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The blockade and letters of marque.The proclamation of the Queen does not make the law of England or of nations, but simply warns all whom it may concern against any breach of it. It is not by the proclamation, but by the law on which the proclamation is founded, that mankind must guide their proceedings; and, had the proclamation defined ever so strictly what constituted a blockade, that definition would avail nothing, unless it was accepted as a correct definition of law by the American Prize Courts. To seek to define what is the law of nations in a royal proclamation would be, instead of a safeguard, a snare for the unlearned reader, since it would lead him to rely on an interpretation of that law which would not be binding on the court before which his case is to be decided. We note a trace of this common error in the case proposed by Mr. Horsfall to Lord Palmerston. That question asks whether merchant ships, chartered by the United States prior to the proclamation, will be liable to its penalties? We apprehend, whatever those liabilities may be, the proclamation, which is only a warning not to break the law of England and the law of nations, could in nowise alter them. The answer that can be given to Lord Ellenborough is that a blockade must be, on the one hand, a great deal more than a mere paper prohibition. A hen may be induced to believe that a broad chalk line forms a barrier which she cannot pass, but mankind have a right to require that, before their natural liberty be taken from them, something more substantial shall be interposed between them and the port they desire to enter. On the other hand, it would be absurd to say that a blockade shall not be respected unless it be completely effective. Such a rule would be to invite a perpetual breaking of blockades, since the very fact of a successful evasion would prove conclusively, according to the definition, that it was no blockade at all, on the same principle that treason never prospers, because rebellion, when triumphant, ceases to be treason. Still less reasonable was the complaint of Lord Ellenborough, that the proclamation did not enable plain men to find out what articles are contraband of war. A topic far more worthy of mature consideration than the question proposed by Lord Ellenborough was the doctrine with regard to ‘"privateering"’ enunciated by Lord Derby. The argument of Lord Derby seems to be that the North, by declaring a blockade of the Southern ports, claims from neutral nations the respect due to its rights as a belligerent power; and therefore that, whatever the North may choose to do with the citizens of the Southern States captured on board the privateers fitted out under letters of marque from Mr. Jefferson Davis, the North has no right to treat the belligerent rights of the South as a nullity with regard to the subjects of countries from whom it claims respect for its own belligerent rights. The result would be that the North, by declaring a blockade of the Southern ports, has bound itself not to execute as pirates the subjects of neutral States serving on board such privateers. The argument is one of great subtlety and refinement, and seemed to receive confirmation from the arguments of subsequent speakers. It is clear that English subjects serving on board an American ‘" privateer"’ are not pirates, though, if they choose so to act, the English Government, by the proclamation, seems to avow its intention of leaving them to a pirate's fate. It may possibly deserve consideration whether this decision can be strictly adhered to. At any rate, we cannot doubt that the authoritative declaration of the law by so many judges of eminent authority will go very far to prevent the danger apprehended, and may possibly be the means of introducing into the very commencement of a dreadful civil war those principles of humanity and moderation the operation of which might otherwise be suspended until enforced and demonstrated by the barbarous logic of reprisals.
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