Daniel Webster, The Caroline Standard (1842) | Samuel Moyn | August 01, 2016


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Daniel Webster, The Caroline Standard (1842)

[In 1837, Canadian insurgents against the British empire took flight, and American confederates armed them, using the S.S. Caroline. Men loyal to the British crown seized the ship and destroyed it. Some of the insurgents and their confederates struck back, destroying a British ship while it was docked. In both instances state borders were crossed. In 1842, U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster made peace with the British, and in the course of negotiating agreed to what is now a famous norm of customary law norm concerning when self-defense allows anticipatory action against prospective armed attack.]

Daniel Webster, The Caroline Standard

Your Lordship's note of the 28th of July, in answer to mine of the 27th, respecting the case of the 'Caroline", has been received, and laid before the President.

The President sees with pleasure that your Lordship fully admits those great principles of public law, applicable to cases of this kind, which this Government has expressed; and that on your part, as on ours, respect for the inviolable character of the territory of independent States is the most essential foundation of civilization. And while it is admitted, on both sides, that there are exceptions to this rule, he is gratified to find that your Lordship admits that such exceptions must come within the limitations stated and the terms used in a former communication from this Department to the British Plenipotentiary here. Undoubtedly it is just, that while it is admitted that exceptions growing out of the great law of self-defence do exist, those exceptions should be confined to eases in which the "necessity of that self-defence is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation."

Understanding these principles alike, the difference between the two Governments is only whether the facts in the case of the "Caroline" make out a case of such necessity for the purpose of self-defence.



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August 01, 2016

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Samuel Moyn

Harvard Law School

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