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Vattel, Emerich De (1714–1767)

VATTEL, EMERICH DE (1714–1767)

Emerich de Vattel, the Swiss-born statesman and theorist of limited government, wrote his Law of Nations (1758) as an attempt to explain international law on the basis of natural rights. He argued that men compacted to form sovereign states, and the state ordained a constitution superior to any prince or legislature. Vattel reasoned that because the "legislature derives its power from the constitution, it cannot overleap the bounds of it without destroying its own foundation"—and this maxim was frequently cited by American revolutionary leaders including james otis and samuel adams. Even more important for American constitutional thought was his assertion, often quoted by james madison, that states joining a federal union retained their sovereignty but were nevertheless bound by the terms of the union.

Dennis J. Mahoney

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