The Law of Nations
Publication Year: 2012
The great eighteenth-century theorist of international law Emer de Vattel (1714–1767) was a key figure in sustaining the practical and theoretical influence of natural jurisprudence through the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. Coming toward the end of the period when the discourse of natural law was dominant in European political theory, Vattel’s contribution is cited as a major source of contemporary wisdom on questions of international law in the American Revolution and even by opponents of revolution, such as Cardinal Consalvi, at the Congress of Vienna of 1815.
Vattel broadly accepted the early-modern natural law theorists from Grotius onward but placed himself in the tradition of Leibniz and Christian Wolff. This becomes particularly clear in two valuable early essays that have never before been translated and are included in the present volume. On this philosophical basis he established what the proper relationship should be between natural law as it is applied to individuals and natural law as it is applied to states.
The significance of The Law of Nations resides in its distillation from natural law of an apt model for international conduct of state affairs that carried conviction in both the Old Regime and the new political order of 1789–1815.
The Liberty Fund edition is based on the anonymous English translation of 1797, which includes Vattel’s notes for the second French edition (posthumous, 1773).
Emer de Vattel (1714–1767) was a Swiss philosopher and jurist in the service of Saxony.
Béla Kapossy is Professeur Suppléant of History at the University of Lausanne.
Richard Whatmore is a Reader in Intellectual History at the University of Sussex.
Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.
Published by: Liberty Fund
Series: Natural Law Paper
Title Page, Copyright
Emer1 de Vattel’s Le droit des gens. Ou Principes de la loi naturelle, applique ´s a` la conduite & aux affaires des nations & des souverains (The Law of Nations, or Principles of the Law of Nature, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns) (1758) was the most important book on the law of nations in the eighteenth century. ...
A Note on the Texts
The editors would like to thank Nikolas Funke, Ken Goodwin, Tim Hochstrasser, Amanda McKeever, Norman Vance, and Stefania Tutino for extensive scholarly labors which have immeasurably improved this edition. Ian Gazeley, Julian Hoppit, Istvan Hont, Michael Sonenscher, Gabriella Silvestrini, ...
In undertaking this new edition of Monsieur De Vattel’s treatise, it was not my intention to give what might strictly be called a new translation. To add the author’s valuable notes from the posthumous edition printed at Neuchatel in 1773,—to correct some errors I had observed in the former version,— ...
The Law of Nations, though so noble and important a subject, has not hitherto been treated of with all the care it deserves. The greater part of mankind have therefore only a vague, a very incomplete, and often even a false notion of it. The generality of writers, and even celebrated authors, almost exclusively confine the name of the Law of Nations ...
Nations or states are bodies politic, societies of men united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage by the joint efforts of their combined strength. ...
Chapter I - Of Nations or Sovereign States
A nation or a state is, as has been said at the beginning of this work, a body politic, or a society of men united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage by their combined strength. ...
Chapter II - General Principles of the Duties of a Nation towards herself
If the rights of a nation spring from its obligations, it is principally from those that relate to itself. It will further appear that its duties towards others depend very much on its duties towards itself, as the former are to be regulated and measured by the latter. As we are then to treat of the obligations and rights of nations,— ...
Chapter III - Of the Constitution of a State, and the Duties and Rights of a Nation in that respect
We have seen already that every political society must necessarily establish a public authority, to regulate their common affairs,—to prescribe to each individual the conduct he ought to observe with a view to the public welfare,—and to possess the means of procuring obedience. ...
Chapter IV - Of the Sovereign, his Obligations, and his Rights
The reader cannot expect to find here a long deduction of the rights of sovereignty, and the functions of a prince. These are to be found in treatises on the public law. In this chapter we only propose to shew, in consequence of the grand principles of the law of nations, what a sovereign is, and to give a general idea of his obligations and his rights. ...
Chapter V - Of States Elective, Successive or Hereditary, and of those called Patrimonial
We have seen in the preceding chapter, that it originally belongs to a nation to confer the supreme authority, and to chuse the person by whom it is to be governed. If it confers the sovereignty on him for his own person only, reserving to itself <24> the right of chusing a successor after the sovereign’s death, the state is elective. ...
