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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RECOGNITION. It is customary for princes to notify the states with which they hold relations of their accession to the throne. The same is the case with all new governments. As a rule, especially in the case of a prince who succeeds regularly and peaceably, this announcement is met by congratulations and sometimes by sending ambassadors, more or less extraordinary. At other times only an official certificate of the notification is given, and the receipt of it acknowledged. There are even cases in which, at the time of a change, no formality is employed; relations with the new government are entered upon, and it is thus recognized de facto.


—International recognition was formerly of much greater import than in our day. The dogma of national sovereignty had as yet been accepted by but a few daring innovators; and right, justice and law were summed up in the will of the prince. This was the period in which a haughty king could say: l'état, c'est moi.


—It is now admitted that a people is independent by its own right, exclusive of any recognition. Let an island arise in the Atlantic to-morrow; let people land and settle there; let them form themselves into an independent political society and choose a government; and that island would form a state as lawful and regular as any other. International recognition is at bottom only the authentication of a fact, an authentication which requires no formality. In entering into relations with Japan, with Burmah, or with any country, the remoteness of which preserves it from European enterprise, it never occurs to any one to begin by recognizing the government with which they are about to treat. It is sufficient that it exists, and in treating with it recognition is implied.


—In such cases as these, there could never be any doubt; but doubt has arisen sometimes, when, in consequence of internal revolution, one government has been replaced by another. The independence of the state is not called in question, but it is hoped to authenticate or legitimatize the new government by recognizing it, though often again family motives or interested motives may prevent this being done. The principle of national sovereignty, better understood, has silenced all these scruples. Recognition no longer implies approbation, and foreign countries are not obliged to distinguish between the government de jure and the government de facto. If the government appear established, if the nation accept it, and, above all, if it has appointed it, it has all the legitimacy necessary in order to be recognized.


—Thus recognition adds nothing to the right of existence of a state; it is only a means of facilitating international relations. A state which is not recognized is regarded as not existing for those which deem it expedient to remain a stranger to it; but if any inconvenience result from this lack of intercourse, both the states suffer. The injury is greater, however, to the state which refuses recognition than to the one which is deprived of it. Spain lost nothing from the fact that the emperor of Russia would not recognize Isabella II., while Nicholas I. made it impossible to exercise an influence over Spain. Besides, it was Russia which was destined to yield in the end, and, in such a case, the longer the sulkiness has lasted, the more it costs to effect a reconciliation.


—We have just been speaking of governments established in consequence of a profound change, violent or peaceful, in the constitution of a state. But before the new public powers are well established, several cases may occur, and we must review them. In the first place, there may be a "provisional government." A diplomatic official agent, ambassador or minister is never accredited to a provisional government; but power may be given to an agent more or less official to enter into relations with it, and to treat with it on all pressing matters. In reality, such an agent is an ambassador deprived of the honorary immunities customarily enjoyed by the representatives of foreign powers. However, many shades of difference are possible here. Then, two parties may be contending for power. As long as there is a doubt as to the definitive success, foreign governments recognize only the one to which its agents have been accredited. The new government does not as yet exist; there is, consequently, no occasion for recognizing it. Besides, if relations are prematurely entered into with the chiefs of an insurrection, the government still established would have a right to consider itself offended. When there is too much haste to recognize, it is often in order to aid or intervene. The third case to consider is, when a part of the territory, a province, or colony, wishes to detach itself from the state of which it has hitherto formed a part. If this territory be victorious in the contest, to the extent that its independence is recognized even by the state from which it has separated, foreign powers can have no doubt what to do: recognition is then a simple authentication of a patent fact. If peace have not been formally concluded, each foreign state will be able to estimate, at a given moment, if the territory which claims to be independent has acquired sufficient political stability to offer a guarantee for the future. But we must not lose sight of the fact that a state threatened with the loss of a province will always see with displeasure that the separation is looked upon as accomplished, and, according to circumstances, it will protest or declare itself offended. A powerful country will pay no attention to these complaints, but a weak country will act with prudence.


—We do not need to say that to recognize the independence of a country at the moment when the insurrection begins, constitutes a real casus belli. War will not be recoiled from, unless the insult come from too powerful a state.


—In 1861 a new situation was introduced into international law, the recognition of belligerents. We have had as yet but one example of this, that which recognized as belligerents the confederate states fighting to separate themselves from the United States. It will be understood that to recognize the southern states of the American Union as belligerents, was to close the English ports to war vessels from the northern states, which was an act of indirect hostility. Sympathy was extended to the confederates, not because their cause was considered just, but because their cotton was needed. We can not foresee what use may be made one day of this semi-recognition, the only example of which we have just cited, but we instinctively regard the precedent as a thing to be regretted. It may more than once encourage malcontents to revolt, without its being deemed expedient to come to their assistance otherwise than by this indirect aid, which we can not help regarding as a sort of intervention, perhaps without danger, but more generally without honor or profit.


—When one state does not recognize a change in the constitution of another, diplomatic relations cease, as in war, and the subjects of the disaffected states are commended to the good offices of an allied state; they are thus officiously (officieusement), using the term in a good sense, instead of officially, protected.


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