Home Government Programs Prize Cases

Prize Cases

Prize Cases


Prize Cases (67 U.S. 635)

The Prizes Cases was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court during the Civil War.  The subject of the case was whether or not President Abraham Lincoln has the authority to declare a blockade of Southern ports even there was no formal declaration of war.  The Supreme Court ruled President Lincoln had the authority to issue the blockade. 


The blockade was an effective technique used by President Lincoln to limit the Confederate States’ resources during the war. 


Decision made by the Supreme Court during Prize Cases

The following arguments were decided upon by the Supreme Court:


1. Neutral parties have a legal right to challenge the constitutionality of the blockade.


2. A state has the right to blockade ports if actual war exists, and the neutral parties must respect the blockade. 


3. To legally capture a neutral vessel, a state of war must exist and the neutral vessel must be notified that one belligerent (a group or nation engaged in hostile activity) intends to blockade the ports of the other belligerent. 


4. The blockade is constitutional because the parties engaged in civil war are in the same situation as two nations who are at war. 


5. A state of actual war can exist without a formal declaration of war, and this applies to civil and foreign war. 


6. A civil war exists, and the Supreme Court can prosecute the warring party as if they were a foreign invader.


7. The civil war between the United States and the co-called Confederate States has the same magnitude as a war between the United States and a foreign power. 


8. The proclamation of the blockade by the President is evidence enough that a state of war existed. 


9. All persons in the hostile territory are liable to be treated like enemies.


10. A vessel in a blockaded port is presumed to have received notice of the blockade as soon as it begins. 


11. The proclamation of the blockade gives neutral vessels 15 days to leave the port.  If the vessel stays longer, it is liable for capture. 


12. A capture of a vessel is lawful even if a warning was never issued to the captured vessel. 


Captured Ships that Filed the Prize Cases

The following ships were captured as prizes of the United States, and the attorneys on behalf of the officers and crews of the ships filed the case.


1. The Amy Warwick belonged to Richmond and she way making a voyage from New York to Richmond and then to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  She was captured during her voyage from Rio to Hampton Roads. 


2. The Crenshaw was captured on May 17, 1861.  The ship was bound for Liverpool with a cargo of Tobacco from Richmond. 


3. The Hiawatha was captured on May 20, 1861 by the Minnesota.  She was en route to Liverpool from Richmond with a cargo of tobacco. 


4. The Brilliante was a schooner owned by Mexico.  She was bound for Mexico from New Orleans with a cargo of flour, and she was captured by the Massachusetts


Source: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0067_0635_ZS.html