarchies, where mores are seldom pure, everyone must live under the control of judges. In a republic, subordination may require that father and mother retain life-long control of their children's property, but this would create too many drawbacks under a monarchy. In a word, in the interest of public good, civil laws had to limit paternal authority ; thus, they have established that this authority terminates.

1. Upon the death of the father or that of the children. Upon the death of their father children do not fall under the jurisdiction of their grandfather, but remain under the supervision and guardianship of their mother: if the mother happens to die, or if she declines to be their guardian, the grandparents, as natural guardians, are obliged to ensure the children's education and to safeguard their property.

2. By banishment, when one or the other is exiled or declared an enemy of the country, which applies, for instance, to deserters.

3. By emancipation of the son, when he is adopted by his grandfather, which is the only case of emancipation occurring at present; this is why the father can no longer receive the emancipation payment, namely half his son's property.

4. By the exposition of a child, whether the child is exposed in a public place, or near a church, or in a private house.

5. By the abuse of paternal authority , such as when a father behaves tyrannically towards his children, or prostitutes them, or induces them to commit vile acts.

In all the above cases, the paternal authority terminates, and therefore all the rights that derive from it also terminate, although those that are a consequence of being of the same blood continue with all their force. Thus, the loss of paternal authority does not remove the prohibition against marriages between blood relations and the child who kills his father or mother remains a parricide.

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