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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Sumptuary Laws

page 2

Sumptuary Laws.

People who undertake to dwell together in society relinquish a part of their natural liberty for the good of all, and it is, therefore, in the name and interest of such social carfare alone that society is justified in enforcing its restrictions. But sumptuary laws originate out of a very different hypothesis and look to a very different object. They are imposed upon individuals with direct reference to self, and not out of any protection to the rights of others which are supposed to be infringed. Ostensibly they proceed on the ground, that it would be better for the individual, primitive of his comfort or happiness or virtue, and hence usually emanate from some arbitrary government claiming the right to absolute authority in the premises. Thus the sumptuary laws of England in the 13th and 14th centuries, regulating the clothing to be worn, the dishes to be served at dinner, the styles of architecture to be employed—in short various modes of preserving distinctions of classes in society, were avowedly founded on the idea that the lord of the manor had a property in the vile in and his belongings.