Another founder of our nation and framer of our Constitution, Benjamin Franklin, was also quite familiar and well versed with the writings of Vattel as early as 1775 when he wrote to Charles Dumas in the Netherlands and thanked him for sending Franklin 3 copies of the newest edition of Vattel (in French)
. Franklin commented to Dumas that his personal copy was in heavy demand by the other delegates to the Continental Congress meeting in 1775. Dumas had recently edited and published a new addition of Vattel (in the original French) in the Netherlands. Franklin and most of the founders were fluent in French which was the diplomatic language of that time. Dumas also made comments in his writings to Franklin about Vattel’s enlightened writings and vision for a new form of government for a nation where the people were sovereign and the unique opportunity for its application to the affairs in America in the colonies splitting from Great Britain. The words found in our Declaration of Independence mentioning the “Laws of Nature” and the phrase mentioning unalienable rights such as “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” are right out of Volume 1 of Vattel. As are the words of seeking a more perfect union in the Preamble of our Constitution were also inspired by the teachings and writings of Vattel. Thus it is quite evident that the founders read and used Vattel extensively. Here is a reprint of the letter from Franklin to Dumas thanking him for sending the books.
Benjamin Franklin to: Charles William Frederic Dumas
Philadelphia, 9 December, 1775.
I received your several favors, of May 18th, June 30th, and July 8th, by Messrs. Vaillant and Pochard;(1) whom if I could serve upon your recommendation, it would give me great pleasure. Their total want of English is at present an obstruction to their getting any employment among us; but I hope they will soon obtain some knowledge of it. This is a good country for artificers or farmers; but gentlemen of mere science in les belles lettres cannot so easily subsist here, there being little demand for their assistance among an industrious people, who, as yet, have not much leisure for studies of that kind.
I am much obliged by the kind present you have made us of your edition of Vattel. It came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising state make it necessary frequently to consult the law of nations. Accordingly that copy, which I kept, (after depositing one in our own public library here, and sending the other to the College of Massachusetts Bay, as you directed,) has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress, now sitting, who are much pleased with your notes and preface, and have entertained a high and just esteem for their author. Your manuscript “Idee sur le Gouvernement et la Royaute” is also well relished, and may, in time, have its effect. I thank you, likewise, for the other smaller pieces, which accompanied Vattel. “Le court Expose de ce qui s’est passe entre la Cour Britannique et les Colonies,” bc. being a very concise and clear statement of facts, will be reprinted here for the use of our new friends in Canada. The translations of the proceedings of our Congress are very acceptable. I send you herewith what of them has been farther published here, together with a few newspapers, containing accounts of some of the successes Providence has favored us with. We are threatened from England with a very powerful force, to come next year against us.(2) We are making all the provision in our power here to oppose that force, and we hope we shall be able to defend ourselves. But, as the events of war are always uncertain, possibly, after another campaign, we may find it necessary to ask the aid of some foreign power.
CDR Charles Kerchner
P.S. See this prior post I made about President George Washington consulting Vattel as America’s new President in 1789:
P.S.S. The legal treatise, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law, known as the Law of Nations for short, defined the term “naturel” or “natural born Citizen” as a person born in the country of parents (plural) who were Citizens of the country: