"What we are aiming to create is a sort of modern and international Corpus Juris Civilis," explained G. W. Wickersham, attorney general of the United States in the cabinet of President Taft, when questioned about the meeting of distinguished lawyers and jurists which opened here yesterday.
"The condition of international law is far from satisfactory at the present," Mr. Wickersham continued. "Problems of a most embarrassing nature are constantly arising, and sometimes constitute serious menaces to the legal harmony of government. Hitherto there has been no single system of law whereby countries can judge their cases. Custom and a wide variety of precedents have been practically the only criteria for the just determination of conduct. Obviously conflict was the inevitable result of such contradictory standards.
"In 1921 the League of Nations gave serious consideration to this problem, and appointed various committees to investigate different aspects of the situation. These smaller groups made painstaking studies of the several general types of international problems and reported on them to the League, explaining why they were matters which could be codified. Their reports were sent to the governments of the world to learn their reactions. This process was repeated until the issues concerned became definitely stated.
"Later this year there will be an official gathering of the nations for a final discussion resulting, it is to be hoped, in a settlement and acceptance. The task facing us here at Harvard is the formulation of a brief which the United States representatives at his last conference may present as their country's attitude and recommendations.
"Our work revolves around three major types of problems. First is the territorial situation. Many diverse theories have been advanced, and not a few are still current, concerning the coast lines of countries. We hope to evolve certain rules to which every nation will assent. Such standards should do much toward simplifying puzzling questions and thus should promote harmony in foreign relations.
"Second is the matter of one government's claims against another. This has been since time immemorial a fertile ground for strife. A foreigner, for example, is lynched by a mob in America. What is his government to do? Make objections through diplomatic channels, of course, and seek redress in the customary manner. But what if our officials politely but firmly fall to be blamed, or that any compensation is necessary? Then the consequences are not always happy! Were there a recognized universal law which could be applied, much time could be saved and dangerous complications averted.
"Nationality presents the third type about which our discussion centers. Italy claims as her citizens all people who are born of Italian parents, no matter where they are born or reside. The United States, on the other hand, calls everyone a citizen who is born in America. When Italian parents living in New York have a son, of which nation then is he a member? An agreement on nationality is the third type of law which is extremely advisable, and which we hope to establish."