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The Free Sea

Hugo Grotius

Publication Year: 2012

The freedom of the oceans of the world and coastal waters has been a contentious issue in international law for the past four hundred years. The most influential argument in favor of freedom of navigation, trade, and fishing was that put forth by the Dutch theorist Hugo Grotius in his 1609 Mare Liberum (The Free Sea).The Free Sea was originally published in order to buttress Dutch claims of access to the lucrative markets of the East Indies. It had been composed as the twelfth chapter of a larger work, De Jure Praedae (Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty), which Grotius had written to defend the Dutch East India Company’s capture in 1603 of a rich Portuguese merchant ship in the Strait of Singapore.Liberty Fund’s new edition of The Free Sea is the only translation of Grotius’s masterpiece undertaken in his own lifetime, left in manuscript by the English historian, Richard Hakluyt (1552–1616). It also contains William Welwod’s critique of Grotius (reprinted for the first time since the seventeenth century) and Grotius’s reply to Welwod. These documents provide an indispensable introduction to modern ideas of sovereignty and property as they emerged from the early-modern tradition of natural law.

Hugo Grotius is one of the most important thinkers in the early-modern period. A great humanistic polymath—lawyer and legal theorist, diplomat and political philosopher, ecumenical activist and theologian—his work was seminal for modern natural law and influenced the moral, political, legal, and theological thought of the Enlightenment, from Hobbes, Pufendorf, and Locke to Rousseau and Kant, as well as America’s Founding leaders.David Armitage is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard University. He is the author of The Ideological Origins of the British Empire and The Declaration of Independence: A Global History; the editor of Theories of Empire, 1450–1800; and the co-editor of The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800,Shakespeare and Early Modern Political Thought, and The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760–1840.

Richard Hakluyt (d. 1616) was a geographer, editor, and translator of travel literature. Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xx

Few works of such brevity can have caused arguments of such global extent and striking longevity as Hugo Grotius’s Mare Liberum (The Free Sea). The book first appeared in Leiden as a pocket-sized quarto volume from the famous publishing house of...

A Note on the Texts

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pp. xxi-xxiv

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pp. xxv

I am very grateful to Knud Haakonssen for his invitation to contribute this volume to the series “Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics” and for his advice and encouragement at every stage of the editorial process. This edition would not have...

Hugo Grotius, The Free Sea, p. 1

The Chapters of the Disputation, p. 3

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pp. 3-4

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To the Princes and Free States of the Christian World, p. 5

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pp. 5-9

It is no less ancient than a pestilent error wherewith many men (but they chiefly who abound in power and riches) persuade themselves, or (as I think more truly) go about to persuade, that right and wrong are distinguished not according to...

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Chapter I. By the law of nations navigation is free for any to whomsoever , p. 10

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pp. 10-13

Our purpose is shortly and clearly to demonstrate that it is lawful for the Hollanders, that is the subjects of the confederate states of the Low Countries, to sail to the Indians as they do and entertain traffic with them. We will lay this certain rule of the law of nations (which they call primary) as...

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Chapter 2. That the Portugals have no right of dominion over those Indians to whom the Hollanders sail by title of invention

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pp. 13-15

But that the Portugals are not lords of those parts whither the Hollanders go—to wit, of Java, Tabrobana1 and the greatest part of the Moluccas— we gather by a most certain argument, because no man is lord of that thing which neither he himself ever possessed nor any other in his name. These islands we speak of have, and...

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Chapter 3. That the Portugals have no right of dominion over the Indians by title of the Pope's gift

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pp. 15-17

Secondly, if they will use the division of Pope Alexander the Sixth, above all that is specially to be considered whether the Pope would only decide the controversies of Portugals and Spaniards, which surely he might do as a chosen arbitrator between them as the kings themselves had made certain covenants between...

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Chapter 4. That the Portugals have no right of dominion over the Indians by title of war

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pp. 17-20

These things therefore being taken away, seeing it is manifest (which even Victoria writeth) that the Spaniards’ sailing to those remote countries brought no right with them of possessing those provinces, one only title of war remaineth which, though...

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Chapter 5. That the sea or right of sailing on it is not proper to the Portugals by title of possession

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pp. 20-37

If then the Portugals obtained no right over the people, countries, and jurisdictions, let us see whether they can make the sea and navigation or traffic to be in their power. Let us first consider of the sea which, seeing it is everywhere said to be...

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Chapter 6. The sea or right of navigation is not proper to the Portugals by title of the Pope's gift

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pp. 38-39

The donation of Pope Alexander, which may be alleged in the second place by the Portugals challenging the sea or right of sailing only to themselves, seeing the title of invention faileth, is sufficiently convinced of vanity by that which hath been...

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Chapter 7. That the sea or right of sailing is not proper to the Portugals by title of prescription or custom

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pp. 39-49

The last defense of injustice is wont to be in prescription or custom. And the Portugals therefore come thronging hither, but the most certain reason of the law debarreth them of either defense. For prescription is from the civil law, wherefore it...

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Chapter 8. That trading is free by the law of nations among all or between any

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pp. 49-51

If the Portugals say that a certain proper right appertaineth unto them of exercising trade with the Indians they shall be confuted almost by the same arguments. We will briefly repeat them and apply them. This was brought in by the law of nations that all men should have free liberty of negotiation among themselves...

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Chapter 9. That merchandise or trading with the Indians is not proper to the Portugals by title of possession

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pp. 51-52

Invention or occupation hath not the first place here because the right of buying and selling is no corporal thing which may be apprehended. Nor should it profit the Portugals although they had been the first men which had traffic with the Indians...

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Chapter 10. That trading with the Indians is not proper to the Portugals by title of the Pope's donation

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pp. 52

No man granted it unless peradventure the Pope, who could not. For no man can grant that which is none of his own. But the Pope, unless he be temporal lord of the whole world (which wise men deny), cannot say that the universal right also...

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Chapter 11. That trading with the Indians is not proper to the Portugals by the right of prescription or custom

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pp. 53-54

Prescription remaineth, or custom, whether you please to call it. But that neither the one nor the other have any force among free nations or princes of divers nations, nor against those things which were brought in by the first original law, we have with Vasquius declared.1 Wherefore here also that the right of trading...

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Chapter 12. That the Portugals incline not to equity in forbidding trade

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pp. 54-56

By those things which have been spoken, their blind covetousness sufficiently appeareth who, that they may admit none to take part of the gain, go about to pacify their consciences with those reasons which the Spanish doctors (who are in the same...

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Chapter 13. That the right of the Indian trade is to be retained and maintained both by peace, truce and war,

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pp. 57-62

Wherefore seeing both law and equity required that the trade of India should be free for us as for any other, it remaineth that we wholly maintain that liberty which we have by nature, whether we have peace, truce or war with the Spaniard. For...

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William Welwod's Critique, "Of the Community and Propriety of the Seas,"

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pp. 63-74

Having of late seen and perused a very learned but subtle treatise (incerto authore) entitled Mare Liberum, containing in effect a plain proclamation of a liberty common for all of all nations to fish indifferently on all kind of seas, and consequently...

Hugo Grotius, "Defense of Chapter V of the Mare Liberum,"

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pp. 75-130


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pp. 131-136

Index, p. 137

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pp. 137-145

Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9781614877998
E-ISBN-10: 1614877998
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865974319

Page Count: 170
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None