The Law of Nations

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The Law of Nations
Vattel - Le droit des gens, 1775 - 446.tiff
Cover page
Author Emerich de Vattel
Country Switzerland
Language French
Genre Political philosophy
Publication date
Published in English

The Law of Nations (French: Le droit des gens) is a work of political philosophy by Emerich de Vattel, published in 1758.[1]


The Law of Nations deals largely with political philosophy and international relations, and has been said to have modernized the entire theory and practice of international law.


Centuries after his death it was found that United States President George Washington had a number of overdue library books dating back over 221 years. One of them was The Law of Nations.[2][3]

Swiss editor Charles W.F. Dumas sent Benjamin Franklin three original French copies of the book. Franklin presented one copy to the Library Company of Philadelphia. On December 9, 1775, Franklin thanked Dumas:[4][5]

It came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising State make it necessary to frequently consult the Law of Nations.

Franklin also said that this book by Vattel, "has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress now sitting".[6][7]

It provides at least a partial legal basis for modern conscription in the United States.[8] In the Selective Draft Law Cases (1918), upholding the Selective Service Act of 1917, the court stated:

It may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government and its duty to the citizen includes the reciprocal obligation of the citizen to render military service in case of need, and the right to compel it. Vattel, Law of Nations, book III, cc. 1 and 2. To do more than state the proposition is absolutely unnecessary in view of the practical illustration afforded by the almost universal legislation to that effect now in force.

English editions[edit]

Vattel’s Law of Nations was translated into English in 1760, based on the French original of 1758. A Dublin translation of 1787 does not include notes from the original nor posthumous notes added to the 1773 French edition. Several other English editions were based on the edition of 1760. However, an English edition from 1793 includes Vattel’s later thoughts, as did the London 1797 edition. The 1797 edition has a detailed table of contents and margin titles for subsections.[9]


  1. ^ Le droit des gens ou Principes de la loi naturelle appliqués à la conduite et aux affaires des nations et des souverains. Tome 1 / par M. de Vattel, Londres : 1758 via Gallica; Le droit des gens ou Principes de la loi naturelle appliqués à la conduite et aux affaires des nations et des souverains. Tome 2 / par M. de Vattel, Londres : 1758 via Gallica
  2. ^ Washington Post
  3. ^
  4. ^ Emer de Vattel (1916). Charles Ghequiere Fenwick, ed. Le droit des gens. Carnegie Institution of Washington. p. xxx. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ U.S. Steel Corp. v. Multistate Tax Comm'n., 434 U.S. 452, 462 (1977).
  7. ^
  8. ^ Leach, Jack Franklin (1952). Conscription in the United States: Historical Background. Rutland, Vt.: C.E. Tuttle Pub. Co. p. vi. OCLC 1727243. 
  9. ^ English Editions of The Law of Nations, Online Library of Liberty. Retrieved May 8, 2011.

External links[edit]