Of those things, which ought to precede war.
I. HOWEVER just reason we
may have to make war, yet, as it inevitably brings along with it an incredible
number of calamities, and oftentimes acts of injustice, it is certain, that we
ought not to proceed too easily to a dangerous extremity, which may perhaps
prove fatal to the conqueror himself.
II. The following are the measures, which prudence directs to be
observed in these circumstances.
1. Supposing the reason of the war just in itself, yet the dispute ought
to be about something of great consequence; since it is better even to
relinquish part of our right, when the thing is not considerable, than to have
recourse to arms to defend it.
2. We ought to have at least a probable appearance of success; for it
would be a criminal temerity, to expose ourselves to certain destruction, and
to run into a greater, in order to avoid a lesser evil.
3. Lastly, there should be a real necessity for taking up arms; that is,
we ought not to have recourse to force; but when we can employ no milder method
of recovering our right, or of defending ourselves from the evils, with which
we are menaced.
III. These measures are agreeable not only to the principles of
prudence, but also to the fundamental maxims of sociability, and the love of
peace; maxims of no less force with respect to nations, than individuals. By
these a sovereign must therefore be necessarily directed; justice obliges him
to it, in consequence of the very nature and end of government. For, as he
ought to take particular care of the state, and of his subjects, he should not
expose them to the evils, with which war is attended, except in the last
extremity, and when there is no other expedient left but that of arms.
IV. It is not therefore sufficient, that the war be just in itself, with
respect to the enemy; it must also be so with respect to ourselves and our
subjects. Plutarch informs us, "that, among the ancient Romans, when the
Feciales had determined, that a war might be justly undertaken, the senate
afterwards examined whether it would be advantageous to engage in it."
V. Now among the methods of deciding differences between nations without
a war, there are three most considerable. The first is an amicable conference
between the contending parties; with respect to which Cicero judiciously
observes, "that this method of terminating a difference by a discussion of
reasons on both sides is peculiarly agreeable to the nature of man; that force
belongs to brutes, and that we never ought to have recourse to it, but when we
cannot redress our grievances by any other method."
VI. The second way of terminating a difference between those who have
not a common judge, is to put the matter to arbitration. The more potent indeed
often neglect this method, but it ought certainly to be followed by those, who
have any regard to justice and peace; and it is a way, that has been taken by
great princes and people.
VII. The third method, in fine, which may be sometimes used with
success, is that of casting lots. I say we may sometimes use this way; for it
is not always lawful to refer the issue of a difference, or of a war, to the
decision of lots. This method cannot be taken, except when the dispute is about
a thing, in which we have a full property, and which we may renounce whenever
we please. But in general, the obligation of the sovereign to defend the lives,
the honor, and the religion of his subjects, as also his obligation to maintain
the dignity of the state, are of too strong a nature to suffer him to renounce
the most natural and most probable means of his own security, as well as that
of the public, and to refer his case to chance, which in its nature is entirely
VIII. But if upon due examination he, who has been unjustly attacked,
finds himself so weak, that he has no probability of making any considerable
resistance, he may reasonably decide the difference by way of lot, in order to
avoid a certain, by exposing himself to an uncertain danger; which, in this
case, is the least of two inevitable evils.
IX. There is also another method, which has some relation to lots. This
consists in single combats, which have often been used to terminate such
differences, as were likely to produce a war between two nations. And indeed,
to prevent a war, and its concomitant evils, I see no reason, that can hinder
us from referring matters to a combat between a certain number of men, agreed
upon by both parties. History furnishes us with several examples of this kind,
as that of Turnus and Eneas, Menelaus and Paris, the Horatii and the Curiatii.
X. It is a question of some importance, to know whether it be lawful
thus to expose the interest of a whole state to the fate of those combats? It
appears on the one hand, that by such means we spare the effusion of human
blood, and abridge the calamities of war; on the other hand, it promiseth
fairer, and looks like a better venture, to stand the shock even of a bloody
war, than by one blow to risk the liberty and safety of the state by a decisive
combat; since, after the loss of one or two battles, the war may be set on foot
again, and a third perhaps may prove successful.
XI. However it may be said, that, if otherwise there is no prospect of
making a good end of a war, and if the liberty and safety of the state are at
stake; there seems to be no reason against taking this step, as the least of
XII. Grotius, in examining this question, pretends that these combats
are not reconcileable to internal justice, though they are approved by the
external right of nations; and that private persons cannot innocently expose
their lives, of their own accord, to the hazard of a single combat, though such
a combat may be innocently permitted by the state or sovereign, to prevent
greater mischiefs. But it has been justly observed, that the arguments, used by
this great man, either prove nothing at all, or prove at the same time, that it
is never lawful to venture one's life in any combat whatever.
XIII. We may even affirm, that Grotius is not very consistent with
himself, since he permits this kind of combats, when otherwise there is the
greatest probability, that he, who prosecutes an unjust cause, will be
victorious, and thereby destroy a great number of innocent persons. For this
exception evinces, that the thing is not bad in itself, and that all the harm,
which can be in this case, consists in exposing our own life, or that of
others, without necessity, to the hazard of a single combat. The desire of
terminating, or preventing a war, which has always terrible consequences, even
to the victorious, is so commendable, that it may excuse, if not entirely
justify those, who engage either themselves or others even imprudently in a
combat of this kind. Be this as it may, it is certain that in such a case
those, who combat by the order of the state, are entirely innocent; for they
are no more obliged to examine whether the state acts prudently or not, than
when they are sent upon an assault, or to fight a pitched battle.
