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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Transatlantic Advocates: American International Law and U.S. Foreign Relations, 1898–1919
by Coates, Benjamin Allen, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2010, 469; 3447865
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation contends that the first two decades of the twentieth century marked a legalist era in U.S. foreign relations: one in which serious proposals for world peace overlapped with dreams of empire, and legal arguments infused debates about the role of America in the world. In these years international lawyers established professional organizations, controlled wealthy foundations, and shaped the academic study of international relations. Their advocacy of international courts, codification, and conferences attracted powerful support from presidents as dissimilar as Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In arguments among themselves and with outsiders, international lawyers engaged in debates familiar to modern observers: between formalism and pragmatism, utopianism and realism. But a closer look at this period reveals that the roots of modern internationalist discourse are more complex: emerging from an imperial milieu, the international law project found ways to further American power in practice even as it elided the importance of power in theory.

International lawyers' popularity stemmed from the reassuring solutions they offered to the substantive and ideological concerns of a nominally republican Great Power. The discipline drew on transatlantic intellectual and professional networks to present law as a representation of civilized modernity. But leading U.S. lawyers also portrayed international law as an extension of American values. Promoting legal institutions thus offered a way of being in the world without abandoning exceptionalist traditions. Meanwhile, the combination of an idealized vision with flexible pragmatism made lawyers perfect stewards of government policy and overseas corporate expansion. Seeming both practical and visionary, the international law project remained popular until World War I undermined the assumptions that fueled its earlier successes.

Drawing on American and international correspondence and publications, this dissertation follows the thoughts and actions of key international lawyers as they moved seamlessly between academic and government service. It is in part a history of the professionalization of the discipline, one that illuminates the agenda-setting power of institutions like the American Society of International Law, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Institut de Droit International. Relying on State Department archives and presidential papers, it also examines the concrete roles of international lawyers in the "taking" of Panama in 1903, the expansion of informal empire in the Caribbean and its justification at home, American neutrality during World War I, and the debate over postwar organization.

Historians have only recently turned their attention to international law, a subject previously left to lawyers and political scientists. This dissertation contributes the first in-depth account of how law actually functioned in the conduct of early-twentieth century U.S. foreign relations. It suggests both that U.S. foreign policy was more "legal" than commonly realized and that international law was less idealistic than generally assumed.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Stephanson, Anders G.
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 72/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, International Relations
Keywords: Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, Empire - United States, Foreign relations, International law, Moore, John Bassett, Scott, James Brown, United States
Publication Number: 3447865
ISBN: 978-1-124-53321-6
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