The law of nations and the balance of power: the influence of European thought on the founding fathers

Lang, Daniel George, Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foregin Affairs, University of Virginia
Thompson, Kenneth W., Woodrow Wilson Government and Foreign Affairs Department, University of Virginia
Claude, Inis L., Woodrow Wilson Government and Foreign Affairs Department, University of Virginia

Many writers have described the influence of seventeenth and eighteenth century European political ideas on the thought of the founders of the American republic, but few have specifically discussed the impact of the new science of international law and politics which developed during this period. This dissertation examines the nature of this science and its influence on the American founders as they made and debated American foreign policy.

The first part of the dissertation explores the development of this body of thought as a reaction to religious warfare and to the threat of universal monarchy. Thus, jurists like Vitoria, Grotius, Wolff, and Pufendorf shifted traditional just-war criteria from a religious to a natural rights base; similarly political theorists like Montesquieu and Hume defended the emerging balance of power system in Europe as an alternative preferable to universal monarchy. The Swiss diplomat Emmerich de Vattel brought both themes together in his work, The Law of Nations, which combined the universalism and categories of the just-war tradition with aspects of modern natural rights theory and praise for the European balance of power system, making a new synthesis.

The second part of the dissertation describes the context in which American diplomacy worked in the 1780's and 1790's, the interests which that diplomacy defended, and the arguments which American leaders advanced in making their claims. It shows that these men regularly drew on Vattel and the other writers on the law of nations and it demonstrates that they understood the operation of the balance of power. Alexander Hamilton is shown to have relied on the conservative nature of the law of nations to defend policy which sought to minimize conflict with Great Britain. On the other hand Thomas Jefferson and James Madison tried to enlarge the scope of the law of nations by taking advantage of the rivalry of Great Britain and France.

The final chapter outlines some of the factors which brought the "Age of Vattel" to a close with World War I, not the least of which were the criticisms of Woodrow Wilson, who attempted to re-work traditional American foreign policy themes into a vision of a new international order.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
United States -- Foreign relations -- 1775-1783, United States -- Foreign relations -- 1783-1815
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