PERSONAL COPY OF 1775 FRENCH EDITION KEY TO FORMULATING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
by Cmdr. Charles Kerchner
(May 3, 2010) — The founders and framers were fluent in French. Thomas Jefferson used his personal copy of the new 1775 French edition of Vattel’s The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law to write the Declaration of Independence. He was also very influential in the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Quotations such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” “Laws of Nature” and concepts for a new “more perfect” form of government with a written Constitution and independent Judiciary and the sovereignty of the People come from Vattel’s Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law. In 1776 Jefferson was tasked with primary responsibility for drafting the Declaration of Independence, and if you read it after first reading Vattel’s Law of Nations, Volume 1, you can see where he got his inspiration for many of the words and concepts.
Jefferson was very influential via his correspondence to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, PA in 1787 and in getting the Bill of Rights added. Read Vattel’s Law of Nations, Volume 1 first. Then read the Constitution. We can see in the words of the Constitution the impact of Vattel and the Law of Nations once again in the words therein such as “in order to form a more perfect Union” (perfection of government to serve the people was a prime directive of Vattel).
The title of the book The Law of Nations, the preeminent legal treatise of the time, is even mentioned in the Constitution in Article I, Section 8, in the enumerated and limited powers of the new federal republic form of government. The impact of Vattel and Volume 1 of his legal treatise The Law of Nations on his visions for a new form of government on the founders and framers of this nation and its founding documents cannot be overstated. Vattel was the keystone legal source for the new federal government established in 1789 when the new Constitution was ratified, the first of its kind in the world and a beacon of liberty to the rest of the world.
Jefferson’s personal and well-annotated-in-the-margins copy of Vattel’s Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law 1775 French edition is now in the possession of the Library of Congress. I suspect that this copy was actually one of the three copies sent to Benjamin Franklin by Charles Dumas in 1775. Franklin’s personal copy of the 1775 edition was never found in history. We also know that Franklin had a copy of an earlier edition of Vattel. I suspect he loaned one of the three newly-received 1775 editions of Vattel to Jefferson for use in the writing of the Declaration of Independence and that is how that copy got to Jefferson. The other two copies of the 1775 edition sent to Franklin ended up with one copy in the Library in Philadelphia for use by the Congress meeting in Philadelphia and the other in the library of “College of Massachusetts Bay” in Massachusetts. So perhaps I’ve solved the mystery of what happened to the third copy sent by Dumas, Franklin’s personal copy of the 1775 Dumas edition of The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law.
P.S.: See more about the founders’ and framers’ use of The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law to write the founding documents for our Constitutional Republic in the links below. The legal treatise, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law, known as The Law of Nations for short, clearly defined the term “naturel” or “natural born Citizen” as a person born in the country of parents (plural) who were Citizens of the country.
1. Benjamin Franklin in 1775 thanked Charles Dumas of the Netherlands for sending him three more copies of the newest 1775 French edition of Vattel’s Law of Nations.
2. President George Washington in 1789 consulted Vattel’s legal treatise The Law of Nations as America’s new President.