In the first instance, then, we are to ascertain what were the principles of right and justice, from any materials handed down to us; and if those principles agree with, or support the practical rules recorded by the same, or similar sources of information, such are to be accepted as belonging to the code of the Laws of Nations, as far as those principles are uncontradicted by modern opinion.

In the second instance, those differences which may either overrule, add to, or complete the public opinion of a past age, are to be ascertained, (by those in whose hands such decisions rest,) by looking to the wish of nations on these points; and this wish may be exhibited in various ways; either by a universal abandonment of a given law, in its non-execution by any nation whatever, for a length of time; by numerous treaties, to obtain by convention an improvement not yet declared by international tribunals; or by extending to the relations and duties of nations, the improvements in the general principles of right and justice, that are at the time being applied to the concerns of private individuals.

The judges of such matters are not to ignore what is going on around them; all necessary knowledge is to be brought into court to discover what is the universal feeling of nations in respect of right and wrong, at the time they decide, and if they see a departure from the past sense of right and wrong, to make the modern, and not the ancient, the fountain of modern law; thence deducing the modern rules.

Because a precept cannot be found to be settled by the consent or practice of nations at one time, it is not to be concluded that it cannot be incorporated into the public code of nations, at some subsequent period. Nor is it to be admitted, that no precept belongs to the law of nations which is not universally recognised as such, by all civilized communities, or even by those constituting what may be called the Christian states of Europe. Some doctrines, which we, as well as the United States, admit to belong to the Law of Nations, are comparatively of recent origin and application, and even at this period have received no public or general sanction in other nations; and yet, inasmuch as they are founded on a just view of the duties and rights of nations, according to a modern universal sense of what is just, they are enforced here as ascertained laws.[1]

The War then, that England has entered into, is of the most Public and Solemn kind. Public War is divided into Perfect and Imperfect. The former is more usually called Solemn. Grotius defines Public or Solemn War to be such Public War as is declared or proclaimed. Imperfect Wars between nations, that is such wars as nations carry on one against the other, without declaring or proclaiming them, though they are Public Wars, are seldom called wars at all; they are more usually known by the name of reprisals, or acts of hostility. It has often been important to determine, on the re-settlement of peace, what time war commenced, and when reprisals ceased.[2]

According to the Law of Nations, two things are required for a Solemn War; first, it must be a Public War; that is, the contending parties must be two nations, or two parties of allied nations, contending by force under the direction of a supreme executive; and secondly, it must be proclaimed, notified, or declared. And probably it must be general in its character, and not simply local or defensive. Presuming that the coming contest will be of the widest character, I shall proceed to examine its legal effects on Commerce, on that supposition.[3]

Declarations have existed from the most ancient times, having been borrowed by modern nations from the manners and customs of the Romans. But in present times, (although they may be very properly put forward,) they are not necessary to a state of actual war, or as it is technically termed, to legalize hostilities. A Declaration of War is not a matter of international right.[4]

Acts of hostilities, without such an instrument, cannot be denounced as irregular or piratical, unless committed in manifest bad faith. But though war may lawfully commence without an actual declaration, yet a declaration is of sufficient force to create a state of war, without any mutual attack. It is not a mere challenge from one country to another, to be accepted or refused at pleasure by the other. It proves the existence of actual hostilities on one side at least, and puts the other party also in a state of war, though, he may, perhaps, think proper to act on the defensive only.[5]

War now generally commences by Actual Hostilities, by the Recal or Dismissal of an Ambassador or Minister, or by a Manifesto published by one belligerent power to its own subjects.

Manifestoes are issued to fix the date of the commencement of hostilities; for as a state of war has many various effects on commercial transactions, such as the confiscation of certain property, and the dissolution of certain contracts, it is very necessary that such a date should be accurately known. When a Manifesto or Declaration is issued, it is said to legalize hostilities, that is to say,—to make all acts done, and all breaches committed, under pressure of war, good and lawful acts and breaches.

