Constitutional aspects of the Prize Cases



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Prize Cases in 1863, was the first that concerned constitutional questions stemming from the Civil War. The Union blockading fleet captured the vessels involved in the Prize Cases under a blockade of southern ports established in April, 1861. In that month Lincoln issued two proclamations instituting a blockade of southern ports in order to deprive the South of foreign sources of supplies and to expedite the suppression of the rebellion. In order to avoid any diplomatic crises with European governments, Lincoln chose to establish the blockade according to the procedures of international law. According to international law, however, blockades are instituted as a belligerent right of war. Following Lincoln's announcement of the blockade, most European nations recognized the Confederate government as a belligerent power. This action was in direct conflict with the position of the United States government. The United States maintained that in spite of its use of a blockade, the conflict was a domestic rebellion and the Confederacy, therefore, was not entitled to recognition of its belligerency. [...]