International Law


By WALTER F. GEORGE, Senator from Georgia

Delivered in U. S. Senate, Washington, D. C., July 27, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 687-689.

MR. President, I am anxious to see the question before the Senate brought to a final vote. Therefore I shall refrain from any general discussion of the treaty. I should like to call attention to some particular features of the charter which have received generally very little notice, and I dare say have been regarded generally as of little consequence. The Security Council as established in this Organization may well fail. Other branches of the international organization provided in the charter may well fail. Indeed, all of them may well fail to accomplish the purpose which all of us hope may be accomplished. But there are some things in it which ought not to be passed by lightly.

As one who has spent a long time at the bar and in the study and administration of the law, I naturally attach great importance to the court to be established as the chief tribunal of the international organization under this treaty. Men talk about codifying international law, and about establishing and announcing international law. International law will never be codified in the sense that we make a code of our domestic statutes; but it will finally become a great force for world betterment, through the continuous application of the principles of law, through the continuous and insistent interpretation of the law of nations to be found in charters, treaties, and the established laws of nations which have been recognized from time immemorial by the enlightened countries of the globe.

Surely no American should scoff at international law, because time after time our own Supreme Court has recognized the law of nations, and has given effect to the law of nations, which is but another term for international law, and has applied the principles of international law in the adjudications made by our own courts.

But particularly, Mr. President, the thing about the charter which impresses me very greatly is the Assembly, which has been variously described by newspaper writers, commentators, and others, as simply a debating society, simply a place where those who have no controlling influence or vote on the important decisions necessarily involved in the preservation of the peace and security of the world may meet and speak. I have been very much impressed by this feature, and I have gone back and read a little English history. Particularly at this time, it is perhaps helpful to know what the Commons has really become in the history of the British people and in the history of the world.

Yesterday the results of the election in Great Britain were announced. But what did that connote? What significance is to be attached to the recent announcement of the results of the election held in England some time ago? The majority of the House of Commons really represents the British Empire, that great empire which Webster long ago declared stretched all over the earth, and upon which the sun never sets.

The leader of the majority party in the House of Commons becomes in effect the ruler of the British Empire. Long ago it was declared by a great British historian and jurist that even the King of England would be compelled to sign his own death warrant if the Commons should decree it. A great man has fallen in Britain, a great man who revived and bolstered the moral courage of the British people and of nearly all of the free people of this earth in that dark hour when the Axis Powers stood in battle array across the narrow channel which separates French territory from British territory. He was the head of Commons. Now another has been elected to speak for the British people, to hold in his grasp the vast British Empire, one of the three great powers given a permanent seat on the Security Council under this charter.

So, Mr. President, I should like to read to the Senate a brief statement about the House of Commons. Bear in mind that I am thinking of the Assembly in this world organization. I now read from the History of England by the eminent British historian, G. M. Trevelyan:

In the course of Henry III's reign it became an occasional but not an invariable practice to summon to this great assembly two or more knights elected in each shire court to represent the county. This was not to create a new assembly, or to originate Parliament; it was merely to call up some new people to the plenary session of the old curia regis. Neither was it a party move either of the King or of his opponents; both sides felt that it was best to know what the "bachelors" were thinking. It was a natural evolution, so natural as scarcely to attract notice. For two generations past, knights elected in the shire court had transacted local business with the King's judges and officers. It seemed but a small step to summon them collectively to meet the King among his judges and officers at some central point. Moreover, representatives from individual shires and boroughs had long been in the habit of attending the King's curia to transact the business of their community. To us, with our knowledge of all that was to come, the step of summoning them collectively and officially may seem immense. But in the medieval world the representation of communities was a normal way of getting business done, and its application to the central assembly of the realm was too natural to cause remark. When the wind sows the acorn the forester takes little heed.

Then and for long afterward the summons to Parliament was often regarded as a burden, grudgingly borne for the public good, much as the companion duty of serving on a jury is still regarded today. Communities, particularly boroughs, often neglected to send their representatives ; and even the elected knights of the shire sometimes absconded to avoid service. Doubtless it was galling, when you looked round the shire court to congratulate the new member ironically on his expensive and dangerous honor, to find that he had slipped quietly on his horse and ridden for sanctuary, leaving the court to choose you in his stead. "The elective franchise" was not yet a privilege or a "right of man." In Edward III's reign, the borough of distant Torrington in Devon obtained by petition the "franchise" of not being required to send members to Parliament; for the payment of members' expenses then fell on the communities that sent them up.

Nevertheless the presence of the knights of the shire strengthened the authority and aided the counsels of the Parliament of magnates. The government found it convenient and advantageous to enforce the presence of the "communities" or "commons" of the realm through their representatives. And so in the year of revolution after Lewes, Simon de Montfort summoned not only the knights of the shire, but for the first time two representatives from each of the chartered boroughs.

That, Mr. President, was in the far year 1265.

He probably knew that the burghers would be of his faction, and he was the first of our rulers to perceive that the general position of a party government could be strengthened by calling representatives of all the communities together and talking to them.

Thus was the assembly made up.

It was a form of "propaganda," over and above any financial or judicial use that was made of the assembly. We learn from the writs that the burghers were summoned, but we do not know how many came, or what, if anything, they did. That particular Parliament was a revolutionary assembly to which only those barons were summoned who were of Simon's party, but it set a precedent for the summoning of burghers which was imitated in the more regular Parliaments of Edward I.

Mr. President, I now invite the attention of the Senate to the concluding and impressive lines written by this historian:

The English Parliament had no one man for its maker, neither Simon nor even Edward. No man made it, for it grew. It was the natural outcome, through long centuries, of the common sense and the good nature of the English people, who have usually preferred committees to dictators, elections to street fighting, and "talking shops" to revolutionary tribunals.

