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REMARKS ON THE PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE OF BLOCKADE.
ONE of the unsound parts of the Law of nations is the doctrine of the right of Blockade. The doctrine, as laid down by Vattel is as follows. "All commerce with a besieged town is absolutely prohibited. If I lay siege to a place, or even simply blockade it, I have a right to hinder any one from entering, and to treat as an enemy whoever attempts to enter the place, or carry any thing to the besieged without my leave; for he opposes my undertaking, and may contribute to the miscarriage of it, and thus involve me in all the misfortunes of unsuccessful war.”*
The doctrine, however, is commonly limited by saying, that the blockade must be a strict or efficient one. In other words, the principle laid down, not only by Vattel but by writers on international law generally, is essentially this ;-That belligerent nations have the right of instituting the blockade of an enemy's port and of excluding all neutral commerce under penalty of capture and confiscation, provided the blockade, which is instituted, be such as to render all entrance impossible, or at least exceedingly difficult.
Now admitting for the sake of argument, that nations
* Law of Nations, Bk. III, Chap. 7.
have a right to go to war, (which, whatever may be true on the light of nature, they have no right to do on the principles of the Gospel,) we maintain, nevertheless, that they have no right to institute blockades, operating in this way upon neutral nations. The objections, which we entertain to the doctrine of blockade, as laid down in the existing Law of nations, are briefly these.
I,—In the FIRST place, it is an impracticable doctrine. We do not undertake to say what, under other auspices, it might be. What we mean to say is, that the doctrine is actually laid down at present in such general terms, with such a want of minute specification, with such an inattention to the circumstances which must necessarily arise in all cases of actual blockade, as to be a practical nullity. A rule of the Law of nations ought to be a rule, by which those coming under its operations can guide themselves; otherwise it tends only to deceive, to lead astray, and to destroy. Now the right of blockade, as it stands on the international statute-book, is a mere abstraction, unsustained by those collateral and subsidiary principles, which are necessary in order to render it applicable in the actual intercourse of nations. The subordinate doctrines must be settled, before the general one can be made practicable. The merchant, who wishes to guide himself by this rule of the Law of nations, may well ask, When does the blockade commence? Is it constituted by the mere presence of a sufficient number of ships of war? Is it requisite, that it should be commenced by a formal and public notification of the Govern‚ment, under whose orders they act? And when this is the case, is the blockade supposed to exist, till it is repealed by a like formal and public notification? Is the blockade broken as much by vessels coming out with a cargo, as by going in? Do the liabilities, attending a violation of blockade, extend to all neutral vessels both go
ing out and coming in, and under all circumstances? If vessels, coming out from a blockaded port, have passed safely through a blockading squadron by reason of greater dexterity and vigilance, at what time and place does the liability of such vessel to capture, on the ground of having violated a blockade, terminate ?
These inquiries will show what we mean. If, however, any person is desirous of a more full enumeration of difficulties attending this subject, he will find abundant satisfaction by consulting the Admiralty Reports of the belligerent nations of Europe, during the fierce wars from 1790 to 1815. Such an examination will hardly fail to result in the conviction, that the subject of blockade is far from being settled, that the practices and pretensions of different nations conflict with each other, and that for these reasons, as well as for others which might be mentioned, it is truly an impracticable doctrine.
II,-In the SECOND place, in consequence of the doctrine of blockade being in many of those things which relate to its practical application exceedingly unsettled, it is liable to the most gross and iniquitous perversions; and consequently stands condemned by the pernicious results, to which it gives rise. A single fact will be enough to illustrate this statement. It is clearly settled by the unanimous consent of all writers and authorities on these subjects, that a legal blockade implies and requires the presence and position of a force, which shall render access to the blockaded place manifestly difficult and dangerous. But this perfectly plain principle, which every nation is competent to understand and act upon, has been violated in cases almost without number. The ordinary channels of commerce have been interrupted, opulent families have been beggared, and wars have been excited by illegal paper restrictions, by mere nominal blockades, without an adequate number of vessels to
enforce them, which the Law of nations requires, but still with enough to do immense injury to neutral commerce. The existence of blockades of this character was a prominent cause of the last war between England and the United States. This subject is thus referred to in the President's Message of June 1, 1812.
"Under pretended blockades, without the presence of an adequate force, and sometimes without the practicability of applying one, our commerce has been plundered in every sea; the great staples of our country have been cut off from their legitimate markets; and a destructive blow aimed at our agricultural and maritime interests. In aggravation of these predatory measures, they have been considered as in force from the dates of their notification; a retrospective effect being thus added, as has been done in other important cases, to the unlawfulness of the course pursued. And to render the outrage the more signal, these mock blockades have been reiterated and enforced in the face of official communications from the British government, declaring, as the true definition of a legal blockade, that particular ports must be actually invested, and previous warning given to vessels bound to them, not to enter." Some of the blockades here referred to as destructive and illegal were the following :-Blockade of the coast from the river Elbe to Brest inclusive, instituted May 16, 1806, and covering an extent of coast of about a thousand miles :-Blockade of the Elbe, Weser, and Ems, and the coast between the same, May 11, 1807;-Blockade of the Dardanelles and Smyrna, also instituted May 11, 1807;-Blockade of Carthagena, Cadiz, and St. Lucar, and the intermediate posts between Carthagena and St. Lucar, Jan. 8, 1808.* As has been intimated, these blockades in particular, which bore very heavily in their operation on American
* Anderson's Report, Am. State Papers, Vol. VI, p. 478.
commerce, had a great influence in involving two nations, which had every inducement to remain at peace, in a sanguinary war. Illegal and dishonorable, and in their immediate operation failing to secure the results expected from them, they ultimately brought in their train a host of evils. In the course of the war, which in part grew out of the obnoxious interdictions, we find another striking instance, the legality of which is even more questionable than that of the blockade of May 1806, from the Elbe to Brest. In April of 1814, a proclamation of Vice Admiral Cochrane put in a state of blockade the whole coast of the United States, ports, harbors, bays, creeks, rivers, inlets, &c. from New Brunswick to the Mississippi, a distance of about two thousand miles; whereas the whole disposable British navy would not suffice to blockade the coast of the New England States, in the sense of the Law of nations.
It is proper to remark, that we do not design to convey the intimation by these references to instances of imperfect or illegal blockade, that Great Britain stands alone in these measures. Other nations, sustaining a lower rank as naval powers, have from time to time pur⚫ sued a similar course, but on a smaller scale. France, the ambitious rival of England in what is wrong as well as what is right, gave, in her Berlin and Milan decrees, a perverse and iniquitous illustration of the principles of blockade, which will not soon be forgotten. It ought to be recollected, that at the time when the following article was promulgated, England was mistress of the ocean, and no French fleet was safe out of port.-Article third of the Imperial Decree, dated Milan, November 11, 1807. "The British Islands are declared to be in a state of blockade, both by land and sea. Every ship, of whatever nation, or whatsoever the nature of its cargo may be, that sails from the ports of England, or those of the