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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INDEPENDENCE. "Every nation, as well as every individual, has the right not to allow any other nation to assail its safety or its integrity," says Vattel in his "Treatise on the Law of Nations," in the beginning of the chapter entitled. "On the law of safety, and the effects of the sovereignty and independence of nations." These few words contain the whole secret of the development and the life of nations. Self-preservation and improvement form the two-fold aim of true activity; independence to attain this end is a necessary right.


—A nation is a collective being, and all the ideas which we form of its rights, its duties, its action, its end, are derived from our knowledge of the human individual. Like the individual, it must apply itself to the preservation of its own existence, to the care of its interests, and to the development of its faculties. Hence, independence is, for the nation as for the individual, the primary law of its existence, and the first condition of development. If a nation desires to improve its institutions, it must have full liberty to change, if necessary, the basis of its constitution and its form of government. It must be sole and supreme judge upon this point. No power can be allowed to argue against it that the changes which it makes within itself are dangerous examples for its neighbors. Nor can any fault be found with it because it seeks to establish whatever is favorable to its progress. It possesses the right to develop in every sense of the word, and it can be stopped only when it encroaches upon the development of some other nation, and lays itself liable to the charge of hindering it in its natural development.


—Together with the right to improve its condition, a nation possesses the right to defend itself. A people has an absolute right to create what establishments it pleases, to develop and organize its forces, to multiply and improve all the means of action at its disposal, army, navy, fortresses, in order to provide for its safety. So long as it does not become aggressive, it is free to act, and if it does not feel itself inviolably guaranteed by the strict enforcement of international legislation, it has a right to provide for its own defense as it sees proper. This right results from the right of self-preservation, and is inseparable from the idea of independence.


—A nation may make treaties of peace, friendship, commerce and navigation, as also any alliances it may judge favorable to its interests. But a nation in enriching itself or in fortifying itself by alliances or otherwise, may give umbrage to neighboring nations; wherefore Martens, one of the foremost among modern publicists, has established certain rules of courtesy. According to him, every nation is bound to give satisfactory explanations of all preparations made and all enterprises undertaken with a view to its aggrandizement or security. Its conduct will be still more praiseworthy, if in certain cases it reply in anticipation to the questions which might be asked of it. It certainly would be well to observe these considerations, it being distinctly understood, however, that they must never constitute either a right of superiority or interference on the one hand, or a duty of condescension or feeling of inferiority on the other. But is it quite certain that these explanations will always constitute a perfect guarantee, or will it not frequently be necessary to a wait that reprobation with which public opinion more and more severely regards conquest, and which will one day secure to every man the free possession of his home?


—The idea of independence excludes the idea of the interference of one nation in the affairs of another; but when this interference is consented to by the other nation which is to profit by it, it is perfectly just and legitimate. In a word, independence guarantees to all nations that none of them shall be impeded in its development, to the end that each one may lend its aid to progress in every direction. This assistance, however, must not exceed what is necessary to procure the relief needed by the nation that is in distress. Vattel thinks that this interference should not go beyond the clear and precise terms of a treaty entered into beforehand. It must never by any means become a source of profit or aggrandizement for the nation which contributes the assistance required. A nation, in fact, has not only rights but also duties; and, to resume the parallel which we established in the beginning of this article between a nation and an individual, we believe that when it does not observe these duties and commits faults or crimes, it should be subjected to the inflictions of the decrees of the same justice in so far as this justice can be exercised when passing from an individual to a collective being. But a distinction must be made between the faults a nation commits outside its own boundaries and those committed at home. In the latter case its independence must be respected like the conscience of an individual. But when it is guilty of offensive acts against other collective beings living around it, then it is necessarily open to their vengeance and their repression.


—All nations are equal among themselves, for they all possess the same rights and the same-duties. Grotius is of opinion that all states have equal rights, no matter how unequal their strength. Baron de Wolf laid it down as a fundamental maxim that all nations are with respect to one another in a state of independence and natural equality. G. F. de Martens says that between nations as between individuals there is a perfect equality of natural and absolute rights. Equal rights necessarily imply equal duties. In virtue of their equality all nations are entitled to the same regard and respect, and no nation should be exposed to anything which might wound its personality. The independence of each must harmonize with the equality of all, and, in like manner, the independence of all with the equality of each.


—Every nation has the right to recognize or to refuse to recognize the government which another nation has adopted, the sovereign whom it has chosen, or the title which this sovereign assumes. But equality exacts that no nation be made to suffer for the changes it may see proper to make in its own state, provided it does not cause detriment to any other nation.


—It is customary for a sovereign or his representative when traveling outside his own territory to receive certain honors; but these can not be exacted of a people, who, without any feeling of contempt whatever, do not consider themselves bound to give such tokens of attention; nor of a nation whose manners and constitution forbid too great a deference to crowned heads. An illustration of this latter case might be found in a republic. In Switzerland, for example, honors, particularly military honors, are never accorded to any monarch traversing the territory or sojourning therein. It may, however, happen that the sovereign in question will receive a visit of high courtesy from some members of a cantonal government or from the president of the federal council. The United States follow about the same rule, though they seem to find no difficulty in departing from this custom according to circumstances.


—The right of precedence has sometimes caused ruptures between governments and produced wars, because pride, presumption and vanity have often taken the place of a sentiment of equality. When carried to such as extreme, the exactions of rank are at once puerile and cruel. But men are more frequently prompted to action by their rights than they are actuated by a sense of their duty, and hence it is necessary to establish rules and customs in order to prevent contests. Formerly these rules were numerous and often whimsical; but most of them have now fallen into discredit. There are in our time too serious interests to discuss, for nations to insist upon details dictated by vanity.


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