Chapter VI - Principal Objects of a good Government; and first, to provide for the Necessities of the Nation.
After these observations on the constitution of the state, let us now proceed to the principal objects of a good government. We have seen above (§§41 and 42) that the prince, on his being invested with the sovereign authority, is charged with the duties of the nation in relation to government. ...
Chapter VII - Of the Cultivation of the Soil
Of all the arts, tillage, or agriculture, is doubtless the most useful and necessary, as being the source whence the nation derives its subsistence. The cultivation of the soil causes it to produce an infinite increase; it forms the surest resource, and the most solid fund of riches and commerce, for a nation that enjoys a happy climate. ...
Chapter VIII - Of Commerce
It is commerce that enables individuals and whole nations to procure those commodities which they stand in need of, but cannot find at home. Commerce is divided into home and foreign trade. The former is that carried on in the state between the several inhabitants; the latter is carried on with foreign nations. ...
Chapter IX - Of the Care of the public Ways; and of Tolls
The utility of high-ways, bridges, canals, and, in a word, of all safe and commodious ways of communication, cannot be doubted. They facilitate the trade between one place and another, and render the conveyance of merchandise less expensive, as well as more certain and easy. The merchants are enabled to sell at a better price, ...
Chapter X - Of Money and Exchange
In the first ages after the introduction of private property, people exchanged their superfluous commodities and effects for those they wanted. Afterwards gold and silver became the common standard of the value of all things: and to prevent the people from being cheated, the mode was introduced of stamping pieces of gold and silver ...
Chapter XI - Second Object of a good Government,—to procure the true Happiness of a Nation
Let us continue to lay open the principal objects of a good government. What we have said in the five preceding chapters relates to the care of providing for the necessities of the people, and procuring plenty in the state: this is a point of necessity; but it is not sufficient for the happiness of a nation. ...
Chapter XII - Of Piety and Religion
Piety and religion have an essential influence on the happiness of a nation, and, from their importance, deserve a particular chapter. Nothing is so proper as piety to strengthen virtue, and give it its due extent. By the word piety, I mean a disposition of soul that leads us to direct all our actions towards the Deity, ...
Chapter XIII - Of Justice and Polity
Next to the care of religion, one of the principal duties of a nation relates to justice. They ought to employ their utmost attention in causing it to prevail in the state, and to take proper measures for having it dispensed to every one in the most certain, the most speedy, and the least burthensome manner. ...
Chapter XIV - Third Object of a good Government,—to fortify itself against external Attacks
We have treated at large of what relates to the felicity of a nation: the subject is equally copious and complicated. Let us now proceed to a third division of the duties which a nation owes to itself,—a third object of good government. One of the ends of political society is to defend itself with its combined strength ...
Chapter XV - Of the Glory of a Nation
The glory of a nation is intimately connected with its power, and indeed forms a considerable part of it. It is this brilliant advantage that procures it the esteem of other nations, and renders it respectable to its neighbours. A nation whose reputation is well established,—especially one whose glory is illustrious,— ...
Chapter XVI - Protection sought by a Nation, and her voluntary Submission to a Foreign Power
When a nation is not capable of preserving herself from insult and oppression, she may procure the protection of a more powerful state. If she obtains this by only engaging to perform certain articles, as, to pay a tribute in return for the safety obtained,—to furnish her protector with troops,— ...
Chapter XVII - How a Nation may separate herself from the State of which she is a Member, and renounce her Allegiance to her Sovereign when she is not protected
We have said that an independent nation, which, without becoming a member of another state, has voluntarily rendered itself dependent on or subject to it in order to obtain protection, is released from its engagements as soon as that protection fails, even though the failure happen through the inability of the protector. ...
Chapter XVIII - Establishment of a Nation in a Country
Hitherto we have considered the nation merely with respect to itself, without any regard to the country it possesses. Let us now see it established in a country, which becomes its own property and habitation. The earth belongs to mankind in general; destined by the creator to be their common habitation, ...
Chapter XIX - Of our Native Country, and various Matters relating to it
The whole of the countries possessed by a nation and subject to its laws, forms, as we have already said, its territory, and is the common country of all the individuals of the nation. We have been obliged to anticipate the definition of the term, native country (§122), because our subject led us to treat of the love of our country,— ...
