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America and the Law of Nations 1776-1939$
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Mark Weston Janis

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199579341

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199579341.001.0001

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Blackstone and Bentham: The Law of Nations and International Law

Blackstone and Bentham: The Law of Nations and International Law

(p.1) 1 Blackstone and Bentham: The Law of Nations and International Law
America and the Law of Nations 1776-1939

Mark Weston Janis

Oxford University Press

English jurist, William Blackstone's Commentaries, published between 1765 and 1769, transmitted the common law's traditional perception of the law of nations to American lawyers who would declare national independence, structure a government, and lead a New Republic. English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, displeased with Blackstone's law of nations, fashioned a new and lasting term international law in 1789, notably also the first year of US Constitutional government, Washington's inaugural term as President, and the French Revolution. Although Americans happily conflate the two terms, they have long struggled to reconcile Blackstone's and Bentham's competing notions about the nature of the discipline, however it be named. This chapter begins with Blackstone's use and understanding of the traditional concept of the law of nations. It moves on to the creation of Bentham's new term, international law, then to Bentham's reconciliation of international law with his views about law in general, contrasting Bentham's perceptions with those of his disciple, John Austin. I0074 presents Bentham's notions about the possible role of international law in a universal and perpetual peace. Finally, the chapter offers an analysis of some of the implications of Bentham's posited and widely accepted equivalence of international law and the law of nations. By understanding the important differences between Blackstone's classical concept of the law of nations and Bentham's influential conception of international law, we put ourselves in a better position to comprehend and appraise some of the conflicts among subsequent American approaches to the discipline. The general aim is to help explain how Americans have gotten to where they are with this discipline.

Keywords:   William Blackstone, law of nations, Jeremy Bentham, international law, John Austin

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