Henry Wheaton


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Wheaton, Henry,

1785–1848, American jurist and diplomat, b. Providence, R.I., grad. Rhode Island College (now Brown), 1802. After translating the Code Napoléon into English, he practiced law, held various judicial offices, and was (1816–27) reporter of the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. While reporter he prepared A Digest of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1820 (1821). He challenged his successor's right to use his summaries of Supreme Court opinions in Wheaton v. Peters (1834), establishing that only notes and commentary can be copyrighted. Wheaton's diplomatic career began with his service (1827–35) as chargé d'affaires in Denmark. While in Denmark he wrote his History of the Northmen (1831), which maintained that America had been discovered by Scandinavians before the voyage of Columbus. Wheaton represented (1835–46) the United States at the Prussian court. The U.S. Senate ratified treaties he negotiated with Prussia respecting the rights of immigrants, but it rejected the reciprocal trade agreements he considered his greatest achievement. Wheaton's crowning works were Elements of International Law (1836) and the companion work, A History of the Law of Nations (1845), which had great influence on international law.

Wheaton, Henry

(1785–1848) lawyer, diplomat; born in Providence, R.I. A graduate of Rhode Island College (now Brown), he practiced in Providence before moving to New York City (1812), where he edited the National Advocate, a Jeffersonian journal, and was a Marine Court justice (1815–19). As reporter for the U.S. Supreme Court (1816–28), he published two volumes of highly regarded reports that bear his name. He was U.S. chargé d'affaires in Denmark (1827–35) and ambassador to Prussia (1835–46), and in both posts he negotiated important treaties. Among his several legal works, Elements of International Law (1836) had the greatest impact on his contemporaries.