You are on page 1of 1

Copy provided courtesy of: ProtectOurLiberty.


The Reception of Vattel’s Law of

Nations in the American
Colonies: From James Otis and
John Adams to the Declaration
of Independence
Gerber, Dominik Andréas
Ossipow, William
Published in American Journal of Legal History. 2017, p. 1-35

The treatise of the Swiss philosopher and jurist Emer de Vattel,
The Law of Nations (1758), is well known in the United States
and has attracted sustained scholarly atten- tion. Against the

widespread assumption that the reception of The Law of
Nations in America only started in 1775, this article establishes
that Vattel’s treatise was available on American soil already in

1762. This finding paves the way for inquiry into Vattel’s
intellectual authority in the revolutionary context from the
early pamphleteers to the Declaration of Independence.
Following a reception-based methodology that facilitates

robust inferences from patterns of intertextuality, this study
aims to make up for the gap in Vattel’s historiography
regarding the crucial period between 1762 and 1776. New
England, and the Boston area in particular, turn out to be the
hotbeds of Vattel’s reception. A special emphasis is put on the
central role of John Adams as a transmitter of Vattel’s thought
in the colonial discourse in spring 1776. In the great political

docu- ments of this time, most of which were written by

Adams or by patriots close to him, such as Richard Henry Lee,
a recurrent argument, called the Vattel-Adams argument, was

put forth, forging a claim on the loss of royal protection into a

justification of se- cession. The present study demonstrates that
this rationalization bears unmistakably Vattelian marks.
Furthermore, considering Thomas Jefferson’s mastery of

intertextual practice, it is argued that the first, second, and fifth

paragraphs of the Declaration can be robustly shown to contain
both immediately Vattelian hypotext and Lockean hypo- text
mediated by Vattel. Beyond its objective of uncovering a

hitherto neglected aspect of the revolution’s intellectual

underpinnings, this study offers a new perspective on the
intertextual complexity and density that characterize the

political documents of the revolutionary era.

Read/get copy of the above paper here:

Also see my collection of writings on
Vattel's Influence on U.S. Founders and Constitution's Framers:

You might also like