Research Subjects: Government & Politics


Neutral Powers 1806

Berlin Decree 1806

British Order 1807

British Order 1807

Milan Decree 1807

British Order 1809

Rambouillet Decree 1810


Documents upon the Continental System

The first five of these documents exhibit the steps whereby the neutral trade of the world was destroyed during the great commercial war between France and England. Document F shows a subsequent adjustment of the English system. Document G illustrates the methods employed by Napoleon in the application of his system. The idea of conquering England by destroying her commerce was an old French conception which the Directory had begun to apply. Napoleon resumed the policy at the renewal of the war in 1803 and his measures led to document A.

A. British Note to the Neutral Powers. May 16, I806.

American State Papers, Foreign Relations, III, 267.

Downing Street, May 16, 1806.

The undersigned, His Majesty's principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has received His Majesty's commands to acquaint Mr. Monroe, that the King, taking into consideration the new and extraordinary means resorted to by the enemy for the purpose of distressing the commerce of his subjects, has thought fit to direct that the necessary measures should be taken for the blockade of the coast, rivers and ports, from the river Elbe to the port of Brest, both inclusive; and the said coast, rivers and ports are and must be considered as blockaded; but that His Majesty is pleased to declare that such blockade shall not extend to prevent neutral ships and vessels laden with goods not being the property of His Majesty's enemies, and not being contraband of war, from approaching the said coast, and entering into and sailing from the said rivers and ports (save and except the coast, rivers and ports front Ostend to the river Seine, already in a state of strict and rigorous blockade, and which are to be considered as so continued), provided the said ships and vessels so approaching and entering (except as aforesaid), shall not have been laden at any port belonging to or in the possession of any of His Majesty's enemies; and that the said ships and vessels so sailing from said rivers and ports (except as aforesaid) shall not be destined to any port belonging to or in possession of any of His Majesty's enemies, nor have previously broken the blockade.

Mr. Monroe is therefore requested to apprise the American consuls and merchants residing in England, that the coast, rivers and ports above mentioned, must be considered as being in a state of blockade, and that from this time all the measures authorised by the law of nations and the respective treaties between His Majesty and the different neutral powers, will be adopted and executed with respect to vessels attempting to violate the said blockade after this notice.

The undersigned requests Mr. Monroe, etc.
C. J. FOX.

 

B. The Berlin Decree. November 21, 1806.

Correspondance de Napoleon I, XIII, 551-557. Translation, James Harvey Robinson, University of Pennsylvania Translations and Reprints.

From our Imperial Camp at Berlin, November 21, 1806.

Napoleon, Emperor of the French and King of Italy, in consideration of the fact:

  1. That England does not recognize the system of international law universally observed by all civilized nations.
  2. That she regards as an enemy every individual belonging to the enemy's state, and consequently makes prisoners of war not only of the crews of armed ships of war but of the crews of ships of commerce and merchantmen, and even of commercial agents and of merchants traveling on business.
  3. That she extends to the vessels and commercial wares and to the property of individuals the right of conquest, which is applicable only to the possessions of the belligerent power.
  4. That she extends to unfortified towns and commercial ports, to harbors and the mouths of rivers, the right of blockade, which, in accordance with reason and the customs of all civilized nations, is applicable only to strong places. That she declares places in a state of blockade before which she has not even a single ship of war, although a place may not be blockaded except it be so completely guarded that no attempt to approach it can be made without imminent danger. That she has declared districts in a state of blockade which all her united forces would be unable to blockade, such as entire coasts and the whole of an empire.
  5. That this monstrous abuse of the right of blockade has no other aim than to prevent communication among the nations and to raise the commerce and the industry of England upon the ruins of that of the continent.
  6. That, since this is the obvious aim of England, whoever deals on the continent in English goods, thereby favors and renders himself an accomplice of her designs.
  7. That this policy of England, worthy of the earliest stages of barbarism, has profited that power to the detriment of every other nation.
  8. That it is a natural right to oppose such arms against an enemy as he makes use of, and to fight in the same way that he fights. Since England has disregarded all ideas of justice and every high sentiment, due to the civilization among mankind, we have resolved to apply to her the usages which she has ratified in her maritime legislation.

The provisions of the present decree shall continue to be looked upon as embodying the fundamental principles of the Empire until England shall recognize that the law of war is one and the same on land and sea, and that the rights of war cannot be extended so as to include private property of any kind or the persons of individuals unconnected with the profession of arms, and that the right of blockade should be restricted to fortified places actually invested by sufficient forces.

