Briggs, Herbert Whittaker

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Briggs, Herbert Whittaker

Herbert Whittaker Briggs was a prominent figure in the field of International Law where he made important contributions as a scholar and educator and served on the United Nations International Law Commission.

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1900, Briggs was one of a small group of American international lawyers in the twentieth century who did not hold a law degree. He received an A.B. from West Virginia University in Morgan-town, West Virginia, in 1921 and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1925. Over the next four years, he studied international law in Brussels, Belgium, and at the Hague Academy of International Law; served as a research associate at the Foreign Policy Association; and taught at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and at Johns Hopkins. In 1929, he joined the faculty at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he remained until his retirement in 1969. At Cornell, Briggs taught international law, international organization, and international politics as a member of both the Department of Government and the law faculty.

"The opinion that 'political' treaties should not be subject to rigid judicial analysis rests upon misconception and is belied by practice."
—Herbert Briggs

Briggs had a distinguished career as a scholar and editor. His best-known work was The Law of Nations: Cases, Documents and Notes (first published in 1938), which became a standard text in international law courses throughout the country. In addition, he was the author of The Doctrine of Continuous Voyage (1926), The International Law Commission (1965), two sets of lectures at the Hague Academy, and more than eighty articles on international law topics. Throughout most of his career, Briggs was closely associated with the American Journal of International Law, serving on the journal's board of editors from 1939 until his death and as editor in chief from 1955 to 1962. He was president of the American Society of International Law in 1959 and 1960.

In addition to his work as an educator and scholar, Briggs also had an active career as an international lawyer. From 1962 to 1966, he was a member of the United Nations International Law Commission. In 1968, he was named to the U.S. delegation to the Vienna Conference on the Law of Treaties. In addition, he served as counsel for Honduras, Spain, and Libya in four cases before the International Court of Justice. He also served as counsel for Canada and Chile in international arbitral proceedings. In 1975, he was one of five persons appointed by the governments of Great Britain and France to serve as a court of Arbitration to delimit a portion of the continental shelf in the English Channel. Commenting on Brigg's career, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel of the International Court of Justice said that in all these activities "he was very much the advocate and architect of a more effective international law."

Briggs died January 6, 1990, in Ithaca.