My recent reading includes a review, by friend Henry, of SLAVISH SHORE, a new book from Harvard University Press about the life of Richard Henry Dana Jr.
Dana argued the Prize Cases before the US Supreme Court in February 1863. At issue: when is a war a war? when is a blockade a blockade? was Lincoln's action in pursuing a war through the imposition of a blockade lawful? As Henry explains it: "A blockade is a war measure, and a President is authorized under his war powers to impose a blockade only when Congress has declared war against another nation....Lincoln denied that the Confederate states were a nation, he insisted that they were mere insurrectionists and traitors. No one questions that Lincoln could have closed the ports, as opposed to blockading them, but Britain had 'made it clear that it would not accept American "closure" of Southern ports that would expose British shippers to arrest as common smugglers.'"
In that last half sentence, Henry is of course quoting Jeffrey L. Amestoy, the author of the book under review.
So to avoid war with England, Lincoln had to call his closing of the ports a blockade, without calling the CSA a foreign country.
The owners of the seized shipping and cargo wanted it back, and the government wanted to sell it under the Prize law.
Dana persuaded a majority of the court that war is "a state of things, and not an act of legislative will." There plainly was a war underway, whether it be called a war, declared as such, or fought against a sovereign power, or not. And this meant that the closing of the ports was a blockade, whatever the President might do in his diplomatic capacity to avoid another war (properly speaking!) with a foreign power.
Good job, Dana. Good job, Jeffrey and Henry too.