Page images
PDF
EPUB

case. The voice of common sense, in every age and clime, cries out against it as manifestly wrong, and demands, that parties in dispute, whether individuals or communities, should in the last resort leave their differences to impartial judges. This is all we ask. Nations are only large communities; and we insist merely on their adopting this simple, equitable principle for the settlement of their difficulties.

Nor is this principle new or untried. It is as old as human society ; it has been acted upon more or less from the earliest dawn of civilization ; we often find the wisest and best men preferring it even to a regular course of law for the amicable adjustment of their own differences; and we simply ask, that nations should exercise an equal degree of sense, candor and justice, by referring their disputes in like manner to competent and impartial arbiters.

The same principle lies at the bottom of all our courts. Every trial in them is a reference. No litigant is allowed to decide, or even to testify in his own case ; but he must, whether willing or unwilling, submit to the judgment of his peers on the testimony of credible witnesses. Nor has he any direct voice in the selection of his arbiters; society chooses them for him; and before a judge and jury thus appointed, he is compelled to go, and abide their decision. Such is the ordinary course of justice, the common, legal mode of reference; and ought not governments, in the adjustment of their difficulties, to act on principles as equitable and elevated as those which they prescribe to their own subjects ? Shall common sense, common honesty, the established rules of right and wrong, never be extended to the intercourse of nations ? Must this highest earthly province of duty and interest be abandoned forever to savage, brutal violence as the arbiter of right? Are rulers idiots that they cannot, or villains that they will not, use, in the settlement of their own disputes, and the regulation of their intercourse, as much reason, justice and common sense, as the humblést of their subjects do in theirs ?

We appeal to acknowledged authorities in the case. All .. writers on international law represent nations as subject to the same general rules of right as individuals. Chancellor Kent says, “ they are properly regarded as moral persons ;" and Vattel considers them as under the same obligations that are binding upon men in their intercourse one with another, and the law of nations as no more than the law of nature applied to nations. No respectable writer, since the time of Grotius, has ventured to call this principle in question ; but does it not obviously require governments to settle their disputes in essentially the same way that individuals do theirs ?

Grotius says,

If the latter may not decide their own case, and wreak vengeance at will on the objects of their displeasure, why should the former be allowed to do so? Why should nations be indulged in principles of action that would in individuals outrage common sense, trample on all law, and subvert the very foundations of society ? Let us quote from the great masters of international law.

war should never be declared until all other means of redress have been faithfully tried ;” and Vattel asserts, that “the law of nature, which recommends peace, concord and charity, obliges nations to attempt the mildest methods of terminating their differences.—Nature gives us no right to have recourse to force, but where mild and pacific methods are ineffectual.—When sovereigns cannot agree about their pretensions, they sometimes trust the decision of their disputes to arbitrators. This method is very reasonable, and very conformable to the law of nature. Though the strict right may be mistaken by the arbitrator, it is still more to be feared that it will be overwhelmed by the fate of arms."

On this point, Vattel adduces a series of striking examples. “ The kings of Denmark formerly condescended by solemn treaty to refer to those of Sweden the differences that might arise between them and their Senate; and the kings of Sweden did the same with regard to those of Denmark. The princes and states of West Friesland, and the burgesses of Embden in the same manner constituted the republic of the United Provinces the judge of their differences. The princes of Neufchatel established in 1406 the canton of Berne the judge and perpetual arbitrator of their disputes. The Swiss have had the precaution, in all their alliances among themselves, and even in those they have contracted with the neighboring powers, to agree beforehand on the manner in which their disputes were to be submitted to arbitrators, in case they could not themselves adjust them in an amicable manner. This wise precaution has not a little contributed to maintain the Helvetic Republic in that flourishing state which secures its liberty, and renders it respectable throughout Europe.”

Such was the law of nations on this point centuries ago; but within the last twenty or thirty years, the principle has come into still higher repute, and more general use. Often

as it been employed by the leading cabinets of Europe for the adjustment of their differences; and we ourselves have in several instances resorted to it with a degree of success calculated to encourage its general adoption. A question relative to the interpretation of our last treaty of peace with Great Britain, was referred to the Emperor of Russia, and decided to mutual satisfaction in our favor. The dispute con

sia.

cerning our north-eastern boundary, we submitted to the King of the Netherlands; and, though his award, being a compromise not authorized by the terms of reference, failed to satisfy either England or ourselves, yet it doubtless served to prevent for the time a resort to arms, and to secure in the end å settlement very nearly resembling that award, and satisfactory to both parties. Our difficulties with Mexico had brought us to the brink of war; but the danger was instantly averted by a reference of the points in dispute to the King of Prus

Thus is the practice of enlightened and powerful nations strongly tending to establish this principle as a most important part of international law. Already is it a favorite antidote or remedy for war, a substitute proved by actual experience to be far better than the sword; and all we now ask, is the formal incorporation of this principle in every treaty between nations as the last resort for the adjustment of their difficulties.

