Handbook of Maritime Rights/Chapter 1

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To begin with, What is "War ?

War is a sentence of death and confiscation pronounced against your enemy for refusing to do you Justice. War for any other motive, or on any other pretext, is the greatest of national crimes; and wars of ambition or aggrandisement are brigandage and rapine on a stupendous scale. War is either the greatest of crimes or the most sacred of duties; and, when it is the latter, the man who talks of peace is either a traitor or a coward. The sentence of confiscation is the lesser right included in the greater, viz. that of putting your enemy to death, and to distrain his goods is the milder and more humane compulsion applied to him prior to the exercise of the right of killing him.

War on land is more terrible than war on sea. It includes occupation and annexation of your enemy's territory, the denationalization of his provinces (the greatest calamity which an independent people can undergo), and the striking at his capital, the heart of his empire and the centre of his government, which, when successful, puts an end to the war and brings him to terms.

War at sea, in the nature of things, can lead neither to occupation nor annexation, and consists solely in naval actions and bombardment of fortresses, and in compulsion applied to your enemy's commerce. This compulsion consists in two descriptions of measures.

(1) Blockading enemy's coasts and harbours.

(2) Seizing his goods at sea.

The first practice (blockading) has undergone a limitation by the practice of modern times and the Declaration of Paris.

Formerly an Order in Council declared certain ports or coasts blockaded, and all vessels found on the high seas bound for those ports or coasts were held to have broken the blockade, and were seized accordingly. According to the new rule (the IVth rule of the Declaration of Paris), a blockade to be valid must now be effective; that is, it must be effected by means of a blockading squadron off the particular blockaded coast or harbour, and must be so effective as to constitute a real danger to the vessels attempting to enter the ports in question. This new rule puts an end to paper blockades, and what I should call ocean blockades, that is, blockades ordered in Council and effected by- cruisers in the open sea. It consequently considerably limits the power of blockading at all times, and puts an end to it in the winter altogether in those seas (such as the Baltic and Black Seas), where no blockading squadron could maintain itself at that season.

This conventional limitation imposed by the Declaration of Paris is further increased by the improvements in the means of internal communication between nations, especially by the great extension of railways; for even where the whole coast of a particular country is effectually blockaded, the blockaded belligerent can transport his goods by land to the nearest neutral harbour (as the Russians did to Memel and Königsburg during the Crimean war), and there ship them on board neutral vessels, where they will be perfectly safe from capture under the Declaration of Paris, at the simple inconvenience of paying the enhanced cost of transport, representing the difference of the distance of the place of produce from the neutral harbour as compared with its usual place of export. Prior to the Declaration of Paris this would have availed him nothing, because his cargoes were seizable by the hostile cruisers the moment they left the neutral harbour, in whatever vessel they might be. In Lord Stowell's words (the concisest form of the expression of maritime belligerent rights), "enemies" cargoes were seizable at sea, whatever the ships, whatever the cargoes, and whatever the destination." This ancient rule was repealed by the Declaration of Paris, which introduced instead of it the new rule that enemies goods were safe in neutral bottoms, which is the maxim which I intend to examine at length in subsequent chapters. But before taking leave of the subject of blockades I must notice some further pretensions on the subject put forward by neutral nations and by those whose manifest interest it is to cripple England's power at sea, and which, although not yet adopted, can be equally supported by exactly the same class of argument by which the Declaration of Paris is defended.

In the Berlin decrees of the First Napoleon, and in a circular of Count Beust, the pretension was raised that the right of blockading should be confined to fortified places thus putting an end to commercial blockades altogether, and involving that larger pretension which I shall examine later on, viz., the immunity of all private property at sea.

But in order to clear the ground for the examination of the chief point on which we have to fix our attention (viz., the maxim of the flag covering the cargo) it may be as well to dispose of the 1st rule of the Declaration of Paris, which abolished privateers, and to say a few words on this subject, which has really very little indeed, or rather nothing, to say to the main question, and has been, I firmly believe, purposely introduced into the discussion in order to confuse people's minds and prevent their arriving at a clear understanding and resolute determination on the main question.