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decided: May 15, 1899.



Author: Fuller

[ 174 U.S. Page 513]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after making the above statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

We are unable to concur with the learned District Judge in the conclusion that the blockade of the port of San Juan at the time this steamship was captured was not an effective blockade.

To be binding, the blockade must be known, and the blockading force must be present; but is there any rule of law determining that the presence of a particular force is essential in order to render a blockade effective? We do not think so, but on the contrary, that the test is whether the blockade is practically effective, and that that is a question, though a mixed one, more of fact than of law.

The fourth maxim of the Declaration of Paris, (April 16, 1856,) was: "Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy." Manifestly this broad definition was not intended to be literally applied.

[ 174 U.S. Page 514]

     The object was to correct the abuse, in the early part of the century, of paper blockades, where extensive coasts were put under blockade by proclamation, without the presence of any force, or an inadequate force; and the question of what might be sufficient force was necessarily left to be determined according to the particular circumstances.

This was put by Lord Russell in his note to Mr. Mason of February 10, 1861, thus: "The Declaration of Paris was in truth directed against what were once termed 'paper blockades;' that is, blockades not sustained by any actual force, or sustained by a notoriously inadequate naval force, such as an occasional appearance of a man-of-war in the offing or the like. . . . The interpretation, therefore, placed by Her Majesty's government on the Declaration was, that a blockade, in order to be respected by neutrals, must be practically effective. . . . It is proper to add, that the same view of the meaning and effect of the articles of the Declaration of Paris, on the subject of blockades, which is above explained, was taken by the representative of the United States at the Court of St. James (Mr. Dallas) during the communications which passed between the two governments some years before the present war, with a view to the accession of the United States to that Declaration." Hall's Int. Law, § 260, p. 730, note.

The quotations from the Parliamentary debates, of May, 1861, given by Mr. Dana in note 233 to the eighth edition of Wheaton on International Law, afford interesting illustrations of what was considered the measure of effectiveness; and an extract is also there given from a note of the Department of Foreign Affairs of France of September, 1861, in which that is defined: "Forces sufficient to prevent the ports being approached without exposure to a certain danger."

In The Mercurius, 1 C. Rob. 80, 84, Sir William Scott stated: "It is said, this passage to the Zuyder Zee was not in a state of blockade; but the ship was seized immediately on entering it; and I know not what else is necessary to constitute blockade. The powers who formed the armed neutrality in the last war, understood blockade in this sense; and

[ 174 U.S. Page 515]

     Russia, who was the principal party in that confederacy, described a place to be in a state of blockade, when it is dangerous to attempt to enter into it."

And in The Frederick Molke, 1 C. Rob. 86, the same great jurist said: "For that a legal blockade did exist, results necessarily from these facts, as nothing farther is necessary to constitute blockade, than that there should be a force stationed to prevent communication, and a due notice, or prohibition given to the party."

Such is the settled doctrine of the English and American courts and publicists, and it is embodied in the second of the instructions issued by the Secretary of the Navy, June 20, 1898, General Order No. 492: "A blockade to be effective and binding must be maintained by a force sufficient to render ingress to or egress from the port dangerous."

Clearly, however, it is not practicable to define what degree of danger shall constitute a test of the efficiency and validity of a blockade. It is enough if the danger is real and apparent.

In The Franciska, 2 Spinks, 128, Dr. Lushington, in passing on the question whether the blockade imposed on the port of Riga was an effective blockade, said: "What, then, is an efficient blockade, and how has it been defined, if, indeed, the term 'definition' can be applied to such a subject? The one definition mentioned is, that egress or entrance shall be attended with evident danger; another, that of Chancellor Kent, (1 Kent's Com. 146,) is, that it shall be apparently dangerous. All these definitions are and must be, from the nature of blockades, loose and uncertain; the maintenance of a blockade must always be a question of degree, -- of the degree of danger attending ships going into or leaving a blockaded port. Nothing is further from my intention, nor, indeed, more opposed to my notions of the Law of Nations, than any relaxation of the rule that a blockade must be efficiently maintained; but it is perfectly obvious that no force could bar the entrance to absolute certainty; that vessels may get in and get out during the night, or fogs, or violent winds, or occasional absence; that it is most difficult to judge from numbers alone."