Chapter XX - Public, Common, and Private Property
Let us now see what is the nature of the different things contained in the country possessed by a nation, and endeavour to establish the general principles of the law by which they are regulated. This subject is treated by civilians under the title de rerum divisione. ...
Chapter XXI - Of the Alienation of the public Property, or the Domain, and that of a Part of the State
The nation being the sole mistress of the property in her possession, may dispose of it as she thinks proper, and may lawfully alienate or mortgage it. This right is a necessary consequence of the full and absolute domain: the exercise of it is restrained by the law of nature, only with respect to proprietors ...
Chapter XXII - Of Rivers, Streams, and Lakes
When a nation takes possession of a country with a view to settle there, it takes possession of every thing included in it, as lands, lakes, rivers, &c. But it may happen that the country is bounded and separated from another by a river;—in which case, it is asked, to whom this river belongs? ...
Chapter XXIII - Of the Sea
In order to complete the exposition of the principles of the law of nations with respect to the things a nation may possess, it remains to treat of the open sea. The use of the open sea consists in navigation, and in fishing; along its coasts it is moreover of use for the procuring of several things found near the shore, ...
Book II - Of a Nation considered in her Relation to other States
Chapter I - Of the common Duties of a Nation towards other States, or the Offices of Humanity between Nations
Of the common Duties of a Nation towards other States, or the Offices of Humanity between Nations
Chapter II - Of the mutual Commerce between Nations
All men ought to find on earth the things they stand in need of. In the primitive state of communion, they took them wherever they happened to meet with them, if another had not before appropriated them to his own use. The introduction of dominion and property could not deprive men of so essential a right, ...
Chapter III - Of the Dignity and Equality of Nations,— of Titles,—and other Marks of Honour
Every nation, every sovereign and independent state, deserves consideration and respect, because it makes an immediate figure in the grand society of the human race, is independent of all earthly power, and is an assemblage of a great number of men, which is, doubtless, more considerable than any individual. ...
Chapter IV - Of the Right to Security, and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations
In vain does nature prescribe to nations, as well as to individuals, the care of self-preservation, and of advancing their own perfection and happiness, if she does not give them a right to preserve themselves from every thing that might render this care ineffectual. This right is nothing more than a moral power of acting, ...
Chapter V - Of the Observance of Justice between Nations
Justice is the basis of all society, the sure bond of all commerce. Human society, far from being an intercourse of assistance and good offices, would be no longer any thing but a vast scene of robbery, if no respect were paid to this virtue, which secures to every one his own. ...
Chapter VI - Of the Concern a Nation may have in the Actions of her Citizens
We have seen in the preceding chapters what are the common duties of nations towards each other,—how they ought mutually to respect each other, and to abstain from all injury, <162> and all offence,—and how justice and equity ought to reign between them in their whole conduct. ...
Chapter VII - Effects of the Domain, between Nations
We have explained in Chap. XVIII. Book I. how a nation takes possession of a country, and at the same time gains possession of the domain and government thereof. That country, with every thing included in it, becomes the property of the nation in general. Let us now see what are the effects of this property, with respect to other nations. ...
Chapter VIII - Rules respecting Foreigners
We have already treated (Book I. §213) of the inhabitants, or persons who reside in a country where they are not citizens. We shall here treat only of those foreigners who pass through or sojourn in a country, either on business, or merely as travellers. The relation that subsists between them and the society in which they now live,— ...
Chapter IX - Of the Rights retained by all Nations after the Introduction of Domain and Property
If an obligation, as we have before observed, gives a right to those things without which it cannot be fulfilled, every absolute, necessary, and indispensable obligation produces in this manner rights equally absolute, necessary, and indefeasible. Nature imposes no obligations on men, without giving them the means of fulfilling them. ...
Chapter X - How a Nation is to use her Right of Domain, in order to discharge her Duties towards other Nations, with respect to the Innocent Use of Things
Since the law of nations treats as well of the duties of states as of their rights, it is not sufficient that we have explained, on the subject of innocent use, what all nations have a right to require from the proprietor: we are now to consider what influence his duties to others ought to have on the proprietor’s conduct. ...
