Law of Nations

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Law of Nations

The body of customary rules that determine the rights and that regulate the intercourse of independent countries in peace and war.

Cross-references

International Law.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

LAW OF NATIONS. The science which teaches the rights subsisting between nations or states, and the obligations correspondent to those rights. Vattel's Law of Nat. Prelim. Sec. 3. Some complaints, perhaps not unfounded, have been made as to the want of exactness in the definition of this term. Mann. Comm. 1. The phrase "international law" has been proposed, in its stead. 1 Benth. on Morals and Legislation, 260, 262. It is a system of rules deducible by natural reason from the immutable principles of natural justice, and established by universal consent among the civilized inhabitants of the world; Inst. lib. 1, t. 2, Sec. 1; Dig. lib. 1, t. 1, l. 9; in order to decide all disputes, and to insure the observance of good faith and justice in that intercourse which must frequently occur between them and the individuals belonging to each or it depends upon mutual compacts, treaties, leagues and agreements between the separate, free, and independent communities.
     2. International law is generally divided into two branches; 1. The natural law of nations, consisting of the rules of justice applicable to the conduct of states. 2. The positive law of nations, which consist of, 1. The voluntary law of nations, derived from the presumed consent of nations, arising out of their general usage. 2. The conventional law of nations, derived from the express consent of nations, as evidenced in treaties and other international compacts. 3. The customary law of nations, derived from the express consent of nations, as evidenced in treaties and other international compacts between themselves. Vattel, Law of Nat. Prel.
     3. The various sources and evidence of the law of nations, are the following: 1. The rules of conduct, deducible by reason from the nature of society existing among independent states, which ought to be observed among nations. 2. The adjudication of international tribunals, such as prize courts and boards of arbitration. 3. Text writers of authority. 4. Ordinances or laws of particular states, prescribing rules for the conduct of their commissioned cruisers and prize tribunal's. 5. The history of the wars, negotiations, treaties of peace, and other matters relating to the public intercourse of nations. 6. Treaties of peace, alliance and commerce, declaring, modifying, or defining the pre-existing international law. Wheat. Intern. Law, pt. 1, c. 1, Sec. 14.
     4. The law of nations has been divided by writers into necessary and voluntary; or into absolute and arbitrary; by others into primary and secondary, which latter has been divided into customary and conventional. Another division, which is the one more usually employed, is that of the natural and positive law of nation's. The natural law of nations consists of those rules, which, being universal, apply to all men and to all nations, and which may be deduced by the assistance of revelation or reason, as being of utility to nations, and inseparable from their existence. The positive law of nations consists of rules and obligations, which owe their origin, not to the divine or natural law, but to human compacts or agreements, either express or implied; that is, they are dependent on custom or convention.
     5. Among the Romans, there were two sorts of laws of nations, namely, the primitive, called primarium, and the other known by the name of secundarium. The primarium, that is to say, primitive or more ancient, is properly the only law of nations which human reason suggests to men; as the worship of God, the respect and submission which children have for their parents, the attachment which citizens have for their country, the good faith which ought to be the soul of every agreement, and the like. The law of nations called secundarium, are certain usages which have been established among men, from time to time, as they have been felt to be necessary. Ayl. Pand. B. 1, t. 2, p. 6.
     As to the law of, nations generally, see Vattel's Law of Nations; Wheat. on Intern. Law; Marten's Law of Nations; Chitty's Law of Nations; Puffend. Law of Nature and of Nations, book 3; Burlamaqui's Natural Law, part 2, c. 6; Principles of Penal Law, ch. 13; Mann. Comm. on the Law of Nations; Leibnitz, Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus; Binkershoek, Quaestionis Juris Publici, a translation of the first book of which, made by Mr. Duponceau, is published in the third volume of Hall's Law Journal; Kuber, Droit des Gens Modeme de l'Europe; Dumont, Corps Diplomatique; Mably, Droit Public de l'Europe; Kent's Comm. Lecture 1.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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