International law or the law of nations refers to laws that govern the conduct of independent nations in their relationships with one another. It differs from other legal systems in that it primarily concerns provinces rather than private citizens. In other words it is that body of law which is composed for its greater part of the principles and rules of conduct which States feel themselves bound to observe, and therefore, do commonly observe in their relations with each other and with international institutions or organizations, and certain foreign nationals.
- The law of nations is founded upon reason and justice, and the rules of conduct governing individual relations between citizens or subjects of a civilized state are equally applicable as between enlightened nations. The considerations that international law is without a court for its enforcement and that obedience to its commands practically depends upon good faith instead of upon the mandate of a superior tribunal only give additional sanction to the law itself and brand any deliberate infraction of it not merely as a wrong but as a disgrace. A man of true honor protects the unwritten word which binds his conscience more scrupulously, if possible, than he does the bond a breach of which subjects him to legal liabilities, and the United States, in aiming to maintain itself as one of the most enlightened nations, would do its citizens gross injustice if it applied to its international relations any other than a high standard of honor and morality.
- Grover Cleveland, Message to Congress withdrawing a treaty for the annexation of Hawaii from consideration. (18 December 1893); A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1897 (1896 - 1899) edited by James D. Richardson, Vol. IX, pp. 460-472.
- Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe's The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 105-106.
- Writers on international law . . . cannot make the law … it must have received the assent of the nations who are to be bound by it. This assent may be express … or may be implied from established usage.
- Sir Alexander Cockburn, 12th Baronet, C.J., The Queen v. Keyn; "The Franconia" (1876), 2 L. R. Ex. D. 202.
- International law is part of the common law.
- Pigott, B., Attorney General v. Sillem and others, " The Alexandra" (1864), 12 W. R. 258.
- International law, like the moral law, is part of the law of England, but only to the extent that the Courts will not help those that break it.
- Sir Frederick Pollock, 1st Baronet, Attorney-General v. Sillem and others, "The Alexandra " (1864), 12 W. R. 258.
- In questions of international law we should not depart from any settled decisions, nor lay down any doctrine inconsistent with them.
- William Wood, 1st Baron Hatherley, L.C., Udny v. Udny (1869), L. R. 1 Sc. & Div. Ap. Ca. 454.
- A great part of the law of nations stands upon the usage and practice of nations. It is introduced, indeed, by general principles: but it travels with those general principles only to a certain extent: and, if it stops there, you are not at liberty to go further, and to say, that mere general speculations would bear you out in a further progress— thus, for instance, on mere general principles it is lawful to destroy your enemy; and mere general principles make no great difference as to the manner by which this is to be effected; but the conventional law of mankind, which is evidenced in their practice, does make a distinction, and allows some, and prohibits other, modes of destruction.
- Sir W. Scott, "The Flad Oyen" (1799), 1 C. Rob. 140.
- The voluntary law of nations derives its force from the presumed consent of nations, the conventional from their express consent; the consuetudinary from their tacit consent.
- Wolfus, "Jus Gentium" (Prolegomena), § 25.