Main Menu

Archive | Emmerich de Vattel

Obama taught Vattel at The University of Chicago

President Obama, when an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Law School, taught a course  on Constitutional Law and one titled “Current Issues in Racism and the Law.” The New York Times published the syllabus for the latter back in July of 2008 in an article called “Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart.”

There are some interesting items in the reading list Obama gave his students. On the issue of the removal of Indians, he cited Vattel’s The Law of Nations. We don’t have the over 500-page reading packet itself, so we don’t know what the particular reading from Vattel was1. It is nevertheless instructive that then professor Obama picked such a source, which in modern times is rather obscure. Obama also included a reading about the Dred Scott case and the Slaughterhouse Cases (both having been cited in the Presidential eligibility debate). Of course no discussion of citizenships is complete without the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, both of which appear in the Obama syllabus.

While the Obama reading list is extensive, still it is remarkable that there is as much overlap between it and what we talk about on this site, and I do not think that this is a coincidence, because a discussion about racism is one of the practice of discrimination and exclusion and eligibility criteria are about the same thing.

1I suggest that the text might have been from The Law of Nations, Book 2:

§ 97 The savages of North America had no right to appropriate all that vast continent to themselves; and since they were unable to inhabit the whole of those regions, other nations might, without injustice, settle in some parts of them, provided they left the natives a sufficiency of land. If the pastoral Arabs would carefully cultivate the soil, a less space might be sufficient for them. Nevertheless, no other nation has a right to narrow their boundaries, unless she be under an absolute want of land. For, in short, they possess their country; they make use of it after their manner; they reap from it an advantage suitable to their manner of life, respecting which they have no laws to receive from any one. In a case of pressing necessity, I think people might, without injustice, settle in a part of that country, on leading the Arabs the means of rendering it, by the cultivation of the earth, sufficient for their own wants, and those of the new inhabitants.

Vattel, of course, had no notion of the vast size of the native population of the Americas before it was decimated by diseases from the European explorers.

Framer cites Vattel on citizenship

John Rutledge of South Carolina

One of the lesser-known framers of the US Constitution was John Rutledge of South Carolina. In addition to being one of the men who met in Philadelphia to draft the US Constitution, he was the first Governor of South Carolina and the second Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. It has been said by some that Rutledge was responsible for the Americans defeating the British during the Revolutionary War: he insisted that the Americans shoot from behind trees rather than standing out in the open.1 He also took with him to the Constitutional Convention a draft Constitution, about 1/3 of which was incorporated into the final document, and chaired the Convention’s five-member Committee of Detail that turned the debate into written language. Rutledge, the product of a London legal education, was appointed Chief Justice by Washington while the Senate was in recess, and he served until Congress adjourned because his appointment was not confirmed.

During the short term of Chief Justice Rutledge, the Supreme Court decided two cases, one of which included a question of citizenship, Continue Reading →

Re: Mr. Nussbaum

The tug of war continues between the denialists of President Obama’s eligibility for office and their opponents over the  role of Emmerich de Vattel, Swiss jurist and author of The Law of Nations (short English title of the French work) — one side attempting to drag him into obscurity and the other literally making him a god.

Vattel was an influential writer on international law, and his work highly respected at the time the United States came into being. The debate should, in my opinion, be focused on the narrow question of how influential Vattel was on the subject of citizenship, and what he said on that topic. Evidence of such influence is generally lacking.

The denialists have of late cited the work of Arthur Nussbaum, A Concise History of the Law of Nations, making a claim:

Vattel was by far the most quoted legal source in pleadings in American cases, by almost a factor of 4, between 1790 and 1820. (Nussbaums Concise History of the Law of Nations, 1962).

I was able to obtain a copy of the 1954 edition and used it to research the claim and to look more broadly on the question of Vattel’s influence on our topic of interest. Continue Reading →


I got the following email on the 10th, the day I left for vacation and only saw it this evening. I told this fellow in previous emails that I didn’t have time to deal with individual cranks, and that he should post on the blog.

