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Peace Congresses

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Early history

The genesis of the idea of a meeting of representatives of different nations to obtain by peaceful arbitrament a settlement of differences has been traced to the year 1623 in modern history, to a French monk, Eméric Crucé, who wrote a work entitled "The New Cyneas", a discourse showing the opportunities and the means for establishing a general peace and liberty of conscience to all the world and addressed to the monarch and the sovereign princes of the time. He proposed that a city, preferably Venice, should be selected where all the Powers had ambassadors and that there should be a universal union, including all peoples. He suggested careful arrangement as to priority, giving the first place to the pope. Two years after this publication, appeared in Latin the work of Hugo Grotius "On the Right of War and Peace", pleading for a mitigation of some of the barbarous usages of war. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, had a plan for the establishment of a "European Dyet, Parliament or Estates". He was followed by other writers of different nationalities.

Immediately after the dethronement of Napoleon the First a congress of the great European powers met in Vienna, but it could hardly be called a peace congress, as its purpose was rather to adjust the boundaries and limit the sphere of influence of the different nations which had united to overthrow the French emperor. From time to time differences between individual nations or the citizens of one nation and the government of another have been settled by arbitration, but the idea of a World Congress to bring about a reduction of armament and a universal peace is of recent origin.

In 1826, a congress composed of representatives of Spanish-American countries was planned by Bolivar for military as well as political purposes. One of its declared objects was "to promote the peace and union of American nations and establish amicable methods for the settlement of disputes between them". This congress failed, as only four Spanish-American countries were represented and only one ratified the agreement. In 1831, however, Mexico took up the subject and proposed a conference of American Republics "for the purpose of bringing about not only a union and close alliance for defence, but also the acceptance of friendly mediation for the settlement of disputes between them, and the framing and promulgation of a code of penal laws to regulate their mutual relations". It does not appear that anything came of this congress, and in 1847 another was held at Lima, attended by representatives of Bolivia, Chili, Ecuador, New Granada, and Peru, for the purpose of forming an alliance of American republics. The United States was invited but as it was then at war with Mexico it sent no representative. Another congress was held by representatives from the Argentine Republic, Bolivia, Chili, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, and Venezuela, in 1864. An effort to hold a congress was made by the governments of Chili and Colombia in 1880, "to the end that the settlement by arbitration of each and every international controversy should become a principle of American public law". This congress did not meet, however, owing to a war between Chili and Peru.

In 1881, the President of the United States invited the independent countries of North and South America to meet in a general congress at Washington on 24 November, 1882, "for the purpose of considering and discussing methods of preventing war between the nations of America". This meeting did not take place owing to a variety of reasons, but subsequently, by virtue of an Act of Congress of the United States an invitation was issued by the president to Mexico, the Central and South American Republics, Hayti, Dominican Republic, and Brazil to join in a conference to be held in the city of Washington, the project being to consider:

The congress assembled at Washington on 2 October, 1889. Eighteen American nations, including the United States, had their representatives. The conference adopted a plan of arbitration of international differences, together with various recommendations relating to trade, law, extradition, patents, customs, and sanitary regulations. It further declared arbitration to be a principle of American International Law and obligatory "in all controversies concerning diplomatic and consular privileges, boundaries, territories, indemnities, the right of navigation, and the validity, construction and enforcement of treaties; and that it should be equally obligatory in all other cases, whatever might be their origin, nature or object, with the sole exception of those which in the judgment of one of the nations involved in the controversy, might imperil its independence; but that even in this case, while arbitration for that nation should be optional, it should be obligatory on the adversary power" (7 Moore Int. Law Dig. p. 7). One notable result of the conference was the establishment of the Bureau of the American Republics. All the republics of South America are represented in this bureau, which continues for periods of ten years subject to renewal.

Latest developments

First Hague Conference

On 12 August, 1898, in a circular letter addressed to the representatives of different nations, the Emperor of Russia proposed to all governments, which had duly accredited representatives at the imperial court, the holding of a conference to consider the problem of the preservation of peace among nations. During the summer of 1900 the conference assembled at The Hague and on 4 Sept. formal notification of the ratification of the convention for the pacific settlement of international disputes was given by the United States, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Persia, Portugal, Rumania, Russia, Siam, Spain, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, and subsequently by Japan. A permanent court of arbitration was established at The Hague, composed representatives of each of the signatory powers appointed for a term of six years. Arbitrators called upon to form a competent tribunal may be chosen from a general list of the members of the court when any of the signatory powers desire to have recourse to the court for a settlement of any difference between them.

The South and Central American republics were not represented at the conference, but at the second International Conference of American States which was initiated by President McKinley and held in the City of Mexico, 22 October, 1901, to 31 January, 1902, a plan was adopted looking to adhesion to The Hague convention, the protocol being signed by all of the delegations except Chili and Ecuador, who subsequently gave their adhesion. The conference authorized the Governments of the United States and Mexico to negotiate with the other signatory powers for the adherence of other American nations. At this conference the project of a treaty for the arbitration of pecuniary claims was adopted, and the signatories agreed for a term of five years to submit to arbitration (preferably to the permanent court at The Hague) all claims for pecuniary loss or damage presented by their respective citizens and not capable of settlement through diplomatic channels, where they were of sufficient importance to warrant the expense of a court of arbitration.

Second Hague Conference

A second international peace conference was held at The Hague from 15 June to 18 October, 1907. Forty-four States were represented, including the principal nations of Europe, North and South America, and Asia. The conference drew up thirteen conventions and one declaration. They are as follows: for the pacific settlement of international disputes; respecting the limitation of the employment of force for the recovery of contract debts relative to the opening of hostilities; respecting the laws and customs of war on land; respecting the rights and duties of neutral powers and persons in case of war on land; relative to the status of enemy merchant-ships at the outbreak of hostilities; relative to the conversion of merchant-ships into war-ships; relative to the laying of automatic submarine contact mines; respecting bombardment by naval forces in time of war; for the adaptation to naval war of the principles of the Geneva convention; relative to certain restrictions with regard to the exercise of the right of capture in naval war; relative to the creation of an International Prize Court; concerning the rights and duties of neutral powers in naval war; and a declaration prohibiting the discharge of projectiles and explosives from balloons.

The movement towards the settlement of international difficulties by arbitration has made great advances, as will be seen by the foregoing summary. None, however, have attempted to settle by such methods any questions which may touch upon "the vital interests, the independence or the honour" of the different States.

President Taft, in a recent address, has made a plea for negotiation even of the excepted questions, so that there may be an "adjudication of an international arbitration court in every issue which cannot be settled by negotiation no matter what it involves, whether honour, territory or money". The public sentiment of the world upon this subject is crystallizing, and another decade may witness results perhaps even more far-reaching than those that have been already attained.


BALCH, The New Cyneas of Eméric Crucé (Philadelphia, 1909); IDEM, Crucé, l'évolution de l'arbitrage international; MOORE, International Law (from this work the facts relating to American peace congresses have been taken); MOORE, Digest of International Law; WILSON, Hand Book of International Law (St. Paul, Minn., 1910); SCOTT, Text of the Peace Conference at The Hague 1907-1909; HIGGINS, The Hague Peace Conference.

About this page

APA citation. Smith, W.G. (1911). Peace Congresses. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Smith, Walter George. "Peace Congresses." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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