So, Mr. President, that is the historical picture of how the House of Commons commenced in that distant year 1265. The representatives from the counties or parishes were merely brought up to talk. They had no vote. They only counseled. The weight of the counsel depended upon the ability and wisdom of the men who were invited or who were assembled to talk. Yet in the process of evolution the King of England has become but a figurehead. The House of Lords has almost disappeared from any respectable part in the Government of England, save as a court in which law may be interpreted and announced. The House of Commons is the heart and center of substance of the great British Empire. The leader of that House is the Prime Minister, next in importance historically to the King, actually of first importance in all the realm where English jurisdiction and English law live.

So, Mr. President, I believe that the Assembly created by the charter is the common meeting ground of the nations of the earth which shall support this world organization. There small nations may be powerful. Indeed, those who followed the deliberations of the San Francisco Conference could not have failed to note that, although Australia is but one of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and from the standpoint of its population is a relatively small country, her spokesman at San Francisco exerted not a little influence in shaping and controlling the decisions of the San Francisco Conference.

Here, whatever else may be said, is at least one division of the world organization, created by this charter, in which democracy lives, in which it breathes, in which it moves, and in the course of time it may become the great strength of the organization itself. Indeed, Mr. President, it may become the great center of the strength of this world organization on which so many hopes are now depending.

Mr. President, it may well be that in the course of time the stone which many of the builders of world organizations have rejected is now, in this Assembly, become the head of the corner. Here men can give expression to their views, to their thoughts, to their voices, and to their recommendations.

The Anglo-Saxon race and all other races of the world which have been transplanted to our shores, have a distinct and special mission to perform on this earth, namely, that of giving political government to mankind. No reader of history can be indifferent to that fact.

And so, Mr. President, without discussing the charter as a whole, or even attempting to do so, because I believe the hour is fast approaching when we should vote upon it, I wish to express my firm belief that in the establishment of the Court as the high tribunal to which we may ultimately give compulsory jurisdiction as the leader of the peoples, and through whose consistent and continuous application of the law of nations a great code of international law may be built up, and through the Assembly of the United Nations Organization, as set up in the charter, the smaller nations and, indeed, all peoples may one day be able to make themselves felt in the affairs of this earth.

Mr. President, as was said long, long ago of political institutions, they were not made with the mountains, they are not one with the deep; men, not God, devised them: and men, not God, must keep them. If this charter lives, and if what we hope comes out of it only in part, it will be worth infinitely more than we can now estimate.

I am aware, Mr. President, that the dream of perpetual peace is an illusive dream. For more than 3,500 years of recorded history mankind has enjoyed not more than 300 years of unbroken peace. And yet, Mr. President, the world moves, and, as Emerson long ago said in one of his matchless philosophical discussions, "All history is a decline of war though a slow decline." :

The great English-speaking peoples, and every branch of them, certainly have a great contribution to make in setting up the political machinery, the organization to which the world may confidently look for a better day.

Mr. President, all of us have pledged ourselves to our individual constituents, and to our general constituency. At we have met men and women whose sons, brothers, and husbands have paid the full price of devotion to duty, we have pledged ourselves to the cause to which we stand committed in this war, and have promised to do everything within our power to see to it that the honored dead shall not have died in vain. Almost every man in public life has given expression to that thought, to that hope, to that determination. Can we do less than to accept this step toward the solution of the problems which have resulted in armed conflict, and which have drenched the earth in blood through all the long period of recorded history? Mr. President, the very soil of all Europe is red with blood. The fields in many parts of the earth are white with the bones of men who have died in war.

I have not wanted to examine this charter for microscopic defects. They exist beyond all doubt. There may be many inconsistencies in it, and much evidence amid conflicting thought of an effort to reconcile the thought so as to bring forth and preserve this charter. But I have not examined it for the purpose of criticizing it, nor for the purpose of discovering any of its weaknesses. Experience will demonstrate all its weaknesses. Operation under it will demonstrate all its shortcomings. But if it is, as I believe it to be a real step toward the solution of the problems of the worldwhich have constantly resulted in war, with all its strains of evil, suffering, and of death, it is worth our while.

I know, Mr. President, that every man in this body has not only pledged himself to his own individual constituents but to the larger constituency of the country—indeed he has made the pledge in the presence of all mankind that he was highly resolved that those who have paid the last full measure of devotion in two great world wars within our lifetime shall not have died in vain.

And they have died, Mr. President. Our best men have died on the earth; the blue waters have swallowed them up; from the flaming skies they have gone down to death—to win this war and to make possible a better world for another generation of Americans.

We promised them something. I am sure that every Member of the Senate means to keep that promise and to go all out in an effort to make that promise good. Many of us are slow to promise. The slowest among us to promise are often the quickest to perform. But when I think of the great host of American youths who have been taken from our midst all over this land I can think only in the terms of those beautiful words:

They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

Mr. President, America has a great opportunity. The Senate of the United States has one of the greatest opportunities in its long and glorious history to register its wholehearted and unanimous approval of this step toward peace, toward security, toward the better world of which we all dream.

Mr. President, the dream may not come true, but who is there to say that many of the dreams that have inspired the true and genuine lovers of men in every age and in every land may not in our time take form and substance? Who is there to say that in the majestic flow and sweep of the centuries this forward step may not make it possible for young men in our America and in every land where people are peace minded to be spared the suffering and the consequence of wars like unto the one through which we are now passing?

I should like to say that I attach great importance to the Court, and? attach far greater importance to the Assembly of the United Nations set up under this charter. No man living can tell what may come out of it for the good and for the happiness of mankind.