1902 Encyclopedia > Declaration of Paris

Declaration of Paris




DECLARATION OF PARIS, a diplomatic instrument or protocol signed by the representatives of all the powers present at the Congress of Paris in 1856, and subsequently accepted as a binding engagement of public law by all the other powers (except the United States of America, Spain, and Mexico), for the purpose of settling and defining certain rules of maritime law, in time of war, on points of great moment to belligerent and neutral states—points, it must be added, upon which the ancient law of nations had gradually undergone some change, and on which great differences of opinion and practice prevailed. The four propositions agreed to by the plenipotentiaries were embodied in the following terms :—

1. Privateering is and remains abolished.
2. The neutral flag covers enemy's goods, with the exception of contraband of war.
3. Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under an enemy's flag.
4. Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective,—that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient readily to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.

By most of the modern writers on international law these principles are regarded as a distinct gain to the cause of civilization, international justice, commerce, and peace. But a feeble and ineffectual attempt has been made to repudiate these new rules of maritime law, though they received the tacit assent of Parliament, and have been acted upon by all nations in the six wars which have occurred since 1856, including the American civil war, although the United States had not concurred in the Declaration. The American Government withheld its assent, not because it objected to these principles, but because it held that they did not go far enough, and that they ought to be extended to secure from capture all private property at sea. It is argued by the opponents of the Declaration that the British envoy at Paris exceeded his powers; that the form of the instrument itself is declaratory, but not binding either as a contract or a legis-lative act; that it is not competent to a congress to change the rights of belligerents founded on ancient law and usage ; and that Great Britain committed a fatal error in renouncing the right to seize enemy's goods in neutral ships and to equip privateers.





To these arguments it is said in reply that the British envoy at Paris had full powers to pledge the faith of the Crown, with the concurrence of the Cabinet, and that if Parliament disapproved his conduct, it ought to have been pressed to a division at the time, and not when Great Britain has enjoyed the benefit of the Declaration, as a neutral, for twenty years. It is a part of the prerogative of the Crown to fix our international relations, and to determine the conditions of maritime warfare. The most fitting and binding expression of international law (which cannot assume the form of positive law by sovereign enact-ment) is to be found in instruments recording in solemn form the consent of all civilized nations. On the ground of expediency, it is contended by the supporters of the Declaration of Paris, that Great Britain is, of all countries in the world, that which has most to gain by it, because she is not only the greatest naval power, but the power which has the largest number of merchant vessels and the largest amount of property afloat on the seas, and liable to attack.

The primary advantage of the Declaration no doubt accrues to neutrals, as it secures to them a larger carrying trade in time of war, and exempts them from the seizure of enemy's goods in neutral ships. Hence, if a belligerent were now to violate the rules of the Declaration, he would have to encounter the opposition of all neutral states, aud would speedily find them arrayed on the side of the enemy. But in the event of war, Great Britain is the state most exposed, by reason of the magnitude of her maritime trade, to the depredations of hostile cruisers ; the injury done is to be measured by the amount of the shipping and property exposed to it; aud a single cruiser of a small state may cause enormous losses to the commerce of a great power, as was seen in the American civil war. Since the establish-ment of a general system of railroads, the greater part of the trade of all the states of continental Europe can be carried on by land, either by direct communication or through neutral ports. The power of a naval state to inflict serious injury on an enemy by the interruption of her trade is therefore by the nature of things greatly diminished, and the same remark applies to commercial blockades. To England all foreign commodities must be brought by sea, and England is more dependent than any other country on foreign trade for the raw material of her manufactures, and even for the food of her inhabi-tants. It is therefore the paramount interest of England to keep open all the channels of trade, as much as possible, both in peace and war ; and injuries done to the trade of an enemy are often equally prejudicial to the state which inflicts them. These are some of the leading arguments which have been advanced in defence of the Declaration of Paris, and which no doubt actuated the authors of it.

A full account of the controversy will he found in the third volume of Sir Robert Phillimore's Commentaries on International Law, where the learned author supports and advocates the old traditions of the Court of Admiralty, and also in Hall's Eights and Duties of Neutrals (1874). The principles on which the Declara- tion of Paris is based are explained and defended in an article in the Edinburgh Review, No. 296. (H. R.)







Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries