John Bassett Moore

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Moore, John Bassett


John Bassett Moore (1860–1947), the outstanding international lawyer of his generation, was born in Smyrna, Delaware. His father, John Adams Moore, was a prominent physician and for a time a member of the Delaware legislature; his mother, Martha Anne Ferguson, came from a family with classical interests, and Moore frequently said that one of his treasures was his mother’s copy of Liddell and Scott’s massive Greek—English Lexicon.

In 1870 Moore’s father, who had moved to the town of Felton, was one of the principal founders of the Felton Institute and Classical Seminary. Moore attended the Felton Seminary, as it was popularly called, and when ready for college chose the University of Virginia, partly because of the climate. He spent three years there, from 1877 to 1880, then studied law privately, and in 1883 was admitted to the Delaware bar. Two years later, when civil service examinations were held to fill the position of law clerk in the Department of State at Washington, Moore was one of the four young men who passed the examination. His selection for the post was certain because the then secretary of state, Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware, was a friend of the family. From 1886 to 1891 Moore served as third assistant secretary of state and then left Washington to join the faculty of Columbia University where, until his retirement in 1924, he was Hamilton Fish professor of international law and diplomacy.

Although Moore was often on leave from the university to perform public services, he never neglected his students—a score who took their doctoral degrees under him did notable service in Washington, on the faculties of law schools, and in political science departments. For six months in 1898 he was again assistant secretary of state. In 1913 he became counselor of the Department of State with power to sign as secretary, but he resigned the next year because he was critical of some phases of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy. He was repeatedly an American delegate to international

conferences. He served as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague, from 1912 to 1938 and (even though the United States was not a member of the League of Nations ) was a judge of the Permanent Court of International Justice from 1921 to 1928. The first group, he remarked in 1943, was more distinguished than the second, as they constituted only an “eligible list” of persons nominated by their governments to serve as members of a panel of arbitrators and “were not required at once, if ever, to abandon their usual pursuits and live a sacrificial life abroad” (The Collected Papers,vol. 7, p. 348).

Before he went to Columbia, Moore had published a good deal, principally on extradition and extraterritoriality. In 1898 he brought out the History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to Which the United States Has Been a Party; in 1905 he published the textbook American Diplomacy and, the following year, the monumental Digest of International Law. Thereafter, every treatise writer relied on “Moore’s Digest.” He continued his interest in arbitration and between 1929 and 1933 edited six volumes of International Adjudications, Ancient and Modern. Moore edited a 12-volume edition of The Works of James Buchanan (1908-1911).

Most of Moore’s minor writings were published in 1944 as The Collected Papers of John Bassett Moore. The arrangement is chronological: the first item is a previously unpublished Fourth of July speech that Moore had made in 1877 at the age of 17, and the last item a hitherto unpublished, brief monograph, “Peace, Law and Hysteria,” described as “a ‘dissertation’ chiefly written prior to 1936 and completed in 1943” (vol. 7, pp. 220-349). In between are addresses, articles from the law reviews and popular journals, books (e.g., the 1924 “International Law and Some Current Illusions” [vol. 6, pp. 1-280]), legal opinions given to clients, letters to newspapers, and 125 book reviews, whose urbanity sometimes softens devastating criticisms. The much-discussed 1933 article, “An Appeal to Reason,” is also included (vol. 6, pp. 416-464). Practically all of these “papers” demonstrate that Moore had a good classical education, that he was a learned historian, that he was steeped in great literature, that he had a keen wit, and that his career had enabled him not in frequently to participate in important events.

Moore did not seek involvement in the heated controversies over legal and political matters that followed World War I (he often asserted that this description was incorrect, that there had been previous world wars), but he never concealed his opinions. He adhered to traditional international law and was skeptical of attempts to “modernize” it. Throughout his life Moore was constantly aware of La Rochefoucauld’s maxim “The mind is the dupe of the heart,” and he seldom engaged in wishful thinking. His attitude toward the League of Nations Covenant was that expressed by Cardinal Fleury when he was shown the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s Projet de paix perpetuelle: “Admirable, Sire, save for one omission: I find no provision for sending missionaries to convert the hearts of the princes.” Moore repudiated “the notion that every alleged violation of international law gives to every member of the international community a right of action against the supposed violator. . . .” This, he maintained, “is no less a counsel of anarchy and confusion than would be the claim that every alleged infraction of municipal law gives to every individual in the domestic community a right of action against the alleged wrongdoer” ([1937] 1944, p. 142).

