Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII: Effects of the Domain, between Nations. - 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.)
Return to Title Page for 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 Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER VII: Effects of the Domain, between Nations. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Effects of the Domain, between Nations.
§79. General effect of the domain.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. The full domain is necessarily a peculiar and exclusive right: for if I have a full right to dispose of a thing as I please, it thence follows that others have no right to it at all, since, if they had any, I could not freely dispose of it. The private domain of the citizens may be limited and restrained in several ways by the laws of the state, and it always is so by the eminent domain of the sovereign; but the general domain of the nation is full and absolute, since there exists no authority upon earth by which it can be limited: it therefore excludes all right on the part of foreigners. And as the rights of a nation ought to be respected by all others (§64), none can form any pretensions to the country which belongs to that nation, nor ought to dispose of it, without her consent, any more than of the things contained in the country.
§80. What is comprehended in the domain of a nation.The domain of the nation extends to every thing she possesses by a just title: it comprehends her ancient and original possessions and all her acquisitions made by means which are just in themselves, or admitted as such among nations,—concessions, purchases, conquests made in regular war, &c. And by her possessions, we ought not only to understand her territories, but all the rights she enjoys.
§81. The property of the citizens is the property of the nation, with respect to foreign nations.Even the property of the individuals is in the aggregate, to be considered as the property of the nation, with respect to other states. It, in some sort, really belongs to her from the right she has over the property of her citizens, because it constitutes a part of the sum total of her riches, and augments her power. She is interested in that property by her obligation to protect all her members. In short, it cannot be otherwise, since nations act and treat together as bodies, in their quality of political societies, and are considered as so many moral persons. All those who form a society, a nation, being considered by foreign nations as constituting only one whole, one single person,—all their wealth together can only be considered as the wealth of that same person. And this is so true, that each political society may, if it pleases, establish within itself a community of goods, as Campanella20 did in his republic of the sun. Others will not inquire what it does in this respect: its domestic regulations make no change in its rights with respect to foreigners, nor in the manner in which they ought to consider the aggregate of its property, in what way soever it is possessed.
§82.A consequence of this principle.By an immediate consequence of this principle, if one nation has a right to any part of the property of another, she has an indiscriminate right to the property of the citizens of the latter nation, until the debt be discharged. This maxim is of great use, as shall hereafter be shewn.
§83. Connection of the domain of the nation with the sovereignty.The general domain of the nation over the lands she inhabits is naturally connected with the empire: for in establishing herself in a vacant country, the nation certainly does not intend to possess it in subjection to any other power: and can we suppose an independent nation not vested with the absolute command in her domestic concerns? Thus we have already observed (Book I. §205) that in taking possession of a country the nation is presumed to take possession of its government at the same time. We shall here proceed farther, and shew the natural connection of these two rights in an independent nation. How could she govern herself at her own pleasure in the country she inhabits, if she cannot truly and absolutely dispose of it? And how could she have the full and absolute domain of a place where she has not the command? Another’s sovereignty, and the rights it comprehends, must deprive her of the free disposal of that place. Add to this the eminent domain which constitutes a part of the sovereignty (Book I. §244), and you will the better perceive the intimate connection existing between the domain and the sovereignty of the nation. And, accordingly, what is called the high domain, which is nothing but the domain of the body of the nation, or of the sovereign who represents it, is every where considered as inseparable from the sovereignty. The useful domain, or the domain confined to the rights that may belong to an individual in the state, may be separated from the sovereignty: and nothing prevents the possibility of its belonging to a nation, in places that are not under her jurisdiction. Thus many sovereigns have fiefs, and other possessions, in the territories of another prince: in these cases they possess them in the manner of private individuals.
§84. Jurisdiction.The sovereignty united to the domain establishes the jurisdiction of the nation in her territories, or the country that belongs to her. It is her province, or that of her sovereign, to exercise justice in all the places under her jurisdiction, to take cognisance of the crimes committed, and the differences that arise in the country.
Other nations ought to respect this right. And as the administration of justice necessarily requires that every definitive sentence, regularly pronounced, be esteemed just, and executed as such,—when once a cause in which foreigners are interested, has been decided in form, the sovereign of the defendants cannot hear their complaints. To undertake to examine the justice of a definitive sentence, is an attack on the jurisdiction of him who has passed it. The prince therefore ought not to interfere in the causes of his subjects in foreign countries, and grant them his protection, excepting in cases where justice is refused, or palpable and evident injustice done, or rules and forms openly violated, or, finally, an odious distinction made to the prejudice of his subjects, or of foreigners in general. The British court established this maxim, with great strength of evidence, on occasion of the Prussian vessels seized and declared lawful prizes during the last war.* What is here said has no relation to the merits of that particular cause, since they must depend on facts.
