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of the Seas


THERE must be some fundamental principles governing the relations of belligerents and neutral merchants; they cannot be regulated by a series of rules which have all the appearance of being haphazard, unless some recognized principle underlies them. But, even when Congresses meet for the express purpose of arriving at an agreement as to the rules, we look in vain for some statement as to what this principle is. Meanwhile, many undigested theories are advanced, based on very doubtful hypotheses. Of these the foremost, which has taken hold of many international lawyers, is that neutral commerce with the belligerents ought not to be interfered with, but must be allowed to continue in war as in peace, with exception only in the case of contraband of war and trade with blockaded places. On this the alleged right, as distinguished from treaty agreement, rests that "free ships" make "free goods.'

There is also much insistence on the doctrine that the rules of international law are based on the common practice of nations. If this means all nations, so great is the divergence in actual practice that few rules would survive. If it means the practice of many, or the majority of nations, then, in 1780, England would have been in a minority of one, and her supremacy at sea would have passed away. Yet there must be, and is, some test of right and wrong. It is to be discovered by a study of what nations did, as belligerents and neutrals, in time of war, and testing it by the motive which lay behind; for motive is more easily judged than action. The motives are written very plainly in history, abundant war profits for the neutrals, essential assistance to the enemy. Belligerent action, whether it were the seizure of contraband cargoes or of ships running B 2

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blockade, or the larger operations of commerce-destroying, has always been based on the necessity of preventing that assistance reaching the enemy. The standing illustration is the incessant dispute between England and France during the two years which preceded the declaration of war in 1778, when the professed object of the Cabinet at Versailles was to assist the American Colonies in their rebellion.

The historical method is essential to the understanding of what, for want of a better term, is called "International Law"; and the object of this little book is to give in outline the story of the different periods when England's action at sea was challenged by combinations of the Neutral Powers.

F. T. P.


THIS treatise is confined to the historical side of the question, and avoids any discussion of its controversial aspects, except in so far as these form part of its history. It is issued to the public as supplying an indispensable preliminary to the understanding of present conditions and international difficulties.


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