The Spanish Origin of International Law

The Spanish Origin of International Law

The Spanish Origin of International Law

The Spanish Origin of International Law


A book must be its own justification. The table of contents prefixed to the present volume may therefore be looked upon by the reader as an incentive to the text, whose purpose it is to state the services of Francisco de Vitoria and his relation to the law of nations. The volume, it is hoped, will not be considered special pleading, but it is nevertheless a volume with a thesis: that there was a Spanish school of international law in the sixteenth century, within forty years after the discovery of America; that the founder of this school was Francisco de Vitoria, prima professor of theology in the University of Salamanca; and that his two Relectiones, De Indis Noviter Inventis and De Jure Belli, set forth his law of nations, which was to become the international law not merely of Christendom but of the world at large.

The present is not an unworthy thesis. It attributes to the discovery of America the expansion of international law until it has become a universal rule of conduct. It proclaims an international community composed of all the nations, the vast majority being the small powers whose defence is righteousness, justice, and the moral standard. It gives to the great expounders of the modern law of nations, who have been silent for centuries, a voice and a control in the development of the science which they founded.

The readings of Victoria disclose that he could meet and discuss a question of international importance, even though his conclusions were opposed to the theories and practice of the Pope, the King, and the Holy Roman Emperor. In his Reading On the Indians he dealt with a question which, as he himself acknowledged, he had never heard discussed, as he had not attended Councils of State or similar gatherings of political advisers; nor had he read anything dealing directly with this subject. Without precedents he created precedents.

Victoria could analyse the conditions of his day, feeling the necessity for a community larger than Christendom, and foreseeing the international community of the future, even though its actual conditions must have been unknown to him--more unknown by far than they are to us.

His assertion that the righting of the wrong of a particular State should not be done if it involved a greater injury to the community at large was the view of a statesman as well as of a theologian; and his conception of the community of nations, coextensive with humanity and existing as a result of the mere coexistence of States, without a treaty or convention, is the hope of the future.

It is an integral portion of the thesis that Hugo Grotius, who has so many titles to remembrance, is, although a Netherlander, to be considered as a member of the Victorian or, as it is usually termed . . .

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