§85. Effects of the jurisdiction in foreign countries.In consequence of these rights of jurisdiction, the decisions made by the judge of the place within the extent of his power, ought to be respected, and to take effect even in foreign countries. For instance, it belongs to the domestic judge to nominate tutors and guardians for minors and idiots. The law of nations, which has an eye to the common advantage and the good harmony of nations, requires therefore that such nomination of a tutor or guardian be valid and acknowledged in all countries where the pupil may have any concerns. Use was made of this maxim in the year 1672, even with respect to a sovereign. The abbé D’Orléans, sovereign prince of Neufchatel in Switzerland, being incapable of managing his own affairs, the king of France appointed, as his guardian, his mother, the duchess dowager of Longueville. The duchess of Nemours, sister to that prince, laid claim to the guardianship for the principality of Neufchatel: but the title of the duchess of Longueville was acknowledged by the three estates of the country. Her counsel rested her cause on the circumstance of her having been nominated guardian by the domestic judge.* This was a very wrong application of a just principle: for the prince’s domestic residence could be no where but in his state: and it was only by the degree of the three estates, who alone had a right to chuse a guardian for their sovereign, that the authority of the duchess of Longueville became firm and lawful at Neufchatel.
In the same manner the validity of a testament, as to its form, can only be decided by the domestic judge, whose sentence delivered in form ought to be every where acknowledged. But, without affecting the validity of the testament itself, the bequests contained in it may be disputed before the judge of the place where the effects are situated, because those effects can only be disposed of conformably to the laws of the country. Thus the abbé D’Orléans above mentioned having appointed the prince of Conti21 his universal legatee,—the three estates of Neufchatel, without waiting till the parliament of Paris should pronounce their decision on the question of two contradictory wills made by the abbé D’Orléans, gave the investiture of the principality to the duchess of Nemours,—declaring that the sovereignty was unalienable. Besides, it might have been said on this occasion also, that the domestic residence of the prince could be no where but in the state.
§86. Desert and uncultivated places.As every thing included in the country belongs to the nation,—and as none but the nation, or the person on whom she has devolved her right, is authorised to dispose of those things (§79),—if she has left uncultivated and desert places in the country, no person whatever has a right to take possession of them without her consent. Though she does not make actual use of them, those places still belong to her: she has an interest in preserving them for future use, and is not accountable to any person for the manner in which she makes use of her property. It is, however, necessary to recollect here what we have observed above (Book I. §81). No nation can lawfully appropriate to herself a too disproportionate extent of country, and reduce other nations to want subsistence, and a place of abode. A German chief, in the time of Nero, said to the Romans, “As heaven belongs to the gods, so the earth is given to the human race; and desert countries are common to all,”* —giving those proud conquerors to understand that they had no right to reserve and appropriate to themselves a country which they left desert. The Romans had laid waste a chain of country along the Rhine, to cover their provinces from the incursions of the barbarians. The German’s remonstrance would have had a good foundation, had the Romans pretended to keep without reason a vast country which was of no use to them: but those lands which they would not suffer to be inhabited, serving as a rampart against savage nations, were of considerable use to the empire.
§87. Duty of the nation in this respect.When there is not this singular circumstance, it is equally agreeable to the dictates of humanity, and to the particular advantage of the state, to give those desert tracts to foreigners who are willing to clear the land and to render it valuable. The beneficence of the state thus turns to her own advantage; she acquires new subjects, and augments her riches and power. This is the practice in America; and, by this wise method, the English have carried their settlements in the new world to a degree of power, which has considerably increased that of the nation. Thus also the king of Prussia endeavours to repeople his states laid waste by the calamities of former wars.
§88. Right of possessing things that have no owner.The nation that possesses a country is at liberty to leave in the primitive state of communion certain things that have as yet no owner, or to appropriate to herself the right of possessing those things, as well as every other advantage which that country is capable of affording. And as such a right is of use, it is, in case of doubt, presumed that the nation has reserved it to herself. It belongs to her then, to the exclusion of foreigners, unless her laws expressly declare otherwise, as those of the Romans, which left wild beasts, fish, &c. in the primitive state of communion. No foreigner, therefore, has a natural right to hunt or fish in the territories of a state, to appropriate to himself a treasure found there, &c.