I have given this explanation, because it is a popular notion that a declaration always precedes war; but in reality, in modern times, few wars are solemnly declared;—they begin most often with general hostilities; thus the first Dutch War began upon general Letters of Marque, and the War with Spain, that commenced by the attempted invasion of the Armada in 1588, was not declared or proclaimed between the two crowns.[6]

The Manifesto not only announces the commencement Contents of and existence of hostilities, but also states the reasons of, and attempts the justification of the war; and it is necessary for the instruction and direction of the subjects of the belligerent state, with respect to their intercourse with the foe; it also apprizes neutral nations of the fact, and enables them to conform their conduct to the rights belonging to the new state of things.[7]

Without such an official act, it might be difficult to distinguish, in a Treaty of Peace, those acts which are to be accounted lawful effects of war, from those which either nation may consider as naked wrongs, and for which they may, under certain circumstances, claim reparation.

When war is duly declared, it is not merely a war between one government and another, but between nation and nation, between every individual of the one state with each and every individual of the other. The subjects of one country are all, and every one of them, the foes of every subject of the other, and from this principle flow many important consequences.[8]

On the commencement of hostilities a natural expectation will arise that the Property, (if not the Persons) of the Belligerent State, found in the Enemy’s Territory, will become liable to seizure and confiscation, especially as no declaration or notice of war is now necessary to legalize hostilities. According to strict authority, the Persons and Property of Subjects of the Enemy found in the belligerent state are liable to detention and confiscation; but even on this point diversity of opinion has arisen among institutional writers; and modern usage seems to exempt the Persons and Property of the Enemy found in either territory at the outbreak of the war, from its operations.

Without entering on the long arguments that have been produced on this subject, and which it is not the intention of this treatise to reproduce, the rule may be stated very nearly as follows.[9]

That though, on principle, the property of the enemy is liable to seizure and confiscation, yet it is now an established international usage that such property found within the territory of the belligerent state, or debts due to its subjects by the government or individuals, at the commencement of hostilities, are not liable to be seized and confiscated as prize of war.

This rule is often enforced by treaty, but unless thus enforced it cannot be considered as an inflexible, though established, rule. This rule is a guide which the Sovran of the belligerent state follows or abandons at will, and although it cannot be disregarded by him without obloquy, yet it may be disregarded. It is not an immutable rule, but depends on considerations which continually vary.[10]

The rule is different with respect to Immoveable Things, such as Landed Estates. He who declares war does not confiscate the Immoveable Estate possessed in his country by the enemy, but the Income may be sequestrated, to prevent its being remitted to the enemy.[11]

Public Funds, or in other words, debts due from the Sovran of the hostile state to Private Persons, are always held protected from confiscation, and there is only one instance in modern times where this rule has been broken. It is a matter of public faith; and even during war, no enquiry ought to be made whether any part of the public debt is due to the subjects of the enemy.[12]

All these rules are, however, subject to the Rule of Reciprocity. This is thus laid down by Sir William Scott, in the case of the Santa Cruz,

“that at the commencement of a war, it is the constant practice of this country to condemn property seized before the war, if the enemy condemns, and to restore if the enemy restores. It is a principle sanctioned by that great foundation of the Law of England, Magna Charta itself, which prescribes, that at the commencement of a war the enemy’s merchants shall be kept and treated as our own merchants are treated in their country.”[13]

[14]In England, at present, however, these liberal principles are modified by Rights of Admiralty, the foregoing rules being applied rather to property upon the land than within the territory; for although, when captures are made in ports, havens, or rivers, within the body of the country of the realm, the Admiralty is in reality excluded, yet Prize Courts have uniformly, without objection, tried all such captures in ports and havens within the realm; as in the case of ships not knowing hostilities, coming in by mistake, before the declaration of war or hostilities; all the ships of the enemy are detained in our ports, to be confiscated as the property of the enemy, if no reciprocal agreement is made.[15]

This species of reprisal is termed a Hostile Embargo. It cannot well be distinguished from the practice of seizing property found within the territory upon the declaration of war. It is undoubtedly against the spirit of modern liberality, and has been but too justly reprobated as destroying that protection to property which the rule of faith and justice gives it, when brought into the country in the course of trade, and in the confidence of peace.

It is not, however, as Wheaton states, peculiar to England, but common to modern Europe, except that England does not, in practice, appear to be influenced by the corresponding conduct of the enemy in that respect.[16]

But with relation to Debts Due to an Enemy, previous to hostilities, English law follows a wiser principle. On the outbreak of war between Denmark and this country in 1807, the Danish Government, as a measure of retaliation for the seizure of their ships in our ports, issued an ordinance sequestrating all debts due from Danish to British subjects, causing them to be paid into the Danish Royal Treasury.

