Frédéric Frommhold de Martens

Frédéric Frommhold de Martens in Europe

Life and Work

Frédéric Frommhold de Martens (1845-1909), Russian jurist, was born at Pernau in Livonia. In 1868 he entered the Russian ministry of foreign affairs, was admitted in 1871 as a Dozent in international law in the university of St Petersburg, and in 1871 became lecturer and then (1872) professor of public law in the Imperial School of Law and the Imperial Alexander Lyceum. In 1874 when Prince Gorchakov, then imperial chancellor, needed assistance for certain kinds of special work, Martens was chosen to afford it. His book on The Right of Private Property in War had appeared in 1869, and had been followed in 1873 by that upon The Office of Consul and Consular Jurisdiction in the East, which had been translated into German and republished at Berlin. These were the first of a long series of studies which won for their author a world-wide reputation, and raised the character of the Russian school of international jurisprudence in all civilized countries.

First amongst them must be placed the great Recueil des traités et conventions conclus par la Russie avec les puissances étrangères (13 vols., 1874-1902). This collection, published in Russian and French in parallel columns, contains not only the texts of the treaties but valuable introductions dealing with the diplomatic conditions of which the treaties were the outcome. These introductions are based largely on unpublished documents from the Russian archives. Of Martens’ original works his International Law of Civilized Nations is perhaps the best known; it was written in Russian, a German edition appearing in 1884-1885, and a French edition in 1887-1888. It displays much judgment and acumen, though some of the doctrines which it defends by no means command universal assent. More openly “tendencious” in character are such treatises as Russia and England in Central Asia (1879); Russia’s Conflict with China (1881), The Egyptian Question (1882), and The African Conference of Berlin and the Colonial Policy of Modern States (1887). In the delicate questions raised in some of these works Martens stated his case with learning and ability, even when it was obvious that he was arguing as a special pleader. Martens was repeatedly chosen to act in international arbitrations.

Among the controversies which he helped to adjust were that between Mexico and the United States—the first case determined by the permanent tribunal of The Hague—and the difference between Great Britain and France in regard to Newfoundland in 1891. He played an important part in the negotiations between his own country and Japan, which led to the peace of Portsmouth (Aug. 1905) and prepared the way for the Russo-Japanese convention. He was employed in laying the foundations for The Hague Conferences. He was one of the Russian plenipotentiaries at the first conference and president of the fourth committee—that on maritime law—at the second conference. His visits to the chief capitals of Europe in the early part of 1907 were an important preliminary in the preparation of the programme. He was judge of the Russian supreme prize court established to determine cases arising during the war with Japan. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Yale; he was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1902. In April 1907 he addressed a remarkable letter to The Times on the position of the second Duma, in which he argued that the best remedy for the ills of Russia would be the dissolution of that assembly and the election of another on a narrower franchise. He died suddenly on the 20th of June 1909.(1)


Notes and References

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition)

See Also

Further Reading

T. E. Holland, in Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation for October 1909, where a list of the writings of Martens appears.

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