Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI: Trade with the East Indies does not belong to the Portuguese by title of prescription or custom - The Freedom of the Seas (Latin and English version, Magoffin trans.)
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CHAPTER XI: Trade with the East Indies does not belong to the Portuguese by title of prescription or custom - Hugo Grotius, The Freedom of the Seas (Latin and English version, Magoffin trans.) 
*The Freedom of the Seas, or the Right Which Belongs to the Dutch to take part in the East Indian Trade, *Translated by Ralph Van Deman Magoffin, Introduction by James Brown Scott, Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 1916).
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Trade with the East Indies does not belong to the Portuguese by title of prescription or custom
Last of all, prescription, or if you prefer the term, custom. 1 We have shown that according to Vasquez, neither prescription nor custom had any force as between free nations or the rulers of different peoples, or any force against those principles which were introduced by primitive law. And here as before, mere efflux of time does not bring it to pass that the right of trade, which does not partake of the nature of ownership, becomes a private possession. Now in this case neither title nor good faith can be shown, and inasmuch as good faith is clearly absent, according to legal rules prescription will not be called a right, but an injury.
Nay, the very possession involved in trading seems not to have arisen out of a private right, but out of a public right which belongs equally to all; so on the other hand, because nations perhaps neglected to trade with the East Indies, it must not be presumed that they did so as a favor to the Portuguese, but because they believed it to be to their own best interests. But nothing stands in their way, when once expediency shall have persuaded them, to prevent them from doing what they had not previously done. For the jurists 2 have handed down as incontestable the principle that where things arbitrable or facultative are such that they produce nothing more than the facultative act per se, but do not create a new right, that in all such cases not even a thousand years will create a title by prescription or custom. This, as Vasquez points out, acts both affirmatively and negatively. For I am not compelled to do what I have hitherto done of my own free will, nor am I compelled to stop doing what I have never done.
What moreover could be more absurd then to deduce from the fact that we as individuals are not able always to conclude a bargain with other individuals, that there is not preserved to us for the future the right of bargaining with them if opportunity shall have offered? The same Vasquez has also most justly said that not even the lapse of infinite time establishes a right which seems to have arisen from necessity rather than choice.
Therefore in order to establish a prescriptive right to the trade with the East Indies the Portuguese would be compelled to prove coercion. But since in such a case as this coercion is contrary to the law of nature and obnoxious to all mankind, it cannot establish a right. 1 Next, that coercion must needs have been in existence for so long a time that “the memory of its beginning does not exist”; that, however, is so far from being the case that not even a hundred years had elapsed since the Venetians controlled nearly the entire trade with the East Indies, carrying it via Alexandria. 2 Again, the coercion ought to have been such that it was not resisted; but the English and the French and other nations besides, did resist it. Finally, it is not sufficient that some be coerced, but it is indispensable that all be coerced, because the possession of freedom of trade is preserved to all by a failure to use coercion upon even one person. Moreover, the Arabians and the Chinese are at the present day still carrying on with the people of the East Indies a trade which has been uninterrupted for several centuries.
Portuguese usurpation is worthless.
[1 ]See chapter VII.
[2 ]On Digest XLIII, 11, 2; Balbus 4, 5 pr. qu. 1; Panormitanus on the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX, III, 8, 10; Digest XLI, 2, 41; Covarruvias in c. possessor. 2, § 4; Vasquius, Controversiae illustres c. 4, n. 10 and 12.
[1 ]Vasquius, Controversiae illustres c. 4, n. 11.
[2 ]Guicciardini, Storia d’Italia XIX.