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The pre-Tridentine œcumenical councils of the Roman Catholic church were, as Dr. Francis Wharton has well remarked,1 international congresses, working toward the establishment of a uniform law for the civilized world. It was a law confined to one set of subjects; but among them were those having to do with the family relation, and which were therefore of the first importance to human society. Each nation of Christendom was represented in these gatherings by its sovereign or political delegates, as well as by its bishops, and it was for each nation, acting through its political departments, to ratify or reject such rules or laws in these respects as the council might propose.

The representation of political sovereignty in the Council of Trent was slight, and in the only œcumenical council since called by Rome —that of the Vatican it was wholly wanting; Bavaria being the only power (though all European cabinets were consulted) which intimated a willingness to send an official delegate.2


The movement of modern society is away from ecclesiasticism in politics. It is improbable that national policies will ever again be formulated by councils called by the Vatican. These bodies, useful for such purposes in their day, have been replaced by something dealing with international relations in a simpler and more practical way. The modern congress or conference of nations, so far as it relates to the settlement of large questions of general and permanent importance, is a natural growth of the times. It serves to express public opinion the prevailing opinion of the people in each of the

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participating powers.

'Conflict of Laws, I, § 171.

2 Memoirs of Prince Hohenlohe. Macmillan's Ed., I, 395; II, 4.

The Congress of Munster may be said to be the first of this new order. It recognized accomplished facts. It confirmed the results of the Reformation by its rule of cujus regio, ejus religio. It set up the principle of a balance of power as the regulating force in the international politics of Europe. But it was not until the nineteenth century that gatherings of nations became common which either were unconnected with the settlement of the results of a war or, having such a connection, went beyond it in devising measures tending in greater or less measure to the general and permanent benefit of civilized society.

The Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the first of these at which social, ethical, and economic interests, having no immediate and pressing political importance, were the subject of definite and collective action. Two principles, especially, were affirmed, which were of the kind that makes for the solidarity of the world: the duty of suppressing the slave trade as inhuman, and the free navigation of international rivers, because commercially desirable.

An Austrian statesman said, a few years ago, that in the eighteenth century liberal ideas in government came to the front; in the nineteenth century the dominating forces were those tending to nationality; and that the twentieth would be for Europe one of a struggle for existence between the nations in the field of commerce and industry. These generalizations are striking and suggestive, but they ignore the work of the nineteenth century in bringing nations into friendly relations with each other, and promoting the peace of the world. Of the new nations in Europe to which it gave being or accorded a particular character, those still existing were almost all created for the benefit of other nations. In America, the new-born nations were still more numerous, and each achieved its independence for itself; but no sooner had the Central and South American states renounced their connection with Europe than they sought to connect themselves with each other and with those of North America in some form of international union.

The Congress of Panama (in 1826) was called to give expression to this wish, and not without some hope on the part of the more ardent spirits that a federation of the American republics, if achieved, might lead to a federation of the world. It seems, said

General Bolivar, in his circular of invitation (of December 27, 1824) to the Congress of Panama, issued as liberator of Colombia and President of Peru, that if the world had to choose its capital, the isthmus of Panama would be selected for this august purpose, placed as it is, in the center of the globe; looking on the one side toward Asia, and on the other toward Africa and Europe. There, after a hundred ages, posterity would turn to learn the basis of the first alliances which would regulate the system of the relations of the American republics with the universe. What, he asked, would the isthmus of Corinth then be to that of Panama? 3

The delay in the arrival of the envoys from the United States, the sickly climate, and the fear of each of the new powers that it might lose, by association with others, the full luxury of independence, rendered the work of the Congress of Panama substantially futile; but it led the way to others less ambitious that have accomplished more. Between 1826 and the present time, there have been held more than a hundred and twenty international congresses or conferences of a diplomatic character to promote objects of a social or economic nature, which deserve a place in the history of the world. A list of those which might fairly be included in this category is subjoined to this article, and the most cursory glance at it will suggest the wide range of topics considered, and the substantial advances effected by their means in the organized concentration of human society.*

That which stands out most prominently, because it touches every man's daily life, is the formation of the Universal Postal Union. This now embraces the entire civilized world and a considerable part of that which remains uncivilized. Cheapness, ease, and certainty

'Am. Annual Register, 1825-6, Doc. 98.

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"The term " Congress once meant an assemblage called to adjust international questions, as a consequence of war. It was formerly used in a still more restricted sense as an assemblage of sovereigns, for that purpose, leaving "Conference" to designate an assemblage of representatives, to act only subject to ratification. It is said by Fiore (Nouveau Droit International Public, Antoine's translation, II, 646), that now Congress is used only to signify an assemblage of representatives of nations to consider complex questions of general interest, while "Conference" is used to denote such an assemblage to consider particular questions of a local or temporary character. It has not been thought worth while in this article to adhere to this somewhat arbitrary distinction.

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of communication between nations have been thus secured in such a way as to increase immensely the facilities both for friendly correspondence and commercial intercourse. The congresses of the Universal Postal Union, meeting statedly every five years, are in effect assemblies of accredited representatives of all nations for legislative purposes. These have undoubtedly done more than any other one thing to impress the world with the idea that a world-union for certain social and political ends is a practicable thing. It can no longer be sneered at as impracticable, because it exists and has existed as a working force for a whole generation. Every man who sends a letter from New York to Tokio with quick dispatch, for a fee of only five cents, knows that he owes this privilege to an international agreement, and feels himself by virtue of it a citizen of the world.

The rapid transportation of passengers and goods from one country to another has been greatly advanced by the work of some of these congresses. Boundary lines, in important particulars, have been almost effaced. International commercial tribunals, like that of the Rhine, have been established, and provision made for enforcing judgments against carriers in jurisdictions other than those in which they were rendered. Local impediments to navigation through taxation have been removed by purchase through international contributions. Uniformity in marine signals and nautical observations has been promoted. In the matter of weights and measures serious advances have been made toward setting up universal standards. For electric power such a standard has been attained by an international convention. Coinage has been so far brought under common regulations that the monetary unit in eight countries is identical. The telegraph and the telephone have been subjected to certain conditions with respect to international communication, which make for general convenience and the peace of the world.

Patents, trade-marks, and copyrights have been assured more than local protection by the Union for the Protection of Industrial Property, with its provision for stated international conferences to perfect the system.

"In Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Venezuela, it is a silver coin of the value of 19.3 cents of American money.

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