Chapter XI - Of Usucaption and Prescription between Nations
Let us conclude what relates to domain and property with an examination of a celebrated question on which the learned are much divided. It is asked whether usucaption? and prescription can take place between independent nations and states? ...
Chapter XII - Of Treaties of Alliance, and other public Treaties
The subject of treaties is undoubtedly one of the most important that the mutual relations and affairs of nations can present us with. Having but too much reason to be convinced of the little dependence that is to be placed on the natural obligations of bodies politic, and on the reciprocal duties imposed upon them by humanity,— ...
Chapter XIII - Of the Dissolution and Renewal of Treaties
An alliance is dissolved at the expiration of the term for which it had been concluded. This term is sometimes fixed, as when an alliance is made for a certain number of years; sometimes it is uncertain, as in personal alliances, whose duration depends on the lives of the contracting powers. ...
Chapter XIV - Of other public Conventions,—of those that are made by Subordinate Powers,—particularly of the Agreement called in Latin Sponsio,— and of Conventions between the Sovereign and Private Persons
The public compacts, called conventions, articles of agreement, &c. when they are made between sovereigns, differ from treaties only in their object (§153). What we have said of the validity of treaties, of their execution, of their dissolution, and of the obligations and rights that flow from them, ...
Chapter XV - Of the Faith of Treaties
Though we have sufficiently established (§§163 and 164) the indispensable necessity of keeping promises, and observing treaties, the subject is of such importance, that we cannot forbear considering it here in a more general view, as interesting, not only to the contracting parties, but likewise to all nations, and to the universal society of mankind. ...
Chapter XVI - Of Securities given for the Observance of Treaties
Convinced by unhappy experience, that the faith of treaties, sacred and inviolable as it ought to be, does not always afford a sufficient assurance that they shall be punctually observed,—mankind have sought for securities against perfidy,—for methods, whose efficacy should not depend on the good-faith of the contracting parties. ...
Chapter XVII - Of the Interpretation of Treaties
If the ideas of men were always distinct and perfectly determinate,—if, for the expression of those ideas, they had none but proper words, no terms but such as were clear, precise, and susceptible only of one sense,— there would never be any difficulty in discovering their meaning in the words by which they intended to express it: ...
Chapter XVIII - Of the Mode of terminating Disputes between Nations
The disputes that arise between nations or their rulers, originate either from contested rights or from injuries received. A nation ought to preserve the rights which belong to her; and the care of her own safety and glory forbids her to submit to injuries. But in fulfilling the duty which she owes to her-<275>self, ...
Book III - Of War
Chapter I - Of War,—its different Kinds,—and the Right of making War
War is that state in which we prosecute our right by force. We also understand, by this term, the act itself, or the manner of prosecuting our right by force: but it is more conformable to general usage, and more proper in a treatise on the law of war, to understand this term in the sense we have annexed to it. ...
Chapter II - Of the Instruments of war,—the raising of Troops, &c.—their Commanders, or the Subordinate Powers in War
The sovereign is the real author of war, which is carried on in his name, and by his order. The troops, officers, soldiers, and, in general, all those by whose agency the sovereign makes war, are only instruments in his hands. They execute his will and not their own. The arms, and all the apparatus of things used in war, are instruments of an inferior order. ...
Chapter III - Of the just Causes of War
Whoever entertains a true idea of war,—whoever considers its terrible effects, its destructive and unhappy consequences,—will readily agree that it should never be undertaken without the most cogent reasons. Humanity revolts against a sovereign, who, without necessity or without very powerful reasons, ...
Chapter IV - Of the Declaration of War,—and of War in due Form
The right of making war belongs to nations only as a remedy against injustice: it is the offspring of unhappy necessity. This remedy is so dreadful in its effects, so destructive to mankind, so grievous even to the party who has recourse to it, that unquestionably the law of nature allows of it only in the last extremity,— ...
Chapter V - Of the Enemy, and of Things belonging to the Enemy
The enemy is he with whom a nation is at open war. The Latins had a particular term (Hostis) to denote a public enemy, and distinguished him from a private enemy (Inimicus). Our language affords but one word for these two classes of persons, who ought nevertheless to be carefully distinguished. ...