The Court of King’s Bench decided that this was not a legal defence to a suit in England for the debt, and that the ordinance was not conformable to the Law to Nations.[17]

It was observed by the Court, that the right of confiscating debts (contended for on the authority of Vattel,)[18] was not recognised by Grotius,[19] and was impugned by Puffendorf and others; and that no instance had occurred of the exercise of the right, (except the ordinance in question,) for upwards of a century. This is undoubtedly the law in England, although it may be doubted if this rule still holds so strongly in the United States.

One of the most immediate consequences of the outbreak of hostilities is the complete interruption of Commercial Intercourse between the subjects of the countries at war, even to the extent of holding it unlawful, after war has begun, except under special licence of the government, to send a vessel to the enemy’s country to bring home, with their permission, one’s own property, when war has broken out.

There cannot exist at the same time a war for arms and a peace for commerce; from the very nature of war all commercial intercourse ceases between enemies. This interdiction of intercourse is the result of the mere operation of war; for declarations of war generally enjoin on every subject the duty of attack on the subjects of the hostile state, of seizing their goods, and doing them every harm in their power.[20]

From the very nature of war itself, all commercial intercourse ceases between enemies. The utility, however, of merchants, and the mutual wants of nations, have almost got the better of the law of war as to commerce. Hence, commerce is alternately permitted and forbidden in time of war, as princes think it most for the interest of their subjects. A commercial nation is anxious to trade, and accommodate the laws of war to the greater or lesser want that it may have for the goods of the other. Thus sometimes a mutual commerce is permitted generally; sometimes as to certain merchandizes only, while others are prohibited; and sometimes it is prohibited altogether. In this manner there is partly peace and partly war, between subjects of both countries.[21]

In the case of the Hoop,[22] Sir Wm. Scott says,

“By the law and constitution of Great Britain, the Sovereign alone has the power of declaring War and Peace. He alone, therefore, who has the power of entirely removing the state of war, has the power of removing it in part, by permitting, when he sees proper, that commercial intercourse, which is a partial suspension of the war. There may be occasions on which such an intercourse may be highly expedient; but it is not for individuals to determine on the expediency of such occasions, on their own notions of commerce only, and possibly on grounds of private advantage not very reconcilable with the general interests of the state. It is for the state alone, on more enlarged views of policy, and of all circumstances that may be connected with such an intercourse, to determine when it shall be permitted, and under what regulations. No principle ought to be held more sacred than that this intercourse cannot subsist on any other footing than that of the direct permission of the state. Who can be insensible to the consequences that might follow, if every person in time of war had a right to carry on a commercial intercourse with the enemy; and under colour of that, had the means of carrying on any other species of intercourse he might think fit? The inconvenience to the public might be extreme; and where is the inconvenience on the other side, that the merchants should be compelled, in such a situation of the two countries, to carry on his trade between them, (if necessary,) under the eye and control of the Government charged with the care of public safety?”

 Alien Enemy cannot sue in this country.

Sir William then goes on to say,

“another principle of law, of a less politic nature, but equally general in its reception and direct in its application, forbids this sort of communication as fundamentally inconsistent with the relation at the time existing between the two countries, and that is the total inability to sustain any contract by an appeal to the tribunals of the one country, on the part of the subjects of the other. In the law of almost every country, the character of an Alien Enemy carries with it a disability to sue, or to sustain, in the language of the civilians, a persona standi in judicio. The peculiar law of our own country applies this principle with great rigour—the same principle is received in our Courts of the Law of nations; they are so far British courts, that no man can sue therein who is a subject of the Enemy, unless under particular circumstances that pro hac vice discharge him from the character of an Enemy, such as his coming under a flag of truce, a cartel, or a pass, or some other act of public authority that puts him in the Queen’s peace pro hac vice. But otherwise he is totally Ex lex! Even in the case of ransom bills which were contracts, but contracts arising out of the laws of war, and tolerated as such, the Enemy was not permitted to sue in his own person, for the payment of the ransom bill; the payment was enforced by an action brought by the imprisoned hostage in the courts of his own country, for the recovery of his freedom. A state in which contracts cannot be enforced is not a state of legal commerce.”

 No Trade permitted except under Royal licence.

