Page images
PDF
EPUB

chosen; whether the states associated shall each send an equal number of delegates, or, if not, on what principle the representation shall be regulated; what shall be the form of the tribunal, its rules of procedure, and the length or frequency of its sessions; all such points must be left for time and trial to determine, and would

very easily be settled by men 'fully bent on carrying into effect any plan of the kind. A right purpose would soon find a feasible way; and, wishing merely to start and guide inquiry concerning such a tribunal, we will give only a few of its outlines.

1. Our plan includes two measures—one temporary, or occasional ; the other settled and permanent. We would have first a congress of nations, a grand convention of delegates plenipotentiary from all parts of the civilized world that could be brought into the measure, to deliberate and agree upon a code of international law. We would have them invested like ambassadors with power, not to establish such a code, but merely to recommend its principles in detail to their respective governments for their adoption or rejection. The next measure would be the establishment of an international tribunal to interpret that code, and adjudicate whatever cases any nations in dispute might refer to their decision.

2. The character of its members would of course be preeminent, all master-spirits. The lawgiver of nations, the judge between cabinets and courts, kings and emperors, it would be the most august tribunal on earth; a seat in it might come ere-long to be regarded as the climax of human ambition; every state would desire to be represented by its purest and ablest men; and thus would it soon become, far more than the senate of Rome, or the Areopagus of Athens, the admiration of the world.

3. Its jurisdiction should extend only to matters connected with the intercourse of nations; and no case should come before it except by consent and choice of parties. Its decisions should be final, and preclude by mutual agreement all right of appealing to any further means of adjustment, except a new hearing, an amicable consultation, or reference to special umpires mutually chosen.

4. Its decrees should be merely advisory. Whether legislative or judicial, they should bind no party without their consent, and depend for success entirely on the high repute of the tribunal, on the obvious equity of its decisions, and the strong tide of public opinion in their favor. It should act as a diet of ambassadors to mature terms for the ratification of their respective constituents, or as a board of referees whose arbitrament the parties would still be at liberty to accept br reject.

5. Its sanctions should never include or involve a resort to the sword. Its decrees should be enforced only by moral or peaceful means. Penalties there might be; but they should all be pacific, and consist in the recoil of public opinion, in the withdrawal of friendly intercourse, or the curtailment of commercial and other privileges.

These outlines should be constantly borne in mind; for they obviate most of the objections hitherto brought against the project of a congress of nations, and would at least render such a tribunal perfectly harmless. If it did no good, it certainly could do no evil.

Secr. 3.-OBJECTS SOUGHT. The measure we propose, aims at a variety of results, each highly important to the welfare of nations. It would seek mainly to preserve peace without the sword; but this purpose, however prominent and sublime, is only one among the multitude of its appropriate objects. It would be not only the peace-maker of nations, but the regulator of their entire intercourse, and the guardian of all their common interests. It would perform for the kingdoms associated no small part of the services that our own Congress does for the different members of our republic, and would thus have three distinct departments of duty—to settle and complete the law of nations, to adjust all disputes between them without an appeal to the sword, and direct their intercourse and combined energies in ways best adapted to the improvement, prosperity and happiness of the whole human race.

Few are aware how unsettled and imperfect is the present law of nations. We have in truth no such law; and what passes under the name, is of recent origin, and insufficient authority. This code, scarcely recognized at all by Greece or Rome, and little heeded or known in Christendom itself till after the Reformation, owes more to Grotius than to all other writers put together. He was its grand architect. He found it a chaos of clashing precedents and principles; but his learning, and his powers of analysis and combination, reduced its heterogeneous materials to a system which has won universal admiration, and exerted a benign influence over the intercourse of all civilized nations. Still, neither Grotius nor his commentators have furnished a code of international law. They possessed not the requisite authority, and have given us only a compilation of precedents, opinions and arguments. It is the work, not of legislators, but of scholars; no law-making power was ever concerned in enacting any of its statutes; and all its authority has resulted from the deference spontaneously paid to the genius, erudition and wisdom of its com

pilers. It is not law, but argument; not decrees, but rules; not a code, but a treatise; and the nations are at liberty, except from the force of custom and public opinion, to adopt or reject it as they please. A code of international law is still a desideratum ; to supply this deficiency would be one of the first and highest duties of the tribunal we propose ; and a mere glance at the subjects which would thus come before it, must suffice to show its necessity and vast importance.

Our limits will hardly allow us even to name these subjects—articles contraband of war ;-protection of neutral commerce ;-security of private property in war ;-the rights and rules of blockade ;-right of search and impressment ;protection of non-combatants ;-property in navigable rivers ;the armed interposition of one nation in the domestic affairs of another ;-right of interference with a nation at war ;passage of belligerents through a neutral territory ;-surrender of fugitives from justice or oppression ;-various meliorations of war ;-measures for the entire extinction of the custom ;the settlement of national boundaries ;—the regulation of cartels, and flags of truce;—the rules and rates of salvage ;-the improvement and expansion of commerce ;-the adoption of some common standard of weights and measures ;-the interpretation of treaties by definite and established rules ;—the naturalization of foreigners, and the transfer of their allegiance;—the determination of what shall be deemed the inalienable rights of man, such as life, liberty of conscience, and the use of his own powers;—the reconcilement of laws that come into conflict in the intercourse of nations, such as those respecting contracts, majority, evidence, and the law of domicil ;-improvements in various parts of the international code ;-measures common for the relief of nations, as in the case of Greece, or the Cape de Verd Islands, and for the suppression or punishment of such practices as torture, infanticide, human sacrifices, the slave-trade, and similar outrages upon humanity.

