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Field rejects the legal status of natural law

The influential lawyer and legal reformer David Dudley Field gave an address to the Social Science Association in 1866. The title of his talk was “An International Code.”

In that address, Field made the following interesting comments about writers on international law, and I think it applies directly to the writings of Emerich de Vattel:

Who made these rules, or this international law if you so call it, is explained by the definition which I have given. It was made by the nations themselves, either through express compact with each other or through general practice; that is to say: by treaty or by usage. Publicists, I know, looking beyond the rules so made or sanctioned, have sought in those moral precepts by which nations, not less than individuals, ought to be governed in their intercourse with each other for guides in other circumstances; and statesmen and diplomatists have often fortified their arguments by reference to such opinions, and it has thus frequently happened that those precepts have been gradually adopted into the usage of nations. These views of the publicists are, however, to be regarded rather as suggestions of what ought to be the conduct of nations in particular circumstances than as a statement of established rules. They are entitled to the same weight in the decision of national disputes as a treatise on natural law is entitled to in the decision of a case by the courts of America or England. [Emphasis added.]

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