Self-Preservation at Copenhagen

AuthorCraig Forcese
Chapter 18
Self-Preservation at
Was it to be contended; that in a moment of imminent danger and
impending necessity, we should have abained from that course which
prudence and policy diated, . . . because . . . we should have the
consolation of having the authority of Puf‌fendorf to plead?
— lord CanninG (3 feBruary 1808)1
V’   prescient, as states in the nineteenth
century began deploying a sweeping concept of defensive
“self-preservation” to justify violence, one that went beyond
the narrower concepts of self-defence employed by the great jurists.
The most notable of these conf‌licts, raising exactly the dilemmas
Vattel feared, occurred at Copenhagen in 1807. In a twist of fate, this
was a campaign in which a young Andrew Drew saw action and which
would also later be invoked during the Caroline dispute.
 1807,  was at war with Napoleon’s France. Denmark was
neutral in that conf‌lict, but possessed a signif‌icant navy that the Brit-
ish worried would be impressed into service by Napoleon, under the
terms of a secret treaty. The British government dispatched a for-
midable f‌leet to negotiate the temporary surrender of the Danish
ships to Britain, until the war’s end. Upon arriving at unsuspecting
Copenhagen in August, the British commanders announced the jus-
tice of their intent and the might of their force, and proclaimed: “We
come, therefore, to your shores, inhabitants of Zealand, not as ene-
mies, but in self-defence, to prevent those who have so long disturbed

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