U.S. Constitution

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Exerpts frm Vattel | Locke vs. Leibniz | Vattel's Natural Law | Law of Nations | Declaration of Independence | U.S. Constitution | Alexander Hamilton

"Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness, How the Natural Law Concept of G. W. Leibniz Inspired America's Founding Fathers."

The Law of Nations and The Constitution

Vattel

``We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.''
{--Preamble of The Constitution of the United States}

Emmerich de Vattel's text, "The Law of Nations" was crucial in shaping American thinking about the nature of constitutions.

To this day, Great Britain does not have a written constitution, but instead a collection of laws, customs, and institutions, which can be changed by either the Parliament or the monarchy, or by the ``Venetian'' financiers who are the real power over the British Empire. Consequently, the British constitution remains to this day little more than a mask for the arbitrary power of the oligarchy.

The only place of appeal which the American colonists had for unjust laws was to the King's Privy Council. Attempts by the colonists to argue that actions by the British Monarchy and Parliament were unlawful or unconstitutional would be stymied, if they stayed within this legal framework which was essentially arbitrary. Although Vattel praised the British constitution for providing a degree of freedom and lawfulness not seen in most of the German states, his principles of constitutional law were entirely different from the British constitutional arrangements. Consequently, the American colonists attacked the foundation of the King and Parliament's power, by demanding that Vattel's principles of constitutional law be the basis for interpreting the British constitution.

American writers quoted {The Law of Nations} on constitutional law, almost immediately after the book's publication. In 1764, James Otis of Massachusetts argued, in one of the leading pamphlets of the day, ``The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved,'' that the colonial charters were constitutional arrangements. He then quoted Vattel, that the right to establish a constitution lies with the nation as a whole, and the Parliament lacked the right to change the fundamental principles of the British Constitution. Boston revolutionary leader Samuel Adams wrote in 1772, ``Vattel tells us plainly and without hesitation, that `the supreme legislative cannot change the constitution,' `that their authority does not extend so far,' and `that they ought to consider the fundamental laws as sacred, if the nation has not, in very express terms, given them power to change them.'|'' In a debate with the Colonial Governor of Massachusetts, in 1773, John Adams quoted Vattel that the parliament does not have the power to change the constitution.

The adoption of a constitution, by the Constitutional Congress in 1787, based on Leibnizian principles rather than British legal doctrine, was certainly not inevitable. However, British legal experts such as Blackstone, who argued that the Parliament and King could change the constitution, were increasingly recognized by the Americans as proponents of arbitrary power. The early revolutionary leaders' emphasis on Vattel as the authority on constitutional law, with his conception that a nation must choose the best constitution to ensure its perfection and happiness, had very fortunate consequences for the United States and the world, when the U.S. Constitution was later written, as we will see below.

Alexander Hamilton

Part 6 of:
"Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness, How the Natural Law Concept of G. W. Leibniz Inspired America's Founding Fathers."
For the Introduction and Table of Contents, go to:

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