Freedom of the Seas

Armin Rappaport and

William Earl Weeks

Freedom of the seas is one of the original and most important principles in the history of American foreign policy. American statesmen have, in essence, defined it as the right of all peoples to travel unmolested in international waters in both war and peace. Historically, it has been one of the chief means by which the United States has influenced international affairs; the vigorous assertion of the principle of freedom of the seas has been a major cause of four armed conflicts: the Quasi-War with France in 1798, the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, and World War I.


Amacher, Ryan C., and Richard James Sweeney, eds. The Law of the Sea: U.S. Interests and Alternatives. Washington, D.C., 1976.

Borgese, Elisabeth Mann. The Drama of the Oceans. New York, 1975.

Charney, Jonathan I. "Law of the Sea: Breaking the Deadlock." Foreign Affairs 55 (1977).

Digest of United States Practice in International Law. 8 vols. Washington, D.C., 1973–1980. Contains documents and narrative describing United States policy.

Gidel, Gilbert. Le Droit international public de la mer. 3 vols. Châteauroux, France, 1932–1934. A monumental and exhaustive account of the law of the sea.

Hagan, Kenneth J. This People's Navy: The Making of American Sea Power. New York, 1991.

Howarth, Stephen. To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy, 1775–1991. New York, 1991.

Hyde, Charles C. International Law Chiefly as Interpreted and Applied by the United States. 2 vols. Boston, 1922. A classic and standard account that deals with a wide range of matters pertaining to the freedom of the seas.

Jessup, Philip C. Neutrality, Its History, Economics, and Law. 4 vols. New York, 1935–1936. An excellent account dealing with the practices of all the major maritime nations from the eighteenth century to the end of World War I.

Jia, Bing Bing. The Regime of Straits in International Law. New York, 1998. Gives detailed analysis of the new procedures governing passage through international straits.

Long, David F. Gold Braid and Foreign Relations: Diplomatic Activities of U.S. Naval Officers, 1798–1883. Annapolis, Md., 1988.

Moore, John Bassett, ed. A Digest of International Law. 8 vols. Washington, D.C., 1906. A comprehensive account that fully covers maritime matters and deals with all phases of international law as practiced by the United States. The Digest is not a narrative but a collection of documents and cases interspersed with comment; the work has been carried forward chronologically by Green Hackworth, 8 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1940–1944), and Marjorie Whiteman, 15 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1963–1973).

Roach, J. Ashley, and Robert W. Smith. United States Responses to Excessive Maritime Claims. 2d ed. The Hague, 1996. Provides a heavily documented analysis of the freedom of navigation policy.

Rothwell, Donald R., and Sam Bateman, eds. Navigational Rights and Freedoms and the New Law of the Sea. The Hague, 2000. Discusses the various aspects of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Savage, Carlton. Policy of the United States Towards Maritime Commerce in War. 2 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–1936. A narrative with documents that covers the period from 1776 to 1918, giving a clear and concise account.

Swing, Jon T. "Who Will Own the Oceans." Foreign Affairs 54 (1976).

Van Dyke, John M., et al, eds. Freedom for the Seas in the 21st Century: Ocean Governance and Environmental Harmony. Washington, D.C., 1993. Assesses the implications of the Law of the Sea Treaty on traditional notions of freedom of the seas.

Whipple, A. B. C. To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines. New York, 1991.

See also Blockades ; Civil War Diplomacy ; The Continental System ; Embargoes and Sanctions ; International Law ; Neutrality .

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