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From nations now civilized, but which Grotius knew only as barbarous; from nations which in his time were yet unborn; from every land where there are men who admire genius, who reverence virtue, who respect patriotism, who are grateful to those who have given their lives to toil, hardship, disappointment, and sacrifice, for humanity,—from all these come thanks and greetings heartily mingled with our
The time and place are well suited to the acknowledgment of such a debt. As to time, as far as the world at large is concerned, I remind you, not only that this is the first conference of the entire world, but that it has, as its sole purpose, a further evolution of the principles which Grotius first, of all men, developed thoroughly and stated effectively. So far as the United States is concerned, it is the time of our most sacred national festival—the anniversary of our national independence. What more fitting period, then, in the history of the world and of our own country, for a tribute to one who has done so much, not only for our sister nations, but for ourselves.
And as to the place. This is the ancient and honored city of Delft. From its Haven, not distant, sailed the “Mayflower”-bearing the Pilgrim Fathers, who, in a time of obstinate and bitter persecution, brought to the American continent the germs of that toleration which had been especially developed among them during their stay in the Netherlands, and of which Grotius was an apostle. In this town Grotius was born; in this temple he worshipped; this pavement he trod when a child; often were these scenes revisited by him in his boyhood; at his death his mortal body was placed in this hallowed ground. Time and place, then, would both seem to make this tribute fitting.
In the vast debt which all nations owe to Grotius, the United States acknowledges its part gladly. Perhaps in no other country has his thought penetrated more deeply and influenced more strongly the great mass of the people. It was the remark of Alexis de Tocqueville, the most philosophie among all students of American institutions, that one of the most striking and salutary things in American life is the widespread study of law. De Tocqueville was undoubtedly right. In all parts of our country the law of nations is especially studied by large bodies of young men in colleges and universities; studied, not professionally merely, but from the point of view of men eager to understand the fundamental principles of international rights and duties.
The works of our compatriots, Wheaton, Kent, Field, Woolsey, Dana, Lawrence, and others, in developing more and more the ideas to which Grotius first gave life and strength, show that our country has not cultivated in vain this great field which Grotius opened.
As to the bloom and fruitage evolved by these writers out of the germ ideas of Grotius I might give many examples, but I will mention merely three:
The first example shall be the act of Abraham Lincoln. Amid all the fury of civil war he recognized the necessity of a more humane code for the conduct of our armies in the field; and he entrusted its preparation to Francis Lieber, honorably known to jurists throughout the world, and at that time Grotius's leading American disciple.
My second example shall be the act of General Ulysses Grant. When called to receive the surrender of his great opponent, General Lee, after a long and bitter contest, he declined to take from the vanquished general the sword
which he had so long and so bravely worn; imposed no terms upon the conquered armies save that they should return to their homes; allowed no reprisals; but simply said, “ Let us
My third example shall be the act of the whole people of the United States. At the close of that most bitter contest, which desolated thousands of homes, and which cost nearly a million of lives, no revenge was taken by the triumphant Union on any of the separatist statesmen who had brought on the great struggle, or on any of the soldiers who had conducted it; and, from that day to this, north and south, once every year, on Decoration Day, the graves of those who fell wearing the blue of the North and the gray of the South are alike strewn with flowers. Surely I may claim for my countrymen that, whatever other shortcomings and faults may be imputed to them, they have shown themselves influenced by those feelings of mercy and humanity, which Grotius, more than any other, brought into the modern world.
In the presence of this great body of eminent jurists from the courts, the cabinets, and the universities of all nations, I will not presume to attempt any full development of the principles of Grotius or to estimate his work; but I will briefly present a few considerations regarding his life and work which occur to one who has contemplated them from another and distant country.
There are, of course, vast advantages in the study of so great a man from the nearest point of view; from his own land, and by those who from their actual experience must best know his environment. But a more distant point of view is not without its uses. Those who cultivate the slopes of some vast mountain know it best; yet those who view it
from a distance may sometimes see it brought into new relations and invested with new glories.
Separated thus from the native land of Grotius by the Atlantic, and perhaps by a yet broader ocean of customary thinking; unbiassed by any of that patriotism so excusable and indeed so laudable in the land where he was born; an American jurist naturally sees, first, the relations of Grotius to the writers who preceded him. He sees other and lesser mountain peaks of thought emerging from the clouds of earlier history, and he acknowledges a debt to such men as Isidore of Seville, Suarez, Ayala, and Gentilis. But when all this is acknowledged he clearly sees Grotius, while standing among these men, grandly towering above them. He sees in Grotius the first man who brought the main principles of those earlier thinkers to bear upon modern times,-increasing them from his own creative mind, strengthening them from the vast stores of his knowledge, enriching them from his imagination, glorifying them with his genius.
His great mind brooded over that earlier chaos of opinion, and from his heart and brain, more than from those of any other, came a revelation to the modern world of new and better paths toward mercy and peace. But his agency was more than that. His coming was like the rising of the sun out of the primeval abyss : his work was both creative and illuminative. We may reverently insist that in the domain of international law, Grotius said “Let there be light," and there was light.
The light he thus gave has blessed the earth for these three centuries past, and it will go on through many centuries to come, illuminating them ever more and more.
I need hardly remind you that it was mainly unheeded at first. Catholics and Protestants alike failed to recognize it.
* The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not."
By Calvinists in Holland and France, and by Lutherans in Germany, his great work was disregarded if not opposed; and at Rome it was placed on the Index of books forbidden to be read by Christians.
The book, as you know, was published amid the horrors of the Thirty Years' War; the great Gustavus is said to have carried it with him always, and he evidently at all times bore its principles in his heart. But he alone, among all the great commanders of his time, stood for mercy. All the cogent arguments of Grotius could not prevent the fearful destruction of Magdeburg, or diminish, so far as we can now see, any of the atrocities of that fearful period.
Grotius himself may well have been discouraged; he may well have repeated the words attributed to the great Swedish chancellor whose ambassador he afterward became,“ Go forth, my son, and see with how little wisdom the world is governed.” He may well have despaired as he reflected that throughout his whole life he had never known his native land save in perpetual, heartrending war; nay, he may well have been excused for thinking that all his work for humanity had been in vain when there came to his deathbed no sign of any ending of the terrible war of thirty years.
For not until three years after he was laid in this tomb did the plenipotentiaries sign the Treaty of Münster. All this disappointment and sorrow and lifelong martyrdom invests him, in the minds of Americans, as doubtless in your minds, with an atmosphere of sympathy, veneration, and love.
Yet we see that the great light streaming from his heart and mind continued to shine; that it developed and fructified