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Hugo Grotius (1583–1645). The Rights of War and Peace. 1901.

Book III

Chapter XV: On Moderation in Acquiring Dominion

  • How far internal justice permits us to acquire dominion—Moderation, in the use of this right over the conquered, laudable—Incorporating them with the conquerors—Allowing them to retain their dominions—Placing garrisons therein—Imposing tributes or other burdens—Utility of such moderation—Change in the form of a conquered government—The conquered permitted to retain some part of their former liberties—Especially in matters of religion—Clemency to be shewn.

  • I. THAT equity and moderation towards individuals, which are so highly extolled, are still more deserving of admiration, when exercised towards nations and kingdoms; where injustice would be attended with more signal calamities, and moderation with more beneficial effects.

    In just war the right of dominion over a people, and the sovereign power, which that people possess, may be acquired as well as any other right. But the claims to such a right ought by no means to be prosecuted beyond indemnity for aggression, and security against future evils.

    But this motive, so necessary to be observed, especially in all treaties of peace, as well as in the use of victory, is often confounded with others. In other points a sovereign prince or state may relinquish a claim from a principle of moderation, but where the future security of their subjects is concerned, it is an act of cruelty rather than of moderation to relax too far in favour of a conquered enemy.

    II. Aristotle has, more than once, said, that war is undertaken for the sake of peace, and toil endured in order to obtain rest. And in the same manner, Cicero has observed, that men go to war, that they may live in peace without molestation and injury. War too, as we are instructed by the teachers of true religion, may be made, to remove every thing that interrupts, and stands in the way of peace.

    In the primitive ages, as we find from history, wars in general were made to preserve territories rather than to extend them. And any deviation from this rule was thought unlawful: thus the prophet Amos reproves the Ammonites for their love of making conquests.

    III. The prudent moderation of the ancient Romans approaches nearly to this model of primitive innocence. For although they made conquests, they mitigated the fate of the conquered by incorporating them with themselves.

    IV. Another mark of moderation in the use of victory is leaving to conquered kings, or nations the dominions, which they LAWFULLY held before.

    Polybius highly extols the merit and wisdom of Antigonus, who, having Sparta in his power, allowed the inhabitants to retain their national polity and freedom.

    V. Sometimes indeed a conqueror, though allowing a subjugated people to retain their dominion and sovereignty, must provide for his own security, by placing garrisons in their country.

    VI. Contributions too are frequently imposed and levied, not so much by way of indemnity for expences incurred, as for a future security between the conqueror, and the conquered country. Upon the same principle, as was before observed, in explaining the nature of unequal treaties, conditions may be imposed also requiring a conquered power to deliver up a certain number of her ships and forts, and to reduce her troops to a limited number.

    VII. But leaving to conquered powers a part or the whole of their dominions is not only sometimes an act of justice and humanity, but an act of sound policy also. Among other of Numa’s institutions, his manner of celebrating the rites of TERMINUS, the DEITY OF BOUNDARIES, is much commended; for he prohibited the use of blood in those ceremonies, as an intimation that nothing was more conducive to the peace and harmony of the world, than for every nation to confine herself within her proper bounds.

    In conformity to which maxim Florus observes, that it is more easy to make conquests than to keep them. To which rule Plato, in his third book of Laws, adapts the proverbial expression of Hesiod, that HALF IS BETTER THAN THE WHOLE.

    VIII. The Lacedaemonians and the Athenians anciently claimed no farther dominion over conquered cities and states, than purely wishing them to adopt forms of government like their own, the Lacedaemonians living under an aristocratic, and the Athenians under a democratic system. But whether such changes were conducive to a conqueror’s security, it is not to our present purpose to examine.

    IX. If it is not perfectly safe to forbear exercising ANY dominion over a conquered enemy, the matter may be so regulated as to leave him some portion of his former sovereignty and power. Thus among the Jews the sceptre remained with the Sanhedrim, even after Archelaus was deprived of his kingdom; and Alexander in many cases allowed Darius to remain a sovereign over others, while he required of him submission to himself.

    X. Even though a conquered power was deprived of all sovereignty, she might be allowed to retain some of her laws, privileges, and magistracies of inferior importance. Thus, Pliny, in his letters, informs us, that in the proconsular province of Bithynia, the city of Apamaea was allowed to regulate the form of her government at her own pleasure, and, in other places, the Bithynians were permitted to retain their own magistrates, and their own senate.

    XI. This indulgence ought to be shewn to every people, especially in their attachment to the religion of their forefathers, of which they should never be deprived but with their own consent and conviction. An indulgence, which Agrippa in his address to Caius, as cited by Philo in the account of his embassy, approves of, as highly grateful to the conquered people, and by no means prejudicial to the conqueror. At the same time a conqueror will take care that erroneous opinions do not prevail to the prejudice and overthrow of true religion, as was done by Constantine upon his crushing the party of Licinius, and afterwards by the Franks and other kings.