Upholding President Abraham Lincoln’s blockade of Confederate ports, the Supreme Court declared that the president had a great deal of flexibility when responding to emergency situations.
In April, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the actions of Southern states had created a state of insurrection and ordered the blockade and the seizure of ships doing business with the Confederacy. Although Congress later endorsed Lincoln’s actions, it did not issue a declaration of war. The Prize Cases dealt with whether the government had legitimate claims over the foreign vessels seized under the blockade. The key issue was whether the blockade was legal according to the Constitution and the principles of international law.
Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Robert C. Grier
The Court’s decision in the Prize Cases gave the president a great deal of power to formulate and execute policies in a time of crisis. For domestic purposes, Lincoln could deal with the Civil War (1861-1865) as an insurrection, and he could announce to other countries that the Confederacy was a belligerent that could be legally blockaded. The Court’s theory of the war appeared to justify Lincoln’s other controversial measures, such as the suspension of habeas corpus and the Emancipation Proclamation.