Proclamation of the Blockade


Why a blockade?

Some authors have suggested over the years that the proclamation of a 'blockade' was an error by the Lincoln administration, since under international legal definitions a country does not blockade its own ports, but rather closes them. When the blockade was proclaimed as such, these authors say, the Union gave de facto recognition to the Confederacy as a belligerent.

True enough, but it was no error at all; rather, it was the only practical option for the administration. The closing of ports was a matter administered under domestic law, while blockade was administered under international law. Blockade gave the blockading nation certain rights to stop and search neutral shipping on the high seas, whereas port closing did not grant those rights. The administration was uncomfortably aware that it was granting the Confederacy belligerent status, but the having the right to stop and search was vital to making the blockade work.

Furthermore, the Lincoln administration did not make the decision in a vacuum. Foreign ambassadors were consulted; the most important among them, naturally, was Lord Lyons, the British ambassador. He told the State Department in no uncertain terms that, if the United States were merely to announce the closure of the Southern ports, Her Majesty's Government would not feel constrained to honor it. If the United States attempted to force the issue, it could have meant war between the US and Britain. That was the clincher, and it left blockade as the only viable option.


By the President of the United States of America.--A Proclamation.

Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue can not be effectually executed therein, conformably to that provision of the Constitution which requires duties to be uniform throughout the United States; and

Whereas a combination of persons engaged in such insurrection have threatened to grant pretended letters of marque to authorize the bearers thereof to commit assaults on the lives, vessels, and property of good citizens of the country lawfully engaged in commerce on the high seas and in the waters of the United States; and

Whereas an Executive proclamation has been already issued requiring the persons engaged in these disorderly proceedings to desist therefrom, calling out a militia force for the purpose of repressing the same, and convening Congress in extraordinary session to deliberate and determine thereon:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, with a view to the same purposes before mentioned, and to the protection of public peace and the lives and property of quiet and orderly citizens pursuing their lawful occupations until Congress shall have assembled and deliberated on the said unlawful proceedings, or until the same shall have ceased, have further deemed it advisable to set on foot a blockade of the ports within the States aforesaid, in pursuance of the laws of the United States and of the law of nations in such case provided. For this purpose a competent force will be posted so as to prevent entrance and exit of vessels from the ports aforesaid. If, therefore, with a view to violate such blockade a vessel shall approach or shall attempt to leave either of the said ports, she will be duly warned by the commander of one of the blockading vessels, who will endorse on her register the fact and date of such warning, and if the same vessel shall again attempt to enter or leave the blockaded port she will be captured and sent to the nearest convenient port for such proceedings against her and her cargo as prize as may be deemed advisable.

And I hereby proclaim and declare that if any person, under the pretended authority of the said States, or under any other pretense, shall molest a vessel of the United States, or the persons or cargo on board of her, such person will be held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this nineteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.

[L.S.]

Abraham Lincoln.

By the President:

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State.


Proclamation of the President of the United States regarding extension of blockade to the ports of Virginia and North Carolina, April 27, 1861.

Whereas, for the reasons assigned in my proclamation of the 19th instant, a blockade of the ports of the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, was ordered to be established; and, whereas, since that date public property of the United States has been seized, the collection of the revenue obstructed, and duly commissioned officers of the United States, while engaged in executing the orders of their superiors, have been arrested and held in custody as prisoners, or have been impeded in the discharge of their official duties without due legal process by persons claiming to act under authority of the States of Virginia and North Carolina, an efficient blockade of the ports of those States will therefore also be established.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this twenty-seventh day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-fifth.

[L.S.]

Abraham Lincoln.

By the President:

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State.

Return to Ironclads and Blockade Runners