An important aspect of any constitutional theory is the state's power to punish transgressions of the law, or the ius gladii. Although Grotius never formulated a complete, comprehensive constitutional theory, traces of such a theory can be found in many of his writings not explicitly devoted to constitutional law. Punishment even plays an important role in his books on war (and peace), since to punish transgressions of the law is ranked among the just causes of war.Given the fact that a state may punish transgressions of the law – transgressions by individuals within and even outside the state, but also transgressions of the law by other states – the question may arise concerning the origin of such a right to punish. It will be shown that Grotius did not give the same answer to this question in his various works. As the right to punish is concerned, we find a theory that seems to be akin to the one of John Locke in the De iure praedae (around 1605), one akin to the theories of the Spanish late-scholastics in De satisfactione and De imperio (around 1615), and a theory coming close to what Thomas Hobbes had said on the ruler's right to punish in the De iure belli ac pacis (around 1625).Of course, Grotius can only have been familiar with the theory of the Spanish late-scholastics, since those of Locke and Hobbes were still to be written by the time Grotius had passed away.
In the years 1777–1778 four volumes were published under the title Legal Observations on Several Dark and Until Now Unverified Sections of the Introduction. The volumes were composed by a society of young legal practitioners from The Hague (Netherlands), the most famous among them being Joannes van der Linden. By then Grotius’s Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Holland was still the cornerstone of the law of Holland and around the year 1800 it would become the fundament for attempts to codify this law. Today the Legal Observations can function as entrance to the historical sources of the law of Holland as described by Grotius and developed further after publication of his Introduction.
It is not always easy to interpret Grotius’s constitutional theory that lies hidden within his book on the law of war and peace. After a very concise discussion of this constitutional framework, this study turns to various interpretations and conclusions by contemporary scholars that sit awkwardly within the theory. The interpretations of Richard Tuck, Peter Borschberg, Knud Haakonson, Frank Grunert, Deborah Baumgold, Marco Barducci, Daniel Lee and Gustaaf van Nifterik are discussed critically.
As a result of the political developments in the young and struggling Dutch Republic, Grotius experienced the lack of, and the need for juridical protection of some basic rights against infringements by the government. The privileges, taken for fundamental laws, did not provide this protection sufficiently. After he himself had been prosecuted, Grotius falls back on Holland's division of powers to secure the compliance of these rights.