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International Law

LECTURE I.

  

ITS ORIGIN AND SOURCES.

  

The eminent man who founded the Whewell Professorship of International Law laid an earnest and express injunction on the occupant of this chair that he should make it his aim, in all parts of his treatment of the subject, to lay down such rules and suggest such measures as might tend to diminish the evils of war and finally to extinguish war among nations.

  

These words of Dr. Whewell, which occur in his vill and in the statute regulating his professorship, undoubtedly contain both a condemnation and a direction. International Law in its earlier stages was developed by a method of treatment which has been applied to many important subjects of thought when their growth has reached the point at which they are included in books to theology, to morals, and even, in some cases, to positive private law. Writers of authority who have gained the ear of the learned and professional classes follow one another in a string, each commenting on his predecessor, and correcting, adding to, or devising new applications for, the propositions he has laid down. For a considerable time International Law, as the words are commonly understood, had to be exclusively collected from the dicta of these authoritative writers, who, however, differed from one another materially in their qualities and defects. At the head and at the foot of the list two names are often conventionally placed, first that of Grotius, who was born in 1583, and died in 1645, and last that of Vattel, who was born in 1714 and died in 1767. Of both these writers it may be confidently asserted that the rules and propositions which they laid down did tend to diminish the evils of war and may possibly help to extinguish some day war among nations. But of the residue of this class of publicists, it must be confessed that some were superficial, some learned and pedantic, some were wanting in clearness of thought and expression, some were little sensitive to the modifications of moral judgment produced by growing humanity, and some were simply reactionary. As these lectures proceed I may be able to point out to which class, and for what reasons, the writer immediately before us belongs.

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 No. 335
 Posted on 8 June, 2006
 
 
 
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