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(Blackstone's Commentaries, Book, IV. Chap. IV.)

The law of nations is a system of rules, deducible by natural reason, and established by universal consent among the civilized inhabitants of the world ; in order to decide all disputes, to regulate all ceremonies and civilities, and to insure the observance of justice and good faith, in that intercourse which must frequently occur between two or more independent states, and the individuals belonging to each.

This general law is founded upon this principle, that different nations ought in time of peace to do one another all the good they can, and in time of war as little harm as possible, without prej. udice to their own real interests. And, as none of these states will allow a superiority in the other, therefore neither can dictate or prescribe the rules of this law to the rest; but such rules must necessarily result from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree; or they depend upon mutual compacts or treaties between the respective communities ; in the construction of which there is also no judge to resort to, but the law of nature and reason, being the only one in which all the contracting parties are equally conversant, and to which they are equally subject.

In arbitrary states this law, wherever it contradicts or is not provided for by the municipal law of the country, is enforced by the royal power; but since in England no royal power can introduce a new law, ar suspend the execution of the old, therefore the law of nations (wherever any question arises which is properly the object of its jurisdiction) is here adopted in its full extent by the common law, and is held to be a part of the law of the land. And those acts of parliament, which have from time to time been made to enforce this universal law, or to facilitate the execution of its decisions, are not to be considered as introductive of any new rule, but merely as declaratory of the old fundamental constitutions of the kingdom; without which it must cease to be a part of the civilized world. Thus in mercantile questions, such as bills of exchange and the like; in all marine causes, relating to freight, average, demurrage, insurances, bottomry, and others of a similar nature; the law merchant, which is a branch of the law of nations, is regularly and constantly adhered to. So too in all disputes relating to prizes, to shipwrecks, to hostages, and ransom bills, there is no other rule of decision but this great universal law, collected from history and usage, and such writers of all nations and languages as are generally approved and allowed of.

But, though in civil transactions and questions of property between the subjects of different states, the law of nations has much scope and extent, as adopted by the law of England; yet the present branch of our inquiries will fall within a narrow compass, as offenses against the law of nations can rarely be the object of the criminal law of any particular state. For offenses against this law are principally incident to whole states or nations; in which case recourse can only be had to war; which is an appeal to the God of hosts, to punish such infractions of public faith as are committed by one independent people against another: neither state having any superior jurisdiction to resort to upon earth for justice. But where the individuals of any state violate this general law, it is then the interest as well as duty of the government, under which they live, to animadvert upon them with a becoming severity, that the peace of the world may be maintained.

For in vain would nations in their collective capacity observe these universal rules, if private subjects were at liberty to break them at their own discretion, and involve the two states in a war. It is therefore incumbent upon the nation injured, first to demand satisfaction and justice to be done on the offender, by the state to which he belongs; and, if that be refused or neglected, the sovereign then avows himself an accomplice or abettor of his subject's crime, and draws upon his community the calamities of foreign war.



(14 Wallace, 170.)

Discussion of General Principles.

Judgment by STRONG, J.:

*** “ Undoubtedly, no single nation can change the law of the sea. That law is of universal obligation, and no statute of one or two nations can create obligations for the world. Like all the laws of nations, it rests upon the common consent of civilized communities. It is of force, not because it was prescribed by any superior power, but because it has been generally accepted as a rule of conduct. Whatever may have been its origin, whether in the usages of navigation or in the ordinances of maritime states, or in both, it has become the law of the sea only by the concurrent sanction of those nations who may be said to constitute the commercial world. Many of the usages which prevail, and which have the force of law, doubtless originated in the positive prescriptions of some single state, which were at first of limited effect, but which when generally accepted became of universal obligation. The Rhodian law is supposed to have been the first system of marine rules. It was a code for Rhodians only, but it soon became of general authority because accepted and assented to as a wise and desirable system by other maritime nations. The same may be said of the Amalphitan Table, of the ordinances of the Hanseatic League, and of parts of the marine ordinances of Louis XIV. They all became the law of the sea, not on account of their origin, but by reason of their acceptance as such. And it is evident that unless general assent is efficacious to give sanction to international law, there never can be that growth and development of maritime rules which the constant changes in the instruments and necessities of navigation require. Changes in nautical rules have taken place. How have they been accomplished, if not by the concurrent assent, expressed or understood, of maritime nations ?

When, therefore, we find such rules of navigation as are mentioned in the British orders in council of January 9th, 1863, and in our act of Congress of 1864, accepted as obligatory rules by more than thirty of the principal commercial states of the world, including almost all which have any shipping on the Atlantic Ocean, we are constrained to regard them as in part at least, and so far as relates to these vessels, the laws of the sea, and as having been the law at the time when the collision of which the libellants complain took place.

This is not giving to the statutes of any nation extra-territorial effect. It is not treating them as general maritime laws, but it is recognition of the historical fact that by common consent of mankind these rules have been acquiesced in as of general obligation. Of that fact we think we may take judicial notice. Foreign municipal laws must, indeed, be proved as facts, but it is not so with the law of nations.” 1

1 In the case of the Charming Betsy, 2 Cranch, 64, 118, MARSHALL, C. J., said: " It has also been observed that an act of Congress ought never to be construed to violate the law of nations if any other possible construction remains, and, consequently, can 'never be construed to violate neutral rights, or to affect neutral commerce further than is warranted by the law of nations as understood in this country.”

In the case of the Nereid, 9 Cranch, 388, 423, the same judge said: “ Till such an act [of Congress] be passed, the court is bound by the law of nations, which is a part of the law of the land.” See also Talbot v. Seeman, 1 Cranch, 1, 43, and 14 Wallace 170, 188.

In the case of Bentzon v. Boyle, 9 Cranch, 191, 198, MARSHALL, C. J., said: “The law of nations is the great source from which we derive those rules, respect. ing belligerent and neutral rights, which are recognized by all civilized states throughout Europe and America. This law is in part unwritten, and in part conventional. To ascertain that which is unwritten, we resort to the great princi• ples of reason and justice ; but, as these principles will be differently understood by different nations under different circumstances, we consider them as being, in some degree, fixed and rendered stable by a series of judicial decisions. The decisions of the courts of every country, so far as they are founded upon the law common to every country, will be received, not as authority, but with respect. The decisions of the courts of every country show how the law of nations, in the given case, is understood in that country, and will be considerel in a lopting the rule which is to prevail in this."

Bishop says (Criminal Law, 7th Ed., I. 60): “Doubtless if the legislature, by words admitting of no interpretation, commands a court to violate the law of nations, the judges have no alternative but to obey. Yet no statutes have ever been framed in form thus conclusive; and if a case is prima facie within the legislative words, still a court will not take the jurisdiction should the law of nations forbid." Again (p. 69): “All statutes are to be construed in connection with one another, with the common law, with the constitutio:, and with the law of nations."







"A STATE is a body politic, or society of men united together for inutual advantage and safety. Such a society has affairs and interests peculiar to itself, and is capable of deliberation and resolution; it is therefore regarded as a kind of moral person, possessing a will and an understanding, and susceptible of rights and obligations. From the nature and design of such a society, it is necessary that there should be established in it a public authority, to order and direct what is to be done by each individual in relation to the end and object of the association. This political authority, whether vested in a single individual or in a number of individuals, is properly the sovereignty of the State.

“ This term, however, in international law, is usually employed to express the external rather than the internal character of a nation, with respect to its ability or capacity to govern itself, independently of foreign powers. A sovereign State may, therefore, be defined to be any nation or people organized into a body politic and exercising the rights of self-government."


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