The voice of public opinion, that mistress of the civilized world, is also coming to demand this substitute for war. The people, whose treasures and blood have been so recklessly wasted in the quarrels of rulers, are already in favor of the plan, and may be expected ere-long to become clamorous for its general adoption. They begin to learn that rulers can settle their disputes without the butchery of their subjects, and will one day insist that they shall. That day is coming on apace; and, when it does come, no congress, no cabinet, no despot in Christendom will be able to withstand the united, inflexible demand of the whole people for the adjustinent of national difficulties without the shedding of their blood.

We speak not at random; the popular will has already expressed itself on this point in ways not to be misunderstood. There is not in Christendom any intelligent community, scarce a solitary press, or respectable writer, that would not favor the adoption of our principle as a substitute for war. The question has been fairly submitted to some of them. A friend of peace in Massachusetts, some fifteen years after the fall of Napoleon, brought it before a large number of persons in several States, and readily obtained from men of every rank, profession and employment,—from farmers and mechanics, from merchants, lawyers and physicians, from judges, governors and Christian ministers of every name,

some thousands of signatures in favor of having all national disputes settled by amicable reference. The principle commends itself at once to every man; and, if fully understood, not one in a thousand of the people but would instantly prefer it to the blind and brutal arbitrament of the sword.

To this voice of the people some of our legislators have

[ocr errors]

already given a partial response. The late accomplished Legare, in his report from the Committee on Foreign Relations, says “ they heartily concur in recommending a reference to a third power of all such controversies as can safely be confided to any tribunal unknown to the constitution of our own country.”. The legislature of Massachusetts had previously gone still further, and passed resolves, with perfect unanimity in the House, and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate, recommending not only " the practice of arbitration as an occasional substitute for war, but a Congress and Court of Nations as a permanent system to carry the principle into effect.” In 1844, they adopted still stronger resolutions in favor of both these modes of reference; nor would any legislature, when fully informed on the subject, refuse their sanction to principles so obviously reasonable and salutary.

Long ago did the fathers of our Republic cherish similar desires for some preventive of war. Jefferson says, “ nations, like individuals, stand towards each other only in the relations of natural right; and might they not, like them, be peaceably punished for violence and wrong ?-Wonderful has been the progress of human improvement in other respects ; let us hope that the law of nature will in time influence the proceedings of nations as well as of individuals, and that we shall at length be sensible, that war is an instrument entirely inefficient towards redressing wrong, and multiplies instead of indemnifying losses.Franklin, who used so often to repeat his favorite maxim, " there never was a good war, or a bad peace,” said, “ we daily make great improvements in natural philosophy; there is one I wish to see in moral—the discovery of a plan that would induce and oblige nations to settle their disputes without first cutting one another's throats. When will human reason be sufficiently improved to see the advantage of this ? When will men be convinced, that even successful wars become at length misfortunes to the victorious themselves ? "

The time for which Franklin and Jefferson thus longed, is well nigh come. Already are the people in this country, if not in others, sufficiently prepared for such a measure as we propose; and, should rulers adopt it as a permanent substitute for war, we doubt not they would find themselves at once sustained and applauded by the popular voice. The general sentiment of Christendom would soon ratify the act as a glorious era in the history of the world; and countless millions yet unborn would bless the wisdom, patriotism and philanthropy which had thus stayed the stream of blood, and left nations at liberty to start anew upon a career of unexampled prosperity and happiness.

In favor of our scheme, we might marshal a host of arguments and motives. Should it utterly fail, there is no possibility of its doing any harm; but, should it succeed according to our hopes, how many evils would it prevent, how many blessings confer! What myriads of treasure, what rivers of blood, what numberless forms of crime and wo, would it save! How many wives would it rescue from widowhood; how many children from orphanage; how many families from ruin; how many provinces from plunder and devastation; how many cities from fire and sword; how many countries from all the nameless calamities of wer! It would give the world a jubilee hitherto unknown. Free from the dangers of war, its teeming myriads could gird themselves, with new zeal and hope, to every enterprise for their own or the general good. Millions of warriors, no longer drones fed from the public crib, might return to the arts of peace, and contribute their share to the common weal. Population would swarm anew; agriculture would spread its golden harvests over hill and vale; the various mechanic arts would ply afresh their thousand forms of improved machinery ; commerce without fear would unfurl its canvass on every sea, and barter its commodities in every port; learning, and philanthropy, and religion would pass without obstruction from land to land, and ere-long cover the globe with their blessings. Every interest of man calls aloud for such a policy. The prosperity of our own country, the welfare of Christendom, the happiness of the world; patriotism, humanity and religion; the great and glorious movements of the age; all, all demand it.

And what excuse can we plead for refusing a demand so reasonable ? Is it impossible to bring nations into the measure? We have seen that the people are even now ready for it; and why should rulers object or hesitate ? What interest or claim of theirs would it sacrifice or endanger? Would it cripple their power, or interfere with any of their rightful prerogatives? No; it would rather confirm them all

, and ere-long endear itself both to rulers and subjects, as a most effectual safeguard of their respective rights and interests. War is the enemy, and peace the friend of them both.

But is arbitration inconsistent with the dignity of governments ? If so, why and how? We deem it honorable for individuals to refer their disputes to competent, impartial umpires; and why should it be dishonorable for nations to do the same? When a dispute arises between two of our towns or counties, they appeal to the courts of the State, and when between two States, to the supreme court of the United States,

« PreviousContinue »