[ 174 U.S. Page 516]

     "It is impossible," says Mr. Hall, (§ 260,) "to fix with any accuracy the amount of danger in entry which is necessary to preserve the validity of a blockade. It is for the prize courts of the belligerent to decide whether in a given instance a vessel captured for its breach had reason to suppose it to be non-existent; or for the neutral government to examine, on the particular facts, whether it is proper to withhold or to withdraw recognition."

In The Hoffnung, 6 C. Rob. 112, 117, Sir William Scott said: "When a squadron is driven off by accidents of weather, which must have entered into the contemplation of the belligerent imposing the blockade, there is no reason to suppose that such a circumstance would create a change of system, since it could not be expected that any blockade would continue many months, without being liable to such temporary interruptions. But when a squadron is driven off by a superior force, a new course of events arises, which may tend to a very different disposition of the blockading force, and which introduces therefore a very different train of presumptions, in favor of the ordinary freedom of commercial speculations. In such a case the neutral merchant is not bound to foresee or to conjecture that the blockade will be resumed." And undoubtedly a blockade may be so inadequate, or the negligence of the belligerent in maintaining it may be of such a character, as to excuse neutral vessels from the penalties for its violation. Thus in the case of an alleged breach of the blockade of the island of Martinique, which had been carried on by a number of vessels on the different stations, so communicating with each other as to be able to intercept all vessels attempting to enter the ports of the island, it was held that their withdrawal was a neglect which "necessarily led neutral vessels to believe these ports might be entered without incurring any risk." The Nancy, 1 Acton, 57, 59.

But it cannot be that a vessel actually captured in attempting to enter a blockaded port, after warning entered on her log by a cruiser off that port only a few days before, could dispute the efficiency of the force to which she was subjected.

As we hold that an effective blockade is a blockade so effective

[ 174 U.S. Page 517]

     as to make it dangerous in fact for vessels to attempt to enter the blockaded port, it follows that the question of effectiveness is not controlled by the number of the blockading force. In other words, the position cannot be maintained that one modern cruiser though sufficient in fact is not sufficient as matter of law.

Even as long ago as 1809, in The Nancy, 1 Acton, 63, where the station of the vessel was sometimes off the port of Trinity and, at others, off another port more than seven miles distant, it was ruled that: "Under particular circumstances a single vessel may be adequate to maintain the blockade of one port and cooperate with other vessels at the same time in the blockade of another neighboring port;" although there Sir William Grant relied on the opinion of the commander on that station that the force was completely adequate to the service required to be performed.

The ruling of Dr. Lushington in The Franciska, above cited, was to that effect, and the text books refer to other instances.

The learned District Judge, in his opinion, refers to the treaty between France and Denmark of 1742, which provided that the entrance to a blockaded port should be closed by at least two vessels or a battery on shore; to the treaty of 1760 between Holland and the Two Sicilies prescribing that at least six ships of war should be ranged at a distance slightly greater than gunshot from the entrance; and to the treaty between Prussia and Denmark of 1818, which stipulated that two vessels should be stationed before every blockaded port; but we do not think these particular agreements of special importance here, and, indeed, Ortolan, by whom they are cited, says that such stipulations cannot create a positive rule in all cases even between the parties, "since the number of vessels necessary to a complete investment depends evidently on the nature of the place blockaded." 2 Ortolan, (4th ed.) 330, and note 2.

