Prize CasesAnnotate this Case
67 U.S. 635 (1862)
U.S. Supreme Court
Prize Cases, 67 U.S. 2 Black 635 635 (1862)
67 U.S. (2 Black) 635
1. Neutrals may question the existence of a blockade, and challenge the legal authority of the party which has undertaken to establish it.
2. One belligerent, engaged in actual war, has a right to blockade the ports of the other, and neutrals are bound to respect that right.
3. To justify the exercise of this right, and legalize the capture of a neutral vessel for violating it, a state of actual war must exist, and the neutral must have knowledge or notice that it is the intention of one belligerent to blockade the ports of the other.
4. To create this and other belligerent rights as against neutrals, it is not necessary that the party claiming them should be at war with a separate and independent power; the parties to a civil war are in the same predicament as two nations who engage in a contest and have recourse to arms.
5. A state of actual war may exist without any formal declaration of it by either party, and this is true of both a civil and a foreign war.
6. A civil war exists, and may be prosecuted on the same footing as if those opposing the Government were foreign invaders, whenever the regular course of justice is interrupted by revolt, rebellion, or insurrection, so that the Courts cannot be kept open.
7. The present civil war between the United States and the so-called Confederate States has such character and magnitude as to give the United States the same rights and powers which they might exercise in the case of a national or foreign war, and they have, therefore, the right jure bello to institute a blockade of any ports in possession of the rebellious States.
8. The proclamation of blockade by the President is, of itself, conclusive evidence that a state of war existed which demanded and authorized recourse to such a measure.
9. All persons residing within the territory occupied by the hostile party in this contest are liable to be treated as enemies, though not foreigners.
10. It is a settled rule that a vessel in a blockaded port is presumed to have notice of a blockade as soon as it commences.
11. The proclamation of blockade having allowed fifteen days for neutrals to leave, a vessel which overstays the time is liable to capture although she was prevented by accident from getting out sooner.
12. To make a capture lawful, it is not necessary that a warning of the blockade should have been previously endorsed on the register of the captured vessel.
These were cases in which the vessels named, together with their cargoes, were severally captured and brought in as prizes by public ships of the United States. The libels were filed by
the proper District Attorneys on behalf of the United States and on behalf of the officers and crews of the ships by which the captures were respectively made. In each case, the District Court pronounced a decree of condemnation, from which the claimants took an appeal.
The Amy Warwick was a merchant vessel, and belonged to Richmond. Her registered owners were David and William Currie, Abraham Warwick, and George W. Allen, who resided at that place. Previous to her capture, she had made a voyage from New York to Richmond, and thence to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the last named port, she shipped a cargo of coffee, 5,100 bags, to be delivered at New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Richmond, according to the orders which the master would receive at Hampton Roads. She was on her voyage from Rio to Hampton Roads and off Cape Henry when she was captured (July 10th, 1861) by the Quaker City. At the time of the capture, the barque was sailing under American colors, and her commander was ignorant of the war. The Quaker City carried her into Boston, where she was libelled as enemy's property. The claimants of the vessel were the persons already named as owners. James Dunlap, Robert Edmonds, John L. Phipps, and Charles Brown claimed the cargo. The claimants in their several answers denied any hostility on their part to the Government or Laws of the United States, averred that the master was ignorant of any blockade, embargo or other interdiction of commerce with the ports of Virginia, and asserted generally that the capture was unlawful.
The Crenshaw was captured by the United States Steamer Star at the mouth of James River on the 17th of May, 1861. She was bound for Liverpool with a cargo of tobacco from Richmond, and was owned by David and William Currie, who admitted the existence of an insurrection in Virginia against the Laws and Government of the United States, but averred that they were innocent of it. The claimants of the cargo made similar answers, and all the claimants asserted that they had no such notice of the blockade as rendered the vessel or cargo liable to seizure for leaving the port of Richmond at the time
when the voyage was commenced. She was condemned as prize on the ground that she had broken, or was attempting to break, the blockade at the time of her capture.
The Hiawatha was a British barque, and was on her voyage from Richmond to Liverpool with a cargo of tobacco. She left Richmond on the 17th of May, 1861, and was captured in Hampton Roads on the 20th by the Minnesota, and taken to New York. Her owners were Miller, Massman & Co., of Liverpool, who denied her liability to capture and condemnation on the ground that no sufficient notice had been given of the blockade. The claimants of the cargo put their right to restoration upon a similar basis.
The Brilliante was a Mexican schooner, owned by Rafael Preciat and Julian Gual, residents of Campeche. She had on board a cargo of flour, part of which was owned by the owners of the vessel and part by the Seniores Ybana & Donde, who were also Mexican citizens. She had a regular clearance at Campeche for New Orleans, and had made the voyage between those ports. At New Orleans, she took in her cargo of flour, part to be delivered at Sisal and part at Campeche, and took a clearance for both those places. On her homeward voyage, she anchored in Biloxi Bay, intending to communicate with some vessel of the blockading fleet and get a permit to go to sea, and, while so at anchor, she was taken by two boats sent off from the Massachusetts. She was carried into Key West, where the legal proceedings against her were prosecuted in the District Court of the United States for the District of Florida.
The minuter circumstances of each case, and the points of fact, as well as law, on which all the cases turned, in this Court and in the Court below, are set forth with such precision in the opinions of both Mr. Justice Grier and Mr. Justice Nelson that more than the brief narrative above given does not seem to be necessary.