On the Freedom of the Sea

February 11, 2017 - Comment

Transcribed by William E. Butler into English for the first time, from Du Ponceau’s hand, a translation of Gérard de Rayneval’s On the Freedom of the Sea. A previously overlooked and unpublished contemporary translation by Peter S. Du Ponceau of the classic treatise by Joseph-Mathias Gérard de Rayneval, De la liberté des mers (Paris, 1811),

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Transcribed by William E. Butler into English for the first time, from Du Ponceau’s hand, a translation of Gérard de Rayneval’s On the Freedom of the Sea. A previously overlooked and unpublished contemporary translation by Peter S. Du Ponceau of the classic treatise by Joseph-Mathias Gérard de Rayneval, De la liberté des mers (Paris, 1811), edited with an extensive introduction by William E. Butler.

Successor two centuries later to Grotius’ classic writings on the freedom of the seas, Gérard de Rayneval’s work affirmed the principles of natural and positive law applicable to naval warfare, privateers, the law of prize, the deep seabed and high seas, neutrality, and international straits from a French perspective deeply sympathetic to American views of the time. Gérard de Rayneval cherished the hope that Napoleon might be inspired by the work to draft a code of maritime law. This treatise informed negotiations that led to the 1856 Declaration of Paris and was widely cited by continental jurists during the 19th century.

“Professor William Butler’s careful scholarship and clear presentation bring to life an important translation of Gérard de Rayneval’s work on the law of the sea, a topic of continuing interest to scholars and mariners alike in the 21st century. Professor Butler’s detailed introduction and editing of Du Ponceau’s translation offer essential background for familiar maritime concepts and adds richness to the body of work explaining the legal regimes surrounding the use of the world’s seas.” –James W. Houck Vice Admiral, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Interim Dean and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Penn State, The Dickinson School of Law

WILLIAM E. BUTLER is the John Edward Fowler Distinguished Professor of Law, Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Law, University of London, Foreign Member, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and National Academy of Legal Sciences of Ukraine.

JOSEPH-MATHIAS GÉRARD DE RAYNEVAL (1736-1812) was First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and an international lawyer. He was a significant mediator in Anglo-French relations who composed an important memorandum of French strategy for secret assistance to the Americans entitled “Reflections on the Situation in America” (1776). He was a key negotiator in the commercial Eden Treaty (1786), which was signed by him on behalf of France. In 1804 he was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor for his contributions to the literature of international law.

PETER STEPHEN DU PONCEAU (1760-1844) was a Franco-American jurist who came to America at the age of 17 and lived in Philadelphia, where he practiced international law until his death. He was president of the American Philosophical Society. In 1810 he published a translation of Bynkershoek’s A Treatise on the Law of War.

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