XIV. We must however observe, that it was a foolish superstition in
those people, who looked upon a set combat, as a lawful method of determining
all differences, even between individuals, from a persuasion, that the Deity
gave always the victory to the good cause; for which reason they called this
kind of combat the judgment of God.
XV. But if after having used all our endeavours to terminate differences
in an amicable manner, their remains no further hope, and we are absolutely
constrained to undertake a war, we ought first to declare it in form.
XVI. This declaration of war, considered in itself, and independently of
the particular formalities of each people, does not simply belong to the law of
nations, taking this word in the sense of Grotius, but to the law of nature
itself. Indeed prudence and natural equity equally require, that, before we
take up arms against any state, we should try all amicable methods to avoid
coming to such an extremity. We ought then to summon him, who has injured us,
to make a speedy satisfaction, that we may see whether he will not have regard
to himself, and not put us to the hard necessity of pursuing our right by force
XVII. From what has been said it follows, that this declaration takes
place only in offensive wars; for, when we are actually attacked, that
alone gives us reason to believe, that the enemy is resolved not to listen to
XVIII. From this it also follows, that we ought not to commit acts of
hostility immediately upon declaring war, but should wait so long at least, as
we can without doing ourselves a prejudice, until he, who has done us the
injury, plainly refuses to give us satisfaction, and has put himself in a
condition to receive us with bravery and resolution; otherwise the declaration
of war would be only a vain ceremony. For we ought to neglect no means to
convince all the world, and even the enemy himself, that it is only absolute
necessity, that obliges us to take up arms for the recovery or defence of our
just rights; after having tried every other method, and given the enemy full
time to consider.
XIX. Declarations of war are distinguished into conditional and
absolute. The conditional is that, which is joined with a solemn
demand of restitution, and with this condition, that if the injury be not
repaired, we shall do ourselves justice by arms. The absolute is that,
which includes no condition; and by which we absolutely renounce the friendship
and society of him, against whom we declare war. But every declaration of war,
in whatever manner it be made, is of its own nature conditional;
for we ought always to be disposed to accept of a reasonable satisfaction, so
soon as the enemy offers it; and on this account some writers reject this
distinction of the declaration of war into conditional and absolute. But it may
nevertheless be maintained, by supposing that he, against whom war is declared
purely and simply, has already shown, that he had no design to spare us the
necessity of taking up arms against him. So far therefore the declaration may,
at least as to the form of it, be pure and simple, without any prejudice to the
disposition, in which we ought always to be, if the enemy will hearken to
reason. But this relates to the conclusion, rather than the commencement of a
war; to the latter of which the distinction of conditional and absolute
declarations properly belongs.
XX. As soon as war has been declared against a sovereign, it is presumed
to be declared at the same time not only against all his subjects, who, in
conjunction with him, form one moral person; but also against all those, who
shall afterwards join him, and who, with respect to the principal enemy, are to
be looked upon only as allies, or adherents.
XXI. As to the formalities, observed by different nations in declaring
war they are all arbitrary in themselves. It is therefore a matter of
indifference, whether the declaration be made by envoys, heralds, or letters;
whether the sovereign in person, or to his subjects, provided the sovereign
cannot plead ignorance of it.
XXII. With respect to the reasons why a solemn denunciation was required
into such a war, as by the law of nations is called just; Grotius pretends it
was, that the people might be assured, that the war was not undertaken by
private authority, but by the consent of one or other of the nations, or of
XXIII. But this reason of Grotius's seems to be insufficient; for are we
more assured, that the war is made by public authority, when a herald for
instance comes to declare it with certain ceremonies, than we should be, when
we see an army upon our frontiers, commanded by a principal person of the
state, and ready to enter our country? Might it not more easily happen, that
one, or a few persons, should assume the character of herald, than that a
single man should, of his own authority, raise an army, and march at the head
of it to the frontiers, without the sovereign's knowledge?
XXIV. The truth is, the principal end of a declaration of war, or at
least what has occasioned its institution, is to let all the world know, that
there was just reason to take up arms, and to signify to the enemy himself,
that it had been, and still was, in his power to avoid it. The declarations of
war, and the manifestos published by princes, are marks of the due respect they
have for each other, and for society in general, to whom by such means they
give an account of their conduct, in order to obtain the public approbation.
This appears particularly by the manner in which the Romans made those
denunciations. The person sent for this purpose took the gods to witness, that
the nation, against whom they had declared war, had acted unjustly, by refusing
to comply with what law and justice required.
XXIV. Lastly it is to be observed, that we ought not to confound the
declaration with the publication of war. This last is made in
favor of the subjects of the prince, who declares the war, and to inform them,
that they are henceforth to look upon such a nation, as their enemy, and to
take their measures accordingly.
1. See above, numb. xviii.
Next | Previous | Contents | Text