Jeremy Bentham, Principles of International Law (1786-1789/1843)

The older phrase law of nations, according to Bentham, refers to a certain discursive space only through the force of custom, or convention. However, he believed that a more appropriate designation should go beyond mere convention. According to Bentham, the phrase law of nations is a sign relying on the mediation of convention. Without the convention, "the force of custom," the phrase law of nations might be understood as one designating the domestic, municipal law of diverse nations. On the other hand, Bentham explains, that international is a term that stands in no need of the mediation of custom and convention.  To put it more simply, Bentham proposed to replace the concept of the law of nations with that of the law between nations.

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Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758)

The Law of Nations had a particular impact on the American revolutionaries of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century. Vattel’s ideas were utilized to argue against the tax burden which the British Crown levied on the American colonies. Early American lawyers and jurists were exuberant Vattelophiles. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin received three copies of a new edition on behalf of the Continental Congress and, in thanking his friend Charles Dumas for sending them from the Netherlands, he remarked that they “came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising State make it necessary to frequently consult the law of nations” and that “[the book] has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress now sitting."

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Francisco de Vitoria, Relectiones (1538-1539)

War is essential in Vitoria’s work because Vitoria’s concept of sovereignty is elaborated mainly in terms of the sovereign’s right to wage war. As Vitoria constructs a law of nations, administered by the sovereign, he reintroduces Christian norms as universal rules endorsed by jus gentium. Evangelizing is authorized not by divine law but by the law of nations, and may be likened now to travelling and trading. Vitoria argues that “…ambassadors are inviolable in the law of nations (jus gentium). The Spanish are the ambassadors of Christendom, and hence the barbarians are obliged at least a fair hearing and not expel them.” Thus, acceptance of the Christian faith could not be forced and should not serve as an excuse for conquest.

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