Moore thought that the search for “collective security” was doomed to failure. He declared that the Kellogg Pact “constitutes with its record, experience and reservations, the most sweeping concession ever made to undefined claims of interest and the right to defend them by force” ([1935] 1944, p. 44) and for the “new neutrality’ he had nothing but contempt. “The other day, when some one asked me what the ‘new neutrality’ meant,” he wrote in a letter to the New York Sun on Dec. 10, 1935, “I replied that, as its limitations appeared to be wholly emotional, it perhaps might be best defined in the terms of the ‘new chastity,’ which encouraged fornication in the hope that it might reach the stage of legalized prostitution. In other words, the ‘new neutrality’ appears to be intended to get us into war, which is in a special legal category, by acts which cannot be defended on legal or moral grounds” (ibid.).

When, during the Wilson administration, the government of the United States departed from its traditional policy of extending recognition to any new government that controlled its territory and promised to fulfill its obligations, Moore was horrified. He never believed in refusing to recognize a certain regime in order to show disapproval of its character and policies. He out lined at length his views on this matter in an address “Candor and Common Sense” before the Association of the Bar of the City of New York in December 1930 (The Collected Papers,vol. 6, pp. 340-368).

Moore received many foreign decorations and honorary degrees and was a member of the principal learned societies. Fellow lawyers and corporations

frequently retained him as special counsel, and from 1925 on he was a director of the Equitable Life Assurance Society. His private papers (including many boxes of correspondence) are in the Library of Congress and are much used by students of the diplomatic history of the period during which he was active.

Lindsay Rogers

[For the context of Moore’s work, seeInternationallaw.]


1898 History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to Which the United States Has Been a Party. 6 vols. Washington: Government Printing Office.

1905 American Diplomacy, Its Spirit and Achievements. New York: Harper.→ A revision and amplification of a series of articles that appeared in Harper’s Magazine.

1906 A Digest of International Law was Embodied in Diplomatic Discussion, Treaties and Other International Agreements . . . . 8 vols.Washington: Government Printing Office.

1908–1911 Buchanan, JamesThe Works of James Buchanan, Comprising His Speeches, State Papers, and Private Correspondence. Collected and edited by John Bassett Moore. 12 vols. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

1929–1933 Moore, JohnBassett (editor) International Adjudications, Ancient and Modern: Modern Series. 6 vols. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

(1935) 1944 The “New Neutrality” Defined. Volume 7, pages 43–45 in The Collected Papers of John Bassett Moore. Oxford Univ. Press; Yale Univ. Press.

(1937) 1944 The Dictatorial Drift. Volume 7, pages 136–149 in The Collected Papers of John Bassett Moore. Oxford Univ. Press; Yale Univ. Press.

The Collected Papers of John Bassett Moore. 7 vols. Oxford Univ. Press; Yale Univ. Press, 1944.→ A comprehensive bibliography of Moore’s works appears in Volume 7, pages 351–372.

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John Bassett Moore, 1860–1947, American authority on international law, b. Smyrna, Del. He was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1883. He was (1885–86) a law clerk in the Dept. of State and was (1886–91) an Assistant Secretary of State before becoming (1891–1924) a professor at Columbia. He represented the United States on several important international commissions. He was (1912–38) on the panel of the Hague Tribunal and was (1921–28) the first American judge on the World Court (the Permanent Court of International Justice). Moore believed that the system of alliances that grew up after World War I threatened to make every conflict worldwide and that maintaining neutrality would tend to localize wars. His History and Digest of International Arbitrations (6 vol., 1898), Digest of International Law (8 vol., 1906), and International Adjudications, Ancient and Modern (8 vol., 1937) are standard compilations. His other books include American Diplomacy (1905), Four Phases of American Development (1912), International Law and Some Current Illusions (1924), The Permanent Court of International Justice (1924), and Collected Papers (7 vol., 1945). He also edited the works of James Buchanan (12 vol., 1909–11).