Nor do we regard Sir William Scott's judgment in The Arthur, (1814) 1 Dodson, 423, 425, as of weight in favor of claimants. In effect the ruling sustained the validity of the maintenance of blockade by a single ship, and the case was thus stated: "This is a claim made by one of His Majesty's

[ 174 U.S. Page 518]

     ships to share as joint-captor in a prize taken in the river Ems by another ship belonging to His Majesty, for a breach of the blockade imposed by the order in council of the 26th of April, 1809. This order was, among others, issued in the way of retaliation for the measures which had been previously adopted by the French government against the commerce of this country. The blockade imposed by it is applicable to a very great extent of coast, and was never intended to be maintained according to the usual and regular mode of enforcing blockades, by stationing a number of ships, and forming as it were an arch of circumvallation around the mouth of the prohibited port. There, if the arch fails in any one part, the blockade itself fails altogether; but this species of blockade, which was arisen out of the violent and unjust conduct of the enemy, was maintained by a ship stationed anywhere in the neighborhood of the coast, or, as in this case, in the river itself, observing and preventing every vessel that might endeavor to effect a passage up or down the river."

Blockades are maritime blockades, or blockades by sea and land; and they may be either military or commercial, or may partake of the nature of both. The question of effectiveness must necessarily defend on the circumstances. We agree that the fact of a single capture is not decisive of the effectiveness of a blockade, but the case made on this record does not rest on that ground.

We are of opinion that if a single modern cruiser blockading a port renders it in fact dangerous for other craft to enter the port, that is sufficient, since thereby the blockade is made practically effective.

What then were the facts as to the effectiveness of the blockade in the case before us?

In the proclamation of June 27, 1898, occurs this paragraph: "The United States of America has instituted and will maintain an effective blockade of all the ports on the south coast of Cuba, from Cape Frances to Cape Cruz, inclusive, and also of the port of San Juan, in the island of Porto Rico." (Proclamation No. 11, 30 Stat. 34.) The blockade thus announced was not of the coast of Porto Rico, but of the port

[ 174 U.S. Page 519]

     of San Juan, a town of less than 25,000 inhabitants, on the northern coast of Porto Rico, with a single entrance. From June 27 to July 14, 1898, the Yosemite, a merchant ship converted into an auxiliary cruiser, blockaded the port. Her maximum speed was fifteen and one half knots; and her armament ten 5-inch rapid firing guns, six 6-pounders, two 1-pounders, with greatest range of three and one half miles. While the Yosemite was blockading the port she ran the armed transport Antonio Lopez aground six miles from San Juan; gave a number of neutral vessels official notice of the blockade; warned off many from the port; and on the 5th of July, 1898, wrote into the log of the Olinde Rodrigues, off San Juan, the official warning of the blockade of San Juan. On July 14 and thereafter the port was blockaded by the armored cruiser New Orleans, whose maximum speed was twenty-two knots, and her armament six 6-inch breech-loading rifles, four 4.7-inch breech-loading rifles, ten 6-pounders, four 1.5-inch guns, corresponding to 3-pounders; four 3-pounders in the tops; four 37-millimetre automatic guns, corresponding to 1-pounders. The range of her guns was five and one half sea miles or six and a quarter statute miles. If stationary, she could command a circle of thirteen miles in diameter; if moving, at maximum speed, she could cover in five minutes any point on a circle of seventeen miles diameter; and in ten minutes any point on a circle of nineteen miles diameter; her electric search lights could sweep the sea by night for ten miles distance; her motive power made her independent of winds and currents; in these respects and in her armament and increased range of guns she so far surpassed in effectiveness the old-time war ships that it would be inadmissible to hold that even if a century ago more than one ship was believed to be required for an effective blockade, therefore this cruiser was not sufficient to blockade this port

Assuming that the Olinde Rodrigues attempted to enter San Juan, July 17, there can be no question that it was dangerous for her to do so, as the result itself demonstrated. She had had actual warning twelve days before; no reason existed for the supposition that the blockade had been pretermitted or relaxed:

[ 174 U.S. Page 520]

     her commander had no right to experiment as to the practical effectiveness of the blockade, and, if he did so, he took the risk; he was believed to be making the attempt, and was immediately captured. In these circumstances the vessel ...

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