Emerich De Vattel
The Swiss writer, Emerich de Vattel, published his book, 'The Law of Nations', in 1760, shortly before Cook's first voyage took him to the eastern coast of Australia. His discussion provided some justification for the takeover of inhabited lands, based on what he argued was the necessity to cultivate the soil.
But he also indicated important limits. One limit was that the colonising nation must first have made the fullest economic use of its own lands. The second limit was that, in colonising lands inhabited by people who did not cultivate the soil, the newcomers were entitled to take over portion of the territory, but not all of it.
'The cultivation of the soil deserves the attention of the government, not only on account of the invaluable advantages that flow from it, but from its being an obligation imposed by nature on mankind. The whole earth is destined to feed its inhabitants; but this it would be incapable of doing if it were uncultivated. Every nation is then obliged by the law of nature to cultivate the land that has fallen to its share; and it has no right to enlarge its boundaries, or have recourse to the assistance of other nations, but in proportion as the land in its possession is incapable of furnishing it with necessaries.'
'There are [peoples] who, to avoid labour, choose to live only by hunting, and their flocks. This might, doubtless, be allowed in the first ages of the world, when the earth, without cultivation, produced more than was sufficient to feed its small number of inhabitants. But at present, when the human race is so greatly multiplied, it could not subsist if all nations were disposed to live in that manner. Those who still pursue this idle mode of life, usurp more extensive territories than, with a reasonable share of labour, they would have occasion for, and have, therefore, no reason to complain, if other nations, more industrious and too closely confined, come to take possession of a part of those lands. Thus, though the conquest of the civilised empires of Peru and Mexico was a notorious usurpation, the establishment of many colonies on the continent of North America might, on their confining themselves within just bounds, be extremely lawful. The people of those extensive tracts rather ranged through than inhabited them-'
'There is another celebrated question, to which the discovery of the New World has principally given rise. It is asked whether a nation may lawfully take possession of some part of a vast country, in which there are none but erratic nations whose scanty population is incapable of occupying the whole! We have already observed, in establishing the obligation to cultivate the earth, that those nations cannot exclusively appropriate to themselves more land than they have occasion for, or more than they are able to settle and cultivate. Their unsettled habitation in those immense regions cannot be accounted a true and legal possession; and the people of Europe, too closely pent up at home, finding land of which the savages stood in no particular need, and of which they made no actual and constant use, were lawfully entitled to take possession of it and settle it with colonies... We do not, therefore, deviate from the views of nature, in confining the Indians within narrower limits.'
Keywords: colonialism, colonisation, Cook, Captain James, Europe, International law, land use, property, property law, terra nullius, 1760
'The Law of Nations', 1760.
Author: Nettheim, Garth
Source: De Vattel, Emerich