§89. Rights granted to another nation.There exists no reason why a nation, or a sovereign if authorised by the laws, may not grant various privileges in their territories to another nation, or to foreigners in general, since every one may dispose of his own property as he thinks fit. Thus several sovereigns in the Indies have granted to the trading nations of Europe the privilege of having factories, ports, and even fortresses and garrisons in certain places within their dominions. We may in the same manner grant the right of fishing in a river, or on the coast, that of hunting in the forests, &c. and when once these rights have been validly ceded, they constitute a part of the possessions of him who has acquired them, and ought to be respected in the same manner as his former possessions.
§90. It is not allowable to drive a nation out of a country which it inhabits;Whoever agrees that robbery is a crime, and that we are not allowed to take forcible possession of our neighbour’s property, will acknowledge, without any other proof, that no nation has a right to expel another people from the country they inhabit, in order to settle in it herself. Notwithstanding the extreme inequality of climates and soils, every people ought to be contented with that which has fallen to their share. Will the conductors of nations despise a rule that constitutes all their safety in civil society? Let this sacred rule be entirely forgotten, and the peasant will quit his thatched cottage to invade the palaces of the great, or the delightful possessions of the rich. The antient Helvetians, discontented with their native soil, burned all their habitations, and commenced their march, in order to establish themselves, sword in hand, in the fertile plains of southern Gaul. But they received a terrible lesson from a conqueror of superior abilities to themselves, and who paid still less regard to the laws of justice. Caesar defeated them, and drove them back into their own country. Their posterity, however, more wise than they, confine their views to the preservation of the lands and the independence they have received from nature: they live contented; and the labour of free hands counter-balances the sterility of the soil.
§91.nor to extend by violence the bounds of empire.There are conquerors, who, aspiring after nothing more than the extension of the boundaries of their dominions, without expelling the inhabitants from a country, content themselves with subduing them;—a violence less barbarous, but not less unjust: while they spare the property of individuals, they seize all the rights of the nation, and of the sovereign.
§92. The limits of territories ought to be carefully settled.Since the least encroachment on the territory of another is an act of injustice,—in order to avoid the commission of any such act, and to prevent every subject of discord, every occasion of quarrel, the limits of territories ought to be marked out with clearness and precision. If those who drew up the treaty of Utrecht22 had bestowed on so important a subject all the attention it deserved, we should not see France and England in arms, in order to decide by a bloody war what are to be the boundaries of their possessions in America. But the makers of treaties often designedly leave in them some obscurity, some uncertainty, in order to reserve for their nation a pretext for a rupture:—an unworthy artifice in a transaction wherein good-faith alone ought to preside! We have also seen commissioners endeavouring to overreach or corrupt those of a neighbouring state, in order to gain for their master an unjust acquisition of a few leagues of territory. How can princes or ministers stoop to dirty tricks that would dishonour a private man?
§93. Violation of territory.We should not only refrain from usurping the territory of others; we should also respect it, and abstain from every act contrary to the rights of the sovereign: for a foreign nation can claim no right in it (§79). We cannot then, without doing an injury to a state, enter its territories with force and arms in pursuit of a criminal, and take him from thence. This would at once be a violation of the safety of the state, and a trespass on the rights of empire or supreme authority vested in the sovereign. This is what is called a violation of territory; and among nations there is nothing more generally acknowledged as an injury that ought to be vigorously repelled by every state that would not suffer itself to be oppressed. We shall make use of this principle in speaking of war, which gives occasion for many questions on the rights of territory.
§94. Prohibition to enter the territory.The sovereign may forbid the entrance of his territory either to foreigners in general, or in particular cases, or to certain persons, or for certain particular purposes, according as he may think it advantageous to the state. There is nothing in all this, that does not flow from the rights of domain and sovereignty: every one is obliged to pay respect to the prohibition; and whoever dares to violate it, incurs the penalty decreed to render it effectual. But the prohibition ought to be known, as well as the penalty annexed to disobedience: those who are ignorant of it, ought to be informed of it when they approach to enter the country. Formerly the Chinese, fearing lest the intercourse of strangers should corrupt the manners of the nation, and impair the maxims of a wise but singular government, forbade all people entering the empire: a prohibition that was not at all inconsistent with justice, provided they did not refuse humane assistance to those whom tempest or necessity obliged to approach their frontiers. It was salutary to the nation, without violating the rights of any individual, or even the duties of humanity, which permit us, in case of competition, to prefer ourselves to others.
§95.A country possessed by several nations at the same time.If at the same time two or more nations discover and take possession of an island or any other desert land without an owner, they ought to agree between themselves, and make an equitable partition; but if they cannot agree, each will have the right of empire and the domain in the parts in which they first settled.
