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The American Peace Society is not alone in this affair, as is abundantly testified by the numerous petitions presented to the last two sessions of Congress on this subject, not only by peace societies, but by men who are not members of any peace society, but who desire the happiness of their fellow-creatures, and the honor and prosperity of their country; and we expect that numerous petitions will be presented to Congress at their present session, if our fellow-citizens have not become discouraged by the neglect of their petitions last winter; for almost every one who understands the subject, readily gives his assent to it.
Deeply impressed with these views of the subject, your petitioners humbly pray that their petition may be committed to a special Committee, with directions to examine and report on the subject.
WILLIAM LADD, President.
J. P. BLANCHARD, John Owen,
Form of a Petition written and circulated by the Friends of Peace in
different parts of the country. To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States of America, in Congress assembled :
The undersigned, citizens of [Portsmouth, in the State of New Hampshire,] respectfully present the following Memorial and Petition:
It is a growing sentiment among men of all classes and professions, that international war is as needless as it is confessed to be ruinous to the resources and morals of a people. This opinion is now defended, not, as formerly, on religious grounds solely, and by the members of individual sects of Christians, but on grounds of general expediency and policy, and by many who view or treat the subject only in its political aspects. But with this progress of public sentiment, recent events have shown us that the causes of war are not removed; but our country was, during the last year, brought alarmingly near a state of hostility with the very power with which, of all others, a common parentage and language, and the closest financial and commercial relations, invite us to cultivate a pacific intercourse.
The most fruitful causes of war flow from the unsettled state of international law. The existence of international law is recognized, and its requisitions are professedly held as binding by all the civilized governments of Europe and America.
International law, in its original growth, has been justly compared to the common law of England and of most of these United States. It has no recognized code; but is the creature of precedent, and individual opinion and authority. It is, therefore, like the common law, ever in the process of creation. Of the latter, it has been said, with truth, that “the courts make it, instead of being governed by it.” And so may it be said of international law, that, while it is ostensibly the basis of all diplomatic intercourse, the nations make it by every new demand, compromise or treaty. A system of law, thus perpetually in transitu, must, of necessity, be indefinite, and liable to opposing constructions. Moreover, there must necessarily be, both within nations and between nations, however strict and thorough the statuary provisions, a common law, a law of precedent and authority, perpetually growing up. No codification can be so complete as to cover all possible cases, and to cut off the call for independent precedents and decisions.
Yet it seems to your petitioners a self-evident proposition, that a common law may, at a certain stage of its growth, have reached such a degree of complexity, and may have become so voluminous or miscellaneous in its authorities, as to demand codification, and also that it may become established (or capable of being established by a careful comparison of precedents) on a sufficient range of questions and subjects, to render such codification of the greatest value and advantage. To codify such a system of law, is not to arrest it in its progress towards completeness; but to facilitate its progress by writing its history.
This stage, it is believed by many eminent jurists, has been reached by the common law, so called ; and much has been of late wisely said and written with regard to its codification. Already in the State of Massachusetts is a commission, composed of gentlemen of the highest legal talents and attainments, engaged, under an act of the Legislature, in the codification of the common law. Nor do we deem it a merely fortuitous coincidence, but the result of analogous views and arguments, that the Legislature of that same enlightened State should have been, so far as we are informed, the first legislative body in the world to recommend by vote “ the institution of a Congress of Nations for the purpose of framing a code of international law."
Your petitioners believe that the law of nations is capable of being definitely settled on many points, on which it is still unsettled, and that
the good of the civilized world demands its early establishment and codification, so far as practicable. We reflect with alarm on the admitted fact, that the points of international law, on which opposing views led to our last war with Great Britain, still remain unsettled, and may involve us anew in hostilities with any future belligerent European power. We believe that the present interval of peace and amicable relations between the great powers of Christendom generally, would be eminently favorable to the prospective settlement of the possible grounds of future discord and hostility. We cannot but think, too, that the same disposition, whi has led the principal powers of Europe, in repeated recent instances, to adjust, by amicable negotiations, or by arbitration, disputes which, a quarter of a century ago, would have inevitably issued in sanguinary wars, would induce them to accede to any proposal, emanating from a source entitled to the highest regard and deference, for the establishment of a code of international law.
