The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law (1758)

Emmerich de Vattel

Principal Objects of a Good Government; and First to Provide for the Necessities of the Nation

§ 72. The object of society points out the duties of the sovereign.
AFTER these observations on the constitution of the state, let us now proceed to the principal objects of a good government. We have seen above (§§ 41 and 42) that the prince, on his being invested with the sovereign authority, is charged with the duties of the nation in relation to government. In treating of the principal objects of a wise administration, we at once show the duties of a nation towards itself, and those of the sovereign towards his people.

A wise conductor of the state will find in the objects of civil society the general rule and indication of his duties. The society is established with the view of procuring, to those who are its members, the necessaries, conveniences, and even pleasures of life, and, in general, every thing necessary to their happiness, — of enabling each individual peaceably to enjoy his own property, and to obtain justice with safety and certainty, — and, finally, of defending themselves in a body against all external violence (§ 15). The nation, or its conductor, should first apply to the business of providing for all the wants of the people, and producing a happy plenty of all the necessaries of life, with its conveniences and innocent and laudable enjoyments.1 As an easy life without luxury contributes to the happiness of men, it likewise enables them to labor with greater safety and success after their own perfection, which is their grand and principal duty, and one of the ends they ought to have in view when they unite in society.

§ 73. To take care that there be a sufficient number of workmen.
To succeed in procuring this abundance of every thing, it is necessary to take care that there be a sufficient number of able workmen in every useful or necessary profession.2 An attentive application on the part of government, wise regulations, and assistance properly granted, will produce this effect without using constraint, which is always fatal to industry.

§ 74. To prevent the emigration of those that are useful.
Those workmen that are useful ought to be retained in the state; to succeed in retaining them, the public authority has certainly a right to use constraint, if necessary.3 Every citizen owes his personal services to his country; and a mechanic, in particular, who has been reared, educated, and instructed in its bosom, cannot lawfully leave it, and carry to a foreign land that industry which he acquired at home, unless his country has no occasion for him,3 or he cannot there obtain the just fruit of his labor and abilities. Employment must then be procured for him; and, if, while able to obtain a decent livelihood in his own country, he would without reason abandon it, the state has a right to detain him.4 But a very moderate use ought to be made of this right, and only in important or necessary cases. Liberty is the soul of abilities and industry: frequently a mechanic or an artist, after having long traveled abroad, is attracted home to his native soil by a natural affection, and returns more expert and better qualified to render his country useful services. If certain extraordinary cases be excepted, it is best in this affair to practice the mild methods of protection, encouragement, etc., and to leave the rest to that natural love felt by all men for the places of their birth.

§ 75. Emissaries who entice them away.
As to those emissaries who come into a country to entice away useful subjects, the sovereign has a right to punish them severely, and has just cause of complaint against the power by whom they are employed.

In another place, we shall treat more particularly of the general question, whether a citizen be permitted to quit the society of which he is a member. The particular reasons concerning useful workmen are sufficient here.

§ 76. Labor and industry must be encouraged.
The state ought to encourage labor, to animate industry,5 to excite abilities, to propose honors, rewards, privileges, and so to order matters that every one may live by his industry. In this particular, England deserves to be held up as an example. The parliament incessantly attends to these important affairs, in which neither care nor expense is spared.6 And do we not even see a society of excellent citizens formed with this view, and devoting considerable sums to this use? Premiums are also distributed in Ireland to the mechanics who most distinguish themselves in their profession. Can such a state fail of being powerful and happy?


     1.    See the general doctrine, that the happiness of a people depends on the quantity of productive labor and employment, and the consequent return of produce and remuneration, discussed at large. 2 Malthus, 433; 2 Smith, W.N. 200; 2 Paley, Mor. Phil. 345; Sir J. Child on Trade, 1667-8; and Tucker on Trade, part ii. sections, 4, 7, 8; 1 Chitty’s Commercial Law, 1, etc. — C.
     2.    There were in England many enactments enforcing this supposed policy, and prohibiting various workmen from leaving the kingdom. See 5 Geo. I. c. 27; 23 Geo. II. c. 13:14 Geo. III c. 71; 4 Bla. Com. 160. But, according to more modern policy, these enactments were repealed by 5 Geo. lV. c. 97. — C.
     3.    See the English acts enforcing this rule, 5 Geo. I. C. 27; 23 Geo. II. c. 13; 14 Geo. III. c. 71; 4 Bla. Com. 160; but repealed by 5 Geo. IV. c. 97. — C.
     4.    See also the power of preventing a subject, or even a foreigner, going abroad. Plack v. Holm, 1 Jac. & Walk. Rep. 405, and post, § 272. and Book II. § 108. — C.
     5.    Ante, § 72, note 1, — C.
     6.    How far the interference of the legislature is advisable, and when — see the authorities and arguments collected, 1 Chitty’s Commercial Law, 4 to 7, and post, § 98. — C.