“Upon these and similar grounds, it has been the established rule of this court, confirmed by the judgment of the supreme court, that a trading with the enemy, except under a Royal Licence, subjects the property to confiscation.

“Where the Government has authorised, under sanction of an Act of Parliament, a homeward trade from the enemy’s possessions, but has not specifically protected an outward trade to the same, though intimately connected with that homeward trade, and almost necessary to its existence, the rule has been enforced, where strong claim not merely of convenience, but almost of necessity, excused it on behalf of the individual.

“It has been enforced, where cargoes have been laden before the war, but where the parties have not used all possible diligence to countermand the voyage after the first notice of hostilities.[23]

“In the last war between England and America, a case occurred in which an American citizen had purchased a quantity of goods within the British territory, a long time previous to the war, and had deposited them upon an island near the frontier; upon the breaking out of hostilities, his agents had hired a vessel to proceed to the spot, to bring away the goods; on her return she was captured, and with the cargo, condemned as prize of war.”[24]

So also, where goods were purchased, some time before the war, by the agent of an American citizen in Great Britain, but not shipped until nearly a year after the declaration of hostilities, they were pronounced liable to confiscation.[25]

Where property is to be withdrawn from the country of the enemy, it is the more satisfactory and guarded proceeding on the part of the British merchant to apply to his own Government for the special importation of the article; it is indeed the only safe way in which parties can proceed.[26]

During a Conjoint War no Subject of an Ally can trade with the common enemy without liability to forfeiture in the prize courts of the Ally, of all his property engaged in such trade. As the former rule can be relaxed only by permission of the Sovran power of the state, so this can be relaxed only by the permission of the allied nations, according to their mutual consent.[27]

On similar principles, all Contracts made with the Enemy during War are utterly void. This applies to Insurances on the enemy’s property and trade; to the drawing and negociation of Bills of Exchange, whether the subject of this country or of the alien enemy be the acceptor; to the sending of Money or Bills to the enemy’s country; to Commercial Partnerships. All endeavours to trade by third persons are equally illegal.[28]

Thus also all Contracts made in contemplation of War, and which never could have existed at all, but as an insurance against the pressure of war, and with a view to evade the rights that arise out of war, and in fraud of the belligerent, are illegal, even though made by neutrals.[29]

The municipal or common law of every state declares all Insurances to be void, by which ships or merchandize of the enemy are sought to be protected. Also all Insurances by or on behalf of alien enemies are wholly illegal and void, although effected before the breaking out of hostilities; but if both the policy had been effected and the loss accrued before the war, the remedy is only suspended during the war.

The general principle is that the contract of assurance is vacated and annulled ab initio; wherever an insurance is made on a voyage expressly prohibited by the common, statute, or maritime law of the country; the policy is of no effect.[30]

Thus, if a ship, though neutral, be insured on a voyage prohibited by an embargo laid on in time of war, by the prince of the country in whose ports the ships happen to be, such an insurance is void.[31]

Similarly, all Insurances to protect the interests of British subjects trading without licence with the enemy are absolutely void.[32]

So also, if a Licence is not strictly pursued, so that the voyage becomes illegal, the insurance is void.[33]

I have said that all Insurances will be void which are designed to protect voyages or trading to hostile ports. But, for this purpose, it must be clearly made out, not only that the port into which the ship sails is hostile, but also, that she was bound with a distinct hostile destination at the time of loss. Thus a policy to “ports in the Baltic,” is legal, as some may be hostile, and some not, and it is not certain that she was sailing to a hostile port.

The general principle by which the validity of a policy is to be tested, is by the voyage, that it is a voyage prohibited by law, on some ground of public policy. The will, therefore, of the parties is of no account, as the prohibition is for public, and not private benefit. So that if the underwriter is told that the voyage is illicit he is not more bound than if he were not told so.[34]

It is Insurances upon voyages generally prohibited by law, such as to an enemy’s garrison, or upon a voyage directly contrary to an express act of parliament, or to royal proclamation in time of War, that are absolutely void and null;—therefore, on neutral vessels, or the vessels of British subjects possessing neutral rights and sailing from neutral ports to enemies ports are not void.[35]

Similarly, with respect to Insurances on neutral vessels carrying contraband goods, for it is not the voyage, but the cargo, that is illegal in that case.[36]