Chapter VI - Of the Enemy’s Allies,—of warlike Associations,— of Auxiliaries and Subsidies
We have sufficiently spoken of treaties in general, and shall here touch on this subject only in its particular relations to war. Treaties relating to war are of several kinds, and vary in their objects and clauses, according to the will of those who make them. Besides applying to them all that we have said of treaties in general ...
Chapter VII - Of Neutrality,—and the Passage of Troops through a Neutral Country
Neutral nations are those who, in time of war, do not take any part in the contest, but remain common friends to both parties, without favouring the arms of the one to the prejudice of the other. Here we are to consider the obligations and rights flowing from neutrality. ...
Chapter VIII - Of the Rights of Nations in War,—and first, of what we have a Right to do, and what we are allowed to do, to the Enemy’s Person in a just War
What we have hitherto said concerns the right of making war:—let us now proceed to those rights which are to be respected during the war itself, and to the rules which nations should reciprocally observe, even when deciding their differences by arms. Let us begin by laying down the rights of a nation engaged in a just war:
Chapter IX - Of the Right of War, with respect to Things belonging to the Enemy
A state taking up arms in a just cause has a double right against her enemy,— I. a right to obtain possession of her property with-held by the enemy; to which must be added the expenses incurred in the pursuit of that object, the charges of the war, and the reparation of damages: ...
Chapter X - Of Faith between Enemies,—of Stratagems, Artifices in War, Spies, and some other Practices
The faith of promises and treaties is the basis of the peace of nations, as we have shewn in an express chapter (Book II. Ch. XV.). It is sacred among men, and absolutely essential to their common safety. Are we then dispensed from it towards an enemy? To imagine that between two nations at war every duty ceases, ...
Chapter XI - Of the Sovereign who wages an unjust War
He who is engaged in war derives all his right from the justice of his cause. The unjust adversary who attacks or threatens him,—who withholds what belongs to him,—in a word, who does him an injury,—lays him under the necessity of defending himself, or of doing himself justice, by force of arms: ...
Chapter XII - Of the Voluntary Law of Nations, as it regards the Effects of Regular Warfare, independently of the Justice of the Cause
All the doctrines we have laid down in the preceding chapter, are evidently deduced from sound principles,—from the eternal rules of justice: they are so many separate articles of that sacred law which nature, or the divine author of nature, has prescribed to nations. ...
Chapter XIII - Of Acquisitions by War, and particularly of Conquests
If it be lawful to carry off things belonging to an enemy, with a view of weakening him (§160), and sometimes of punishing him (§162), it is no less lawful in a just war to appropriate them to our own use, by way of compensation, which the civilians term expletio juris (§161). ...
Chapter XIV - Of the Right of Postliminium
The right of postliminium is that, in virtue of which, persons and things taken by the enemy are restored to their former state, now coming again into the power of the nation to which they belonged. ...
Chapter XV - Of the Right of private Persons in War
The right of making war, as we have shewn in the first chapter of this book, solely belongs to the sovereign power, which not only decides whether it be proper to undertake the war, and to declare it, but likewise directs all its operations, as circumstances of the utmost importance to the safety of the state. ...
Chapter XVI - Of various Conventions made during the Course of the War
War would become too cruel and destructive, were all intercourse between enemies absolutely broken off. According to the observation of Grotius,† there still subsists a friendly intercourse in war, as Virgil‡ and Tacitus§ have expressed it. The occurrences and events of war lay enemies under the necessity of entering into various conventions. ...
Chapter XVII - Of Safe-conducts and Passports,—with Questions on the Ransom of Prisoners of War
Safe-conducts and passports are a kind of privilege insuring safety to persons in passing and repassing, or to certain things during their conveyance from one place to another. From the usage and genius of the [French] language, it appears that the term “passport” is used, on ordinary occasions, ...
Chapter XVIII - Of Civil War
It is a question very much debated, whether a sovereign is bound to observe the common laws of war towards rebellious subjects who have openly taken up arms against him? A flatterer, or a prince of a cruel and arbitrary disposition, will immediately pronounce that the laws of war were not made for rebels, ...
