Government of the Aztecs
The form of government of the principal peoples of Anahuac, the Aztecs and Texcocans, was an uncommon one—that of an elected monarchy. The king or emperor was chosen, however, from among members of the royal family, whether brothers or nephews of the preceding sovereign, by the four appointed electors. He was installed with barbaric splendour, a main feature of the event being the great sacrifice of human beings in the Teocalli—that diabolical custom which ever robs the Aztecrégime of the dignity of any appellation beyond that of semi-civilisation. Otherwise the Aztec régimemay be considered as a military democracy. The land was held, to some extent, by great chiefs under a species of feudal system which carried with it certain obligations as to military service, but it was also assigned to the use of the people. The monarchy became of a despotic character, and legislative power lay with the sovereign, although a system of judicial tribunals administered justice throughout the cities of the Empire, and the Aztec civilisation had at least advanced far enough to acknowledge and uphold, by legal machinery, the rights and security of individuals and of property. Like the customs of the Incas of Peru, heavy penalties—generally of death—were meted out for bribery or corruption of the officers of justice.
Indeed, the great crimes were in most cases capital offences, as murder, adultery, thieving, as well as the misappropriation of funds, and the removal of land boundaries with intent to defraud. Marriage was a solemn and binding ceremonial, and divorce could be obtained only after a careful judicial inquiry and sanction. Slavery existed in several forms—captives of battles, reserved for the sacrifice; criminals, paupers, and debtors became slaves voluntarily; and children of poor parents who were sold into a species of mild servitude or dependency. No child, however, could be born into the condition of slavery—a somewhat unique proviso among systems of servitude.