This is basically a regurgitation of Apuzzo I think (although I haven’t read Apuzzo lately).

You’ve scoured the Internet and cannot find a single thing you say that backs my assertion? You must be blind indeed. Seeing that you act like a child then I shall treat you as one, doing YOUR homework since you admit lack of intellectual capacity. At the end of this rather lengthy letter I have some questions for you. I expect you to provide answers to MY questions.

First I shall DESTROY your argument with the English common law itself and play off YOUR suposition. I had originally thought there were no distinctions to be made in English common law but luckily… I was wrong. In the English common law itself there were laws that were created for the sole purpose of EXCLUDING those who were NOT born in England by English ParentS – again, plural. Continue Reading →

De Vattel reprise

Emer de Vattel

Emerich de Vattel, Swiss jurist and philosopher, has been a football in the Obama conspiracy game. One side wants to make him a “nobody” and the other wants to carve his face on Mount Rushmore as an American founder. The truth is in between.

I have written a bit already on Emerich de Vattel including these articles:

A birther example is that John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, cited de Vattel. Jay also referenced other political philosophers: John Locke,  Lord Sommers, and Dr. Priestly. De Vattel was one of several philosophers that provided input to the founders of our nation. When we see de Vattel cited by the courts, it is typically on the subject of international law (i.e. “the law of nations”).

Indeed, it is very, very unusual to see Emerich de Vattel cited favorably on the topic of American citizenship. For example, in James Kettner’s 1978 scholarly work, The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870, de Vattel is not mentioned a single time mentioned only once and that not in the context of the acquisition of citizenship!

There are four instances that I know of, where de Vattel was cited in regard to the acquisition of American citizenship. Continue Reading →

The wit and wisdom of Emerich de Vattel

Emer de Vattel

Almost unknown in modern times, the 18th century Swiss jurist and philosopher Emerich de Vattel became an instant celebrity in 2008 when his book The Law of Nations (partial English title of Le Droit des Gens. ou Principés de la Loi Naturelle, Appliqués à la conduite & aux affaires des Nations & des Souverains) was discovered to contain the magic phrase “natural born citizen” in a context that involved citizen fathers, something President Obama doesn’t have. Despite the fact that the English edition of de Vattel’s book available when the Constitution was written doesn’t have the words “natural born citizen” nor has anyone outside of a few minority and dissenting court opinions cited de Vattel on the acquisition of citizenship, still he forms the backbone of Obama denialism based on the President’s British citizen father.

The denialists go very far in raising the importance of de Vattel and The Law of Nations. They describe it as the basis for the US Constitution, sitting at the hand of each Founder for reference. And some go so far as to believe that the words “The Law of Nations” that appear in the Constitution insert de Vattel’s entire 4-volume work into the Constitution by reference.

It seems to me that if this Swiss writer and his book is so foundational to all that is American, then perhaps we should get to know them better, and this article seeks to do that. Following are some interesting items from The Law of Nations. (For earlier articles on this subject, see: The following should not be taken as sufficient to understand de Vattel’s complete thought on the subjects raised; it is a long work.

In the first example, we see that de Vattel would prohibit all of the anti-Obama blogs.

Book I

§ 114. Freedom of philosophical discussion.

I speak of the freedom of philosophical discussion, which is the soul of the republic of letters. … I know that liberty has its proper bounds –” that a wise government ought to have an eye to the press, and not to allow the publication of scandalous productions, which attack morality, government, or the established religion. [The Bill of Rights in the U. S. Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, including criticism of the government and religion. I believe that WorldNetDaily and the Post & Email blog would be the first against the wall in a republic governed by Mr. de Vattel.]

§ 127. Of religion internal and external.

Religion consists in the doctrines concerning the Deity and the things of another life, and in the worship appointed to the honour of the Supreme Being. So far as it is seated in the heart, if is an affair of conscience, in which every one ought to be directed by his own understanding: but so far as it is external, and publicly established, it is an affair of state. [The Bill of Rights in the U. S. Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion.] Continue Reading →