§96.A country possessed by a private person.An independent individual, whether he has been driven from his country, or has legally quitted it of his own accord, may settle in a country which he finds without an owner, and there possess an independent domain. Whoever would afterwards make himself master of the entire country, could not do it with justice without respecting the rights and independence of this person. But if he himself finds a sufficient number of men who are willing to live under his laws, he may form a new state within the country he has discovered, and possess there both the domain and the empire. But if this individual should arrogate to himself alone an exclusive right to a country, there to reign monarch without subjects, his vain pretensions would be justly held in contempt:—a rash and ridiculous possession can produce no real right.
There are also other means by which a private person may found a new state. Thus, in the eleventh century, some Norman noblemen founded a new empire in Sicily, after having wrested that island by conquest from the common enemies of the christian name. The custom of the nation permitted the citizens to quit their country, in order to seek their fortune elsewhere.
§97. Independent families in a country.When several independent families are settled in a country, they possess the free domain, but without sovereignty, since they do not form a political society. Nobody can seize the empire of that country; since this would be reducing those families to subjection against their will; and no man has a right to command men who are born free, unless they voluntarily submit to him.
If those families have fixed settlements, the place possessed by each is the peculiar property of that family: the rest of the country, of which they make no use, being left in the primitive state of communion, belongs to the first occupant. Whoever chooses to settle there, may lawfully take possession of it.
Families wandering in a country, as the nations of shepherds, and ranging through it as their wants require, possess it in common: it belongs to them, to the exclusion of all other nations; and we cannot without injustice deprive them of the tracts of country of which they make use. But let us here recollect what we have said more than once (Book I. §§81 and 209, Book II. §69). The savages of North America had no right to appropriate all that vast continent to themselves: and since they were unable to inhabit the whole of those regions, other nations might without injustice settle in some parts of them, provided they left the natives a sufficiency of land. If the pastoral Arabs would carefully cultivate the soil, a less space might be sufficient for them. Nevertheless, no other nation has a right to narrow their boundaries, unless she be under an absolute want of land. For, in short, they possess their country; they make use of it after their manner; they reap from it an advantage suitable to their manner of life, respecting which, they have no laws to receive from any one. In a case of pressing necessity, I think people might without injustice settle in a part of that country, on teaching the Arabs the means of rendering it, by the cultivation of the earth, sufficient for their own wants and those of the new inhabitants.
§98. Possession of certain places only, or of certain rights, in a vacant country.It may happen that a nation is contented with possessing only certain places, or appropriating to itself certain rights, in a country that has not an owner,—without being solicitous to take possession of the whole country. In this case, another nation may take possession of what the first has neglected; but this cannot be done without allowing all the rights acquired by the first to subsist in their full and absolute independence. In such cases it is proper that regulations should be made by treaty; and this precaution is seldom neglected among civilised nations.
[20. ] Tommaso Campanella, 1568–1639, unorthodox natural philosopher and theologian, wrote The City of the Sun (La città des sole, 1623) while imprisoned by the Inquisition.
[* ] See the report made to the king of Great Britain by Sir George Lee, Dr. Paul, Sir Dudley Ryder and Mr. Murray. It is an excellent piece on the law of nations. [[In his lectures on international law at Cambridge in 1887, Henry Summer Maine mentions this report: “The English Secretary of State at once addressed to him, for Prussia was a friendly Power at the time, a letter dated February 8, 1753, in which he dwells upon the unprecedented nature of the proceeding, and states that he has the King’s orders to send to the King of Prussia a report made to his Majesty by Sir George Lee, Judge of the Prerogative Court; Dr. Paul, his Majesty’s Advocate-General; Sir Dudley Ryder, and Mr. Murray—the Mr. Murray who afterwards became Lord Mansfield. The report in question is one of which British lawyers and the British Foreign Office have always been exceedingly proud. It is praised by two great foreign authorities of the time—Vattel and Montesquieu; they both of them speak of it as admirable; it is, in fact, a most excellent example of the method of reasoning of which International Law admits; and in the end the King of Prussia gave way to its arguments, and the interest on the Silesian loan was ever afterwards punctually paid.”]]
[* ] Memorial in behalf of the Duchess of Longueville, 1672.
[21. ] Armand de Bourbon, prince of Conti (1629–66). He was the second son of Henry II, prince of Condé (1588–1646), and the brother of both Louis II de Bourbon, prince of Condé (1621–86) and Anne Geneviève Bourbon Condé (1619–79).
[* ] Sicut coelum diis, ita terras generi mortalium datas; quaeque vacuae, eas publicas esse. Tacit. [[“As heaven is for the gods, so the earth has been given to mankind, and lands uninhabited are common to all.” Annales XIII]]
[22. ] The Treaty of Utrecht, actually a series of separate treaties, was signed in 1713/14.