Henry Wheaton, an American publicist, born in Providence, R. I., Nov. 27, 1785, died in Dorchester, Mass., March 11, 1848. He graduated at Brown university (then Rhode Island college) in 1802, studied law, and after being admitted to the bar visited Europe. Soon after his return he settled in New York, where he practised law and wrote for the "National Advocate," a daily newspaper, on the question of neutral rights, which had given rise to the existing war with Great Britain. During the same period he was for a short time one of the justices of the marine court. In 1815 he published a "Digest of the Law of Maritime Captures or Prizes," which in reality was an exposition of the law of nations as then administered. This was received with much favor. About this time he also published "An Essay on the Means of maintaining the Commercial and Naval Interests of the United States." From 1816 to 1827 he was reporter of the decisions of the supreme court of the United States. His reports, extending to 12 volumes, are largely annotated and constitute a high authority.
He also published "Digest of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1829" (2 vols. 8vo, New York, 1821-'9). During this period he was a constant contributor to the "American Quarterly " and the " North American Review." His anniversary address before the historical society of New York in 1820, upon the " Science of Public or International Law," contains the germ of his works on the law of nations. In 1821 he was a delegate from New York to the convention for forming a new constitution for the state. In 1825 he was associated with Benjamin F. Butler, afterward attorney general of the United States, and John Duer in a commission for revising the statute law of New York. In 1826 he published the " Life of William Pinkney," and subsequently wrote an abridgment of it for Sparks's " American Biography." He was appointed chargé d'affaires to Denmark in 1827, and resided, at Copenhagen till 1835, when he was appointed minister resident to the court of Prussia. Two years later he was made minister plenipotentiary, which office he retained till 1846. In these posts he won great reputation as a diplomatist, by his negotiations on the Sound dues, the Scheldt dues, the tolls on the Elbe, and the rights of naturalized citizens, and especially by the treaty of 1844 with Germany, though that was rejected by the senate for party reasons.
In 1831 appeared his "History of the Northmen, from the Earliest Times to the Conquest of England by William of Normandy " (London and Philadelphia; translated into French by M. Guillot, Paris, 1844). At the time of his death he was engaged upon a new and greatly enlarged edition of this work. The " History of Scandinavia" (1838) was the joint production of Mr. Wheaton and Dr. Crichton, and intended as a sequel to the " History of the Northmen." In 1836 his "Elements of International Law" appeared in England and the United States. In 1841 he wrote a prize essay for the French institute, under the title Histoire du droit des gens en Europe, depuis la paix de Westphalie jutqu'au congres de Vienne (enlarged ed., Leipsic and Paris, 1846), of which the English version is entitled "History of the Law of Nations in Europe and America, from the Earliest Times to the Treaty of Washington " (New York, 1845). The " Elements of International Law " has ever sinoe its publication been regarded throughout Europe as a standard authority. In 1864 a translation into Chinese was made and published at Peking by order of the imperial government.
After the author's death a 6th edition (Boston, 1855), with extensive notes and a biographical memoir, was prepared at the request of Mr. Wheaton's family by W. B. Lawrence, who also edited with additional notes a 7th edition (1863). An 8th edition with new notes and a new memoir, by R. H. Dana, jr., appeared with the sanction of the family in 1866. In 1842 Mr. Wheaton published in Philadelphia "An Inquiry into the British Claim of a Right of Search of American Vessels." In 1843 he was elected a corresponding member of the French institute, and in 1844 a foreign member of the royal academy of science of Berlin. He returned to the United States in 1847.