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A LEAGUE OF NATIONS ACCORDING TO
THE AMERICAN IDEA
Read before the Section on Social and Economic Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the meeting held in St. Louis, December 30, 1919. Published by The Advocate of Peace.
'HE so-called “Covenant of the League of Nations"
has the form of a treaty, but it is something
different from and more than a treaty—that is to say, it is a constitution. It was, in fact, originally so called. If adopted, it would constitute a new composite body politic and corporate, which would be a union of States, of which the United States would be a member. This new body politic and corporate would have a political and legal personality distinct from that of the United States. It would have a specific name the League of Nations. It would manifest its personality through a common organ, which would sit in two divisions-one called “the Council," and the other "the Assembly.” To this common organ the constituent States would delegate specific political and corporate powers, thereby renouncing the exercise and wielding of these powers to the common organ. The act of ratifying any treaty which contains this "covenant” would be an act of consent on the part of the United States to enter into a union with foreign States, and for a period of time more or less definite to participate and partially submerge its personality in this new union. The power which the United States would exercise in entering into and participating in the union would not be the treaty power proper, but the analogous but vastly greater power of union. Specifically the power thus exercised would be the power of political union, the supreme phase of the power of union.
The first question presented by the subject assigned for this paper—a League of Nations According to the American Idea—therefore is, What is the American Idea, and what is its effect upon the power of the United States to enter into and participate in unions with foreign States?
The American Idea, held by the American people from the foundation of the American colonies and ever since held by them, was formulated in the Declaration of Independence in these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
This statement of "self-evident truths," as is now generally agreed by publicists who have investigated its sources, is a summary and synthesis of the results of the work of the Protestant theologian-lawyers of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. a translation of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the Two Great Commandments of the New Testament, which in the Bible are expressed in terms of fundamental divine command and fundamental divinely imposed duties applicable to all men, into terms of fundamental law and fundamental rights applicable to all men. The translation of the Biblical Commandments into the fundamental law of personal conduct and the fundamental rights of men against men was made in 1536 by John Calvin, in the chapter on “The Moral Law" of his “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In 1594 Richard Hooker, in the first book, "Concerning Laws and Their Several kinds in General,” of his “History of Ecclesiastical Polity," derived from Calvin's principles the idea of government by the consent of the governed and of governments as agents of the governed.
Bishop Benjamin Hoadly, in 1710, taking Hooker's argument as his basis, evolved the idea, in his “Essay on the Origin and Institution of Civil Government,” of the unalienability of the fundamental rights of men, and from this thesis derived the rights of men against governments, and the duties of governments to secure the unalienable rights of men against each other. The political doctrines of Calvin and Hooker had become the basis of the liberal thought of Europe at the time the American colonies were founded, and were by the American colonists accepted as self-evident truths. The British and American liberals of 1710 accepted Hoadly's doctrine as completing that of Calvin and Hooker, and the composite doctrine of these three philosophers became the principles of the British Whig party and of the American colonists. Against the Tory and Imperialist reaction in Great Britain, the Americans insisted upon their traditional principles, making their own declaration of them, and successfully maintained these principles by revolution.
The words of the Declaration, when read as an exposition of the legal and political meaning of the Biblical Commandments, are easy to be understood. The equal creation of all men by a Common Creator is taken as the prime axiom of all law and political science. The fundamental duties, imposed by divine command on