Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX: Of the Care of the Public Ways of Communication, and the Right of Toll. - The Law of Nations, Or, Principles of the Law of Nature, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns, with Three Early Essays on the Origin and Nature of Natural Law and on Luxury (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER IX: Of the Care of the Public Ways of Communication, and the Right of Toll. - Emer de Vattel, The Law of Nations, Or, Principles of the Law of Nature, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns, with Three Early Essays on the Origin and Nature of Natural Law and on Luxury (LF ed.) 
The Law of Nations, Or, Principles of the Law of Nature, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns, with Three Early Essays on the Origin and Nature of Natural Law and on Luxury, edited and with an Introduction by Béla Kapossy and Richard Whitmore (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Of the Care of the Public Ways of Communication, and the Right of Toll.
§100. Utility of high-ways, canals, &c.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, and to obtain the preference; an attraction is held out to foreigners, whose merchandises are carried through the country, and diffuse wealth in all the places through which they pass. France and Holland feel the happy consequences of this from daily experience.
§101. Duty of government in this respect.One of the principal things that ought to employ the attention of the government with respect to the welfare of the public in general, and of trade in particular, must then relate to the high-ways, canals, &c. in which nothing ought to be neglected to render them safe and commodious. France is one of those states where this duty to the public is discharged with the greatest attention and magnificence. Numerous patroles every where watch over the safety of travellers: magnificent roads, bridges, and canals, facilitate the communication between one province and another:—Lewis XIV. joined the two seas by a work worthy of the Romans.
§102. Its rights in this respect.The whole nation ought, doubtless, to contribute to such useful undertakings. When therefore the laying out and repairing of high-ways, bridges, and canals, would be too great a burthen on the ordinary revenues of the state, the government may oblige the people to labour at them, or to contribute to the expense. The peasants, in some of the provinces of France, have been heard to murmur at the labours imposed upon them for the construction of roads: but experience had no sooner made them sensible of their true interest, than they blessed the authors of the undertaking.
§103. Foundation of the right of toll.The construction and preservation of all these works being attended with great expense, the nation may very justly oblige all those to contribute to them, who receive advantage from their use: this is the legitimate origin of the right of toll. It is just, that a traveller, and especially a merchant, who receives advantage from a bridge, a canal, or a road, in his own passage, and in the more commodious conveyance of his merchandise, should help to defray the expense of these useful establishments, by a moderate contribution: and if the state thinks proper to exempt the citizens from paying it, she is under no obligation to gratify strangers in this particular.
§104. Abuse of this right.But a law so just in its origin frequently degenerates into great abuses. There are countries where no care is taken of the high-ways, and where nevertheless considerable tolls are exacted. A lord of a manor, who happens to possess a stripe of land terminating on a river, there establishes a toll, though he is not at a farthing’s expense in keeping up the navigation of the river, and rendering it convenient. This is a manifest extortion, and an infringment of the natural rights of mankind. For the division of lands, and their becoming private property, could never deprive any man of the right of passage, when not the least injury is done to the person through whose territory he passes. Every man inherits this right from nature, and cannot justly be forced to purchase it.
But the arbitrary or customary law of nations at present tolerates this abuse, while it is not carried to such an excess as to destroy commerce. People do not, however, submit without difficulty, except in the case of those tolls which are established by ancient usage: and the imposition of new ones is often a source of disputes. The Swiss formerly made war on the dukes of Milan, on account of some oppressions of this nature. This right of tolls is also further abused, when the passenger is obliged to contribute too much, and what bears no proportion to the expense of preserving these public passages.
At present, to avoid all difficulty and oppression, nations settle these points by treaties.