Book IV - Of the Restoration of Peace; and of Embassies
Chapter I - Of Peace, and the Obligation to cultivate it
Peace is the reverse of war: it is that desirable state in which every one quietly enjoys his rights, or, if controverted, amicably discusses them by force of argument. Hobbs has had the boldness to assert that war is the natural state of man. But if, by “the natural state of man,” we understand (as reason requires that we should) ...
Chapter II - Treaties of Peace
When the belligerent powers have agreed to lay down their arms, the agreement or contract in which they stipulate the conditions of peace, and regulate the manner in which it is to be restored and supported, is called the treaty of peace. ...
Chapter III - Of the Execution of the Treaty of Peace
A treaty of peace becomes obligatory on the contracting parties from the moment of its conclusion,—the moment it has passed through all the necessary forms; and they are bound to have it carried into execution without delay.* From that instant all hostilities must cease, unless a particular day has been specified for the commencement of the peace. ...
Chapter IV - Of the Observance and Breach of the Treaty of Peace
The treaty of peace concluded by a lawful power is undoubtedly a public treaty, and obligatory on the whole nation (Book II. §154). It is likewise, by its nature, a real treaty; for if its duration had been limited to the life of the sovereign, it would be only a truce, and not a treaty of peace. ...
Chapter V - Of the Right of Embassy, or the Right of sending and receiving public Ministers
It is necessary that nations should treat and hold intercourse together, in order to promote their interests,—to avoid injuring each other,—and to adjust and terminate their disputes. And as they all lie under the indispensable obligation of giving their consent and concurrence to whatever conduces to the general advantage and welfare ...
Chapter VI - Of the several Orders of public Ministers,—of the Representative Character,—and of the Honours due to Ministers
In former days, people were scarcely acquainted with more than one order of public ministers, in Latin termed legati, which appellation has been rendered by that of “embassadors.” But when courts were become more proud, and at the same time more punctilious in the article of ceremony, ...
Chapter VII - Of the Rights, Privileges, and Immunities of Embassadors, and other public Ministers
The respect which is due to sovereigns should redound to their representatives, and especially their embassadors, as representing their master’s person in the first degree. Whoever offends and insults a public minister, commits a crime the more deserving of severe punishment, as he might thereby involve his country ...
Chapter VIII - Of the Judge of Embassadors in Civil Cases
Some authors will have an embassador to be subject, in civil cases, to the jurisdiction of the country where he resides,—at least in such cases as have arisen during the time of his embassy; and, in support of their opinion, they allege that this subjection is by no means derogatory to the embassadorial character: ...
Chapter IX - Of the Embassador’s House and Domestics
The independency of the embassador would be very imperfect, and his security very precarious, if the house in which he lives were not to enjoy a perfect immunity, and to be inaccessible to the ordinary officers of justice. The embassador might be molested under a thousand pretexts; his secrets might be discovered by searching his papers, ...
Essay on the Foundation of Natural Law and on the First Principle of the Obligation Men Find Themselves Under to Observe Law
Natural laws, natural jurisprudence, and moral science are three things that are often confused in ordinary language because they all three have the same object: to know how to order the customs and conduct of men. But in handling a topic clearly and securely it is necessary to separate out carefully those issues that are in reality distinct. ...
Dissertation on This Question: “Can Natural Law Bring Society to Perfection Without the Assistance of Political Laws?”
This question, proposed in 1742 by the Academy of Dijon, struck me as chosen with real wisdom; for any reliable and principled handling of this topic requires reflection on the foundation of the nature and goal of politics. Men are not often given the chance to undertake such researches. ...
Dialogue Between the Prince of ****and His Confidant, on Certain Essential Elements of Public Administration
It was the day of the crowning of the Prince of ****, who had been named as Successor to the Throne. The Count of ****, the Prince’s Confidant, entered the bedroom early in the morning. He found that the Prince had risen, and seeing that he appeared to be very busy, remained a little distance away. When the Prince looked up, the Count began to address him thus: ...
Biographical Sketches of Authors Referred to by Vattel
Ammianus Marcellinus (a.d. 330–95): A Greek from Antioch, Ammianus served as a soldier in the Roman army. He later wrote a history of Rome and on “civilitas,” the moral and institutional restraints that an emperor ought to observe. His work Res gestae libri was published in thirty-one volumes, of which only the last eighteen survive. ...