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Emer (Emmerich) de Vattel (25 April 1714 – 28 December 1767[1]) was an international lawyer. He was born in Couvet in Neuchâtel (now Switzerland) in 1714 and died in 1767 of edema[citation needed]. He was largely influenced by Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius. He is most famous for his 1758 work The Law of Nations. This work was his claim to fame and won him enough prestige to be appointed as a councilor to the court of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony.

Emer de Vattel
Emer de Vattel.png
Born(1714-04-25)25 April 1714
Died28 December 1767(1767-12-28) (aged 53)
Notable work
The Law of Nations
SchoolInternational Law
Main interests
International Law,


The Law of NationsEdit

Le droit des gens, 1775.
The cover page from The Law of Nations

Vattel's masterpiece was largely influenced by a book titled Jus Gentium Methodo Scientifica Pertractum (The Law of Nations According to the Scientific Method) by Christian Wolff. Vattel's work began, in fact, by translating Wolff's text from Latin, and adding his own thoughts. Vattel's work was also heavily influenced by Gottfried Leibniz and Hugo Grotius. Focused largely on the rights and obligations of citizens and states, Vattel's work also had ramifications for Just War Theory as it outlined international diplomacy as we now know it.[2]

Vattel elucidated the "Golden Rule of Sovereigns":

One cannot complain when he is treated as he treats others.[3]

English editionsEdit

Vattel’s Law of Nations was translated into English in 1760, based on the French original of 1758. A Dublin translation of 1787 does not include notes from the original nor posthumous notes added to the 1773 French edition. Several other English editions were based on the edition of 1760. However, an English edition from 1793 includes Vattel’s later thoughts, as did the London 1797 edition. The 1797 edition has a detailed table of contents and margin titles for subsections.[4]

Benjamin FranklinEdit

Charles W.F. Dumas sent Benjamin Franklin three original French copies of de Vattel's Le droit des gens (The Law of Nations). Franklin presented one copy to the Library Company of Philadelphia. On December 9, 1775, Franklin thanked Dumas: [5]

It came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising State make it necessary to frequently consult the Law of Nations.

Franklin also said that this book by Vattel, "has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress now sitting".[6][7]

George WashingtonEdit

Two notable copies of The Law of Nations owned by the New York Society Library have been associated with US President George Washington. One copy had been borrowed by Washington on 8 October 1789, along with a copy of Vol. 12 of the Commons Debates, containing transcripts from Great Britain's House of Commons. When the staff of the Washington museum at Mount Vernon heard about the overdue books, they were unable to locate them, but purchased a second copy of the de Vattel work for US$12,000. This identical copy was ceremoniously "returned" 221 years late on 20 May 2010. The library waived the unpaid late-fees.[8]

Other worksEdit

Vattel also published works other than his magnum opus. His last work was written in 1762 and concerned Wolff's natural law philosophy.[9]


Vattel was one of a number of 18th century European scholars who wrote on international law and were "well known in America" at the time, including Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, Cornelius van Bynkershoek, Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, Thomas Rutherforth, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Wolff. The Law of Nations has been described as "unrivaled among such treatises in its influence on the American founders".[10][11]

Vattel is also cited extensively in Lysander Spooner's The Unconstitutionality Of Slavery and appears to be a key Enlightenment thinker in Spooner's thought.

US Department of Defense 2015 Law of War ManualEdit

In 2015 the United States Department of Defense published its Law of War Manual. Vattel is cited after Hugo Grotius and before Francis Lieber and Hersch Lauterpacht as a subsidiary means and an authority in determining the rules of law of war.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Vattel, Emeric de" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Ignatieff, Michael (17 February 2002). "Barbarians at the Gates". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
  3. ^ Emer de Vattel (1916). Le droit des gens ou principes de la loi naturelle Appliqués à la conduite et aux affaires des Nations et des Souverains par M. de Vattel. II (Reproduction of Books III and IV of Edition of 1758). Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution. p. 79. Retrieved 12 April 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ Emer de Vattel (1844). The Law of Nations, Or the Principles of Law of Nature Apllied to the Conduct and the Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns with Three Early Essays on the Origin and Nature of Natural Law and on Luxury (PDF). Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson – via Library of Congress.
  5. ^ Emer de Vattel (1916). The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law Apllied to the Conduct and the Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns, Translation of the Edition of 1758 by Charles Fenwick with an Introduction by Albert de Lapradelle. III. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution. p. xxx. Retrieved 12 April 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ Emer de Vattel (1916). "Preface by James Brown Scott". Le droit des gens ou principes de la loi naturelle Appliqués à la conduite et aux affaires des Nations et des Souverains par M. de Vattel. I (Reproduction of Books I and II of Edition of 1758). Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution. p. 1a-2a. Retrieved 13 April 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  7. ^ U.S. Steel Corp. v. Multistate Tax Comm'n., 434 U.S. 452, 462 (1977).
  8. ^ "George Washington's 221-year overdue library book: A timeline", The Week, 21 May 2010, retrieved 3 May 2011
  9. ^ Questions de droit naturel, et observations sur le Traité du droit de la nature de M. le baron de Wolf, A Berne : Chez la Societé typographique (1762) Internet Archive
  10. ^ U.S. Department of State: Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State: America’s Founders were inspired by the ideas and values of early Swiss philosophers like Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui and Emer de Vattel, and the 1848 Swiss Constitution was influenced by our own U.S. Constitution. Swiss commitment to democracy is an example for nations and people everywhere who yearn for greater freedoms and human rights
  11. ^ Ramsey, Michael D. (14 October 2005). "Law of Nations as a Constitutional Obligation" (MS Word document). International Human Rights Colloquium. Georgetown University Law Center. Retrieved 4 May 2011. External link in |work= (help)
  12. ^ Office of General Counsel, Department of Defense (2016). Department of Defense Law War Manual (2nd ed.). Washington, DC. p. 35. Retrieved 16 April 2018.




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