Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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FRONTIERS. The European system of balance of power places among the first elements of peace an equalization as perfect as possible of the territories and forces of the different states, thus condemning invasion of frontiers and conquest. Grotius (in book iii., chap. xv.) advises the state against too great an extension of territory. Vattel (book ii., chap. vii.) says that the frontiers of states should be carefully settled, since the least usurpation of foreign territory is unjust. Montesquieu (book ix., chap. vi.) writes of the defensive force of states as follows; "To have proper power a state must be of such size that there shall be due proportion between the rapidity with which an enterprise undertaken against it may be executed and the promptitute with which the state can baffle this attack." Among the laws of Numa is one which prohibits all shedding of blood at the sacrifices to the god Terminus; thus showing, says Plutarch, that there is nothing more efficacious in securing quiet and undisturbed peace than to remain within one's own boundaries, not to be obeyed, which amounts to saying that Numa directed men not to struggle for boundaries—a command just enough, perhaps, from the point of view of attack, but of little value when there is question of defense, and singular enough to find in the beginning of Roman society.


—Thus legislators and publicists, for different reasons, but reasons drawn from the independence of nations and the preservation of states, from sentiments of justice and the need of peace, have laid down as a principle the inviolability of frontiers, adding that to secure it in every way frontiers should not be too greatly extended. An excellent maxim for the recognition of this inviolability is in reality respect for the property of others. Inviolability of conscience, inviolability of domicile, inviolability of frontiers: these three principles flow successively from each other, and are the first sign and the greatest characteristic of civilization—A definitely marked and respected frontier is, with independence, the first condition of existence for a state. Grotius who had laid down the best principles on this subject, and Vattel who had developed Grotius at length, have both sought the surest rules for determining the frontiers of countries. Both these writers are most occupied with defensive frontiers, such as mountains, lakes, rivers, streams and the sea, which Grotius calls natural and sufficient boundaries. But these limits which seem to present most security still offer many subjects of quarrel between bordering states. The following are the principal rules laid down in this regard by the authors whom we have just named: If there is a river or a stream between two states, the boundary is in the middle of this river or stream, unless the first occupant had obtained possession of the entire watercourse and had made his exclusive right recognized by the people subsequently established on the opposite bank. Otherwise it is acknowledged that the two states bordering on the river meant to take the middle of the stream as frontier. In whatever way a navigable river is owned, navigation should be free for states on both banks; each has the right to erect defensive works, but is not allowed to construct any industrial establishments which may throw the current of the water toward the other side. If the stream makes alluvial deposits on one of its banks, this increase is to the profit of the favored side, without the middle of the river ceasing to serve as frontier. But in case of avulsion, that is to say, if an important portion of territory be torn away by the river which then flows over a certain extent of this invaded territory, the first proprietor retains his right to this piece of his property always recognizable, the river belongs to him altogether in so far as it occupies the place of the detached piece of land, and the middle of the old bed continues to serve as frontier. The same rules are applicable to lakes; the alluvial deposits are to the profit of the neighbor to whom the movement of the water brings them; but if the lake should enter into some valley and form a gulf there, the frontier line drawn through the lake in its old bed is not thereby displaced, and the gulf belongs altogether to the country where it is found. The course of a stream or river flowing from a lake may not be obstructed at its issue by the proprietor of the territory where the lake ends. This would be to expose the inhabitants along the higher banks of the lake of suffer from high water thrown back on their shores by too high a dam. On the other hand, the proprietor of the lower country might be exposed to serious damage by too abundant and rapid a flow of water. It is for the states menaced by these various dangers to agree to guard against them. The sea belongs to all nations, and a frontier line could not be determined anywhere as in lakes and rivers. Still, Bodin, in his "Republic," tried to establish as a principle that the ownership of each coast power extends over the open sea to a distance of thirty leagues from land. But to give this right a real existence it would be necessary for nations to recognize and enforce it. But their coasts, with the bays, roadsteads, ports and all the rights of fishing, salt works and establishments for commerce, industry and defense, belong naturally and indisputably to maritime countries. Straits which serve to connect two seas are considered free by right. They are declared common property like the open sea, and are not to be closed nor interfered with; in one word, they are not to belong in any way to any particular people. In 1667, when the United Provinces recognized implicitly in England, in accordance with her claims in the treaty of Breda, the sovereignty of the seas which surrounded her, by recognizing as of right particular honors to the English flag, Louis XIV, was formally opposed to naming the straits the English channel.


—Such are the most important principles established by publicists of authority concerning defensive frontiers. As to other boundaries we must appeal to the general principle recommended by Vattel, that too much care can not be shown in fixing boundaries. In fact, whenever this precaution has not been taken there have remained between neighboring states secret causes of misunderstanding which sooner or later produce their fatal effects. Vattel remarked that in consequence of not having followed this principle scrupulously in the treaty of Utrecht, France and England entered afterward into a disastrous war on the question of the boundaries of their respective possessions in America. In the nineteenth century a certain number of disputed boundaries have been settled or decided by arbitration, as, for example, in 1872, the ownership of the isle of San Juan near Vancouver's island, which had been in dispute since 1846.


—After having secured the safety of the nation, frontiers should not become a barrier separating it from the rest of the world and preventing its development. From this point of view they are becoming more and more effaced every day. Treaties of commerce and navigation, the need which each people feels of things lacking in its own country and abounding in others, the communication of ideas, and the diffusion of knowledge, all impel men to go out of their own country; and railways, steam navigation and telegraphs constrain them to open their frontiers at a thousand points in order to obtain free access to each other.


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