Bleg: Did Lincoln Read Grotius, Gentili, or Vitoria on Neutrality?
In connection with some work I am doing on Lincoln and the ethics of war in the Second Inaugural, I have been interested in Lincoln’s famous phrases in the Address that the “prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully,” and others that bind north and south in the causes, and responsibility for slavery and the war.
Part of Lincoln’s thought seems to have an oblique parallel with the gradual shift from medieval just war thought (in which war is understood as a criminal activity and one is obligated, even from outside the conflict, to support God’s side, the just side) to the early modern conception that finds cautious expression in Grotius, Gentili, and Vitoria (from the standpoint of fallible humans, a war could be perceived as just as seen from both sides). As Stephen Neff puts it in his marvelous history of the law of neutrality, The Rights and Duties of Neutrals (Manchester UP 2000), in what Vitoria called “cases of ‘provable ignorance’ as to which side was right … the two sides in a conflict could now be regarded asbeing on the same legal and moral plane.”
God knew, but humans might not know and had to act from within their ignorance and fallibility. This sentiment is very close to parts of the Second Inaugural – “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,” particularly.
Does anyone know if there is any evidence that Lincoln might have read Grotius, Gentili, or Vitoria in his common law studies, or any summaries of them that might have made reference to these early modern law of nations doctrines? If any of our learned readers had any references to this, I would be grateful to find out. Thanks.