This enumeration includes only a part of the subjects that would come before a congress of nations ; but, for the sake of a brief illustration, just glance at a few of the topics we have mentioned. Take the question of blockade. The law of nations is very loose on this subject; the practice of belligerents has taken a still wider license; and the exigencies of the case call aloud for some means to prevent the repetition of such outrages. Some writers have questioned the propriety, under any circumstances, of blockade against neutrals; but, right or wrong, it ought certainly to be restrained from that immense sweep of mischief to which it has so often aspired in modern times. All the ports of a nation, most of

those skirting an entire continent, have, by a mere stròke of the pen, been closed against all neutral vessels. England once declared the whole coast of France to be under blockade, and Napoleon in return did the same to all England, without a fleet in either case sufficient to enforce a tenth part of the blockade. It was a mere scare-crow, a blockade only on paper, a shallow pretence for licensing a species of wholesale piracy; yet did an English admiral, in the late war between Great Britain and ourselves, declare our whole coast, two thousand miles in extent, under blockade, without a twentieth part of the ships requisite to enforce a blockade so extensive. The evils of such a practice must be immense; for the blockade of a single port might cripple the commerce of the world. The blockade of Canton by the English (1840) injured the United States alone at the rate of some ten million dollars in a single year.

Glance next at the conflict of laws in the intercourse of nations. A man is legally of age in the United States at twentyone, but in France, we will suppose, not till twenty-five; and, consequently, should a Frenchman, only twenty-one years old, purchase goods in this country, he would not there be bound in law by the bargain, because deemed incapable of making such a contract. A man, making his will according to our laws, but not in accordance with those of Holland, would, by removing to that country, and dying there without any change in the instrument, render it null and void. In the same way might a marriage contract be nullified, and a man's whole family be disinherited and disgraced.

Look, also, at articles contraband of war. On this point the opinions of writers, the decisions of courts, and the practice of nations, have been extremely variant; and this diversity or collision has been a prolific source of irritation, disputes and

Each party condemns as contraband nearly every thing it pleases; and hence have come not only vast losses to commerce, but fierce and bloody conflicts. . The door is open to almost interminable disputes; and the most trifling articles of trade have thus become bones of protracted contention between some of the first states in Christendom. Vessels have been condemned for having on board a barrel of tar, a keg of white lead, or even a single gross of buttons ! and two considerable nations were actually plunged into a long and bloody war by the paltry question, whether a bar of iron is, or is not, contraband of war!!

There is, moreover, the question of private property in war. Such property on land is now secured in a time of war; but shall the same guaranty be extended to the ocean? Shall the law of nations spread its broad ægis over the property of non

wars.

combatants in all circumstances ? Shall privateering cease, and no more letters of marque and reprisal be allowed? Shali this practice of legalized piracy be utterly abolished, and commerce be left, alike in peace and war, to traverse every sea, and barter its commodities in every port, safe from the attacks of privateers or of public ships? A consummation incalculably important to the commerce and prosperity of the whole world. It would strip war of more than half its remaining pecuniary evils, and hasten its entire abolition.

We may allude, also, to the right of interference with a nation at war. May troops be raised in one country to fight against another, without violating the laws of neutrality ? Was the part taken by some of our own citizens in the troubles of Canada, or in the war of Texas, an infringement of our amicable relations with England and Mexico ? This practice has for ages prevailed more or less throughout Christendom. English officers have in India raised considerable armies avowedly on purpose to fight for pay; English admirals and American commodores have sold their services to other nations in the trade of human butchery; and whole regiments went, year after year, from England to engage in the civil broils of the Peninsula. There is scarce a country in Europe that has not occasionally furnished mercenaries for foreign wars.

There is, likewise, the question of search and impressment. This right, boldly claimed by some nations, is resolutely denied by others; and this collision of views and practices must be a fruitful source of strife. Here was the main cause of our last war with England; but the point, left at the close of that war just where it was before, still remains a magazine of mischief ready to be kindled by a spark into such an explosion as mignt convulse each nation to its centre, and cover its fairest fields with carnage and devastation.

But far more important would be measures in concert for the abolition of the whole war-system. This would be the grand aim of such a congress as we propose; but a result so mighty and glorious, can be reached only by a gradual process. A resort to arms should be allowed, if at all, in less than a tithe of its past or present cases; ample means should be provided even in such cases for a peaceful adjustment of the dispute ; the conflict, if inevitable, should still be, like ancient wagers of battle, under the strictest regulations to check its tendencies to unnecessary mischief; and the grand provocative to war, found in standing armies, and other military preparations, should be removed, as far and as fast as possible, by a reduction of all such establishments through the civilized world. The alleged necessity of them is deplored by all as a most enormous evil; but no nation dares to reduce its own estab

« PreviousContinue »