It is mainly in this view that we petition your honorable body to take into mature consideration the subject of a “Congress of Nations.” We would respectfully submit the question, whether it be not practicable for a body of accredited delegates from the civilized governments of Europe and America to be convened for the establishment of certain leading points of international rights, usage and intercourse. In proposing such a measure, and urging its practicability, we do not propose and urge an unprecedented measure, or one which requires any unwonted form of negotiation, in order for it to be carried into effect. We are, perhaps, unfortunate, in having given to this, our favorite measure, a new name. There have often been three or more parties to an international treaty; and such treaties have always been negotiated by a “Congress of Nations,” that is, by a convention composed of the accredited representatives of the several high contracting powers. Moreover, individual points of international law constitute a part or the whole of the subject matter of every treaty between two or more nations; and by every treaty, such points are settled for a season between the parties to the treaty. The measure, in behalf of which we yet hope to see the influence of our government exerted, is the negotiation of a treaty, to which there shall be as many parties as there are civilized and Christian governments, and which shall embrace all the points of international law which accumulated precedent and authority furnish the means of establishing to general satisfaction.
We look forward to the establishment of a system or law of arbitration for the settlement of future international disputes, as an ulterior result of the convening of such a “Congress of Nations," as would be
held for the purpose aforesaid. What that system or mode of adjustment would probably be — whether by the renewal from time to time with judicial functions of the Congress originally convened for legislative purposes (to which we are well aware that there are sound and weighty objections), or by defining, by general treaty, the rights, powers and duties of umpires of the respective parties to an arbitration — we do not presume to say. When we urge upon our legislators and others the project of a Congress of Nations, we include this object of the settlement of national disputes with the more definite one of the establishment of a code of international law; because the latter object is of course only auxiliary to the former, and because the latter must needs follow from any train of measures designed to carry the former into effect.
In petitioning your honorable body to take this subject into consideration, we are by no means unaware of the respectful attention paid by the last Congress to similar petitions, or insensible to the merits of the able and candid report presented to the House of Representatives June 13, 1838, by Mr. Legare, from the Committee on Foreign Affairs. We are encouraged still to petition by the very fact, that former petitions have not been presented in vain, but have called great and good minds into action upon a subject of so vital an interest.
We respectfully hope that ours and similar petitions may be the means of drawing out other minds on the same field of inquiry and argument; and also of chronicling on the records of Congress the progress, which we are well assured that the general mind of the American people has made since the presentation of the report just referred to, and which therefore its collective wisdom must indicate.
Petition to Parliament by the London Peace Society. The humble Petition of the Executive Committee of the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace,
Showeth,—That a Society for the promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace was formed in London, in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixteen. That this Society has attempted to effect this end, by diffusing information on the subject, showing that the resort to war, to settle questions of national profit and honor, is a practice derived from the barbarism of former ages; inconsistent with the en
lightened philanthropy of the present times; altogether contrary to the benign principles of Christianity; productive of extensive destruction of property, liberty, and human life, and of many other great miseries and corruptions: and usually inefficient for the purposes for which it is waged; and hence, that it is incumbent on all civilized, especially on all Christian communities, to devise measures for its complete suppression.
Your petitioners further show, that societies have been formed in the United States of America, in France, and in Switzerland, for the same purpose, which aim at this most desirable consummation, by precisely the same measures.
Your petitioners take this opportunity to state, that they have been strongly urged, by the American Peace Society, in consequence of the dispute now existing, in reference to the boundary line between the United States and the British territories, to unite with them in endeavoring to allay all angry passions and excited feelings, on a subject which ought to be decided by sound judgment and calm deliberation : and to use all constitutional means to prevent the outbreaking of war between two countries, bound together by so many ties of principle, affection, and interest.
Under a serious apprehension of the danger of a catastrophe so awful, your petitioners earnestly invite the calm consideration of your honorable House, to the principles of the acknowledged religion of this country, and to those petitions in the liturgy of the Established Church of this nation, which pray for the preservation of Peace; and they implore your honorable House to use all efforts which your wisdom may devise, to prevent a calamity so greatly to be deprecated, as a war between two nations of one blood, of one language, and of one religion.
Your petitioners beg leave to express their firm conviction, that all war is opposed to the spirit and precepts of Christianity, and is contrary to the true interests of nations; and that the time is come for the adoption of a more equitable and Christian method of settling international disputes.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray your honorable House to devise such measures as in its wisdom may seem best adapted, to induce all governments to unite in forming a great council, for the purpose settling the principles of international law and of organizing a High Court of Appeal, in which all national disputes may be adjusted.
And your petitioners will ever pray.