We have consequently decreed and do decree that which follows:

  1. The British Isles are declared to be in a state of blockade.
  2. All commerce and all correspondence with the British Isles are forbidden. Consequently letters or packages directed to England or to an Englishman or written in the English language shall not pass through the mails and shall be seized.
  3. Every individual who is an English subject, of whatever state or condition he may be, who shall be discovered in any country occupied by our troops or by those of our allies, shall be made a prisoner of war.
  4. All warehouses, merchandise or property of whatever kind belonging to a subject of England shall be regarded as a lawful prize.
  5. Trade in English goods is prohibited, and all goods belonging to England or coming from her factories or her colonies are declared lawful prize.
  6. Half of the product resulting from the confiscation of the goods and possessions declared a lawful prize by the preceding articles shall be applied to indemnify the merchants for the losses they have experienced by the capture of merchant vessels taken by English cruisers.
  7. No vessel coming directly from England or from the English colonies or which shall have visited these since the publication of the present decree shall be received in any port.
  8. Any vessel contravening the above provision by a false declaration shall be seized, and the vessel and cargo shall be confiscated as if it were English property.
  9. Our Court of Prizes at Paris shall pronounce final judgment in all cases arising in our Empire or in the countries occupied by the French Army relating to the execution of the present decree. Our Court of Prizes at Milan shall pronounce final judgment in the said cases which may arise within our Kingdom of Italy.
  10. The present decree shall be communicated by our minister of foreign affairs to the King of Spain, of Naples, of Holland and of Etruria, and to our other allies whose subjects, like ours, are the victims of the unjust and barbarous maritime legislation of England.
  11. Our ministers of foreign affairs, of war, of the navy, of finance and of the police and our Directors-General of the port are charged with the execution of the present decree so far as it effects them.

[Signed] NAPOLEON.

 

C. British Order in Council. January 10, 1807.

American State Papers, Foreign Relations, III, 5.

Note communicated by Lord Howick to Mr. Monroe, dated Downing Street, January 10, 1807.

The undersigned, His Majesty's principal Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs, has received His Majesty's commands to acquaint Mr. Monroe that the French Government having issued certain orders, which, in violation of the usages of war, purport to prohibit the commerce of all neutral nations with His Majesty's dominions, and also to prevent such nations from trading with any other country in any articles, the growth, produce, or manufacture of His Majesty's dominions. And the said Government having also taken upon itself to declare all His Majestyıs dominions to be in a state of blockade, at a time when the fleets of France and her allies are themselves confined within their own ports by the superior valor and discipline of the British navy.

Such attempts, on the part of the enemy, giving to His Majesty an unquestionable right of retaliation, and warranting His Majesty in enforcing the same prohibition of all commerce with France, which that Power vainly hopes to effect against the commerce of His Majesty's subjects, a prohibition which the superiority of His Majesty's naval forces might enable him to support, by actually investing the ports and coasts of the enemy with numerous squadrons and cruisers, so as to make the entrance or approach thereto manifestly dangerous.

His Majesty, though unwilling to follow the example of his enemies by proceeding to an extremity so distressing to all nations not engaged in the war, and carrying on their accustomed trade, yet feels himself bound, by a due regard to the just defence of the rights and interests of his people, not to suffer such measures to be taken by the enemy, without taking some steps, on his part, to restrain this violence, and to retort upon them the evils of their own injustice. Mr. Monroe is, therefore, requested to apprise the American consuls and merchants residing in England, that His Majesty has, therefore, judged it expedient to order that no vessel shall be permitted to trade from one port to another, both which ports shall belong to, or be in the possession of, France or her allies, or shall be so far under their control as that British vessels may not freely trade thereat; and that the commanders of His Majesty's ships of war 'and privateers have been instructed to warn every neutral vessel coming from any such port, an destined to another port, to discontinue her voyage, and not to proceed to any such port; and every vessel after being so warned, or any vessel coming from any such port, after a reasonable time shall have been afforded for receiving information of this His Majesty's order, which shall be found proceeding to another such port, shall be captured and brought in, and, together with her cargo, shall be condemned as lawful prize. And that, from this time, all the measures authorised by the law of nations, and the respective treaties between His Majesty and the different neutral Powers, will be adopted and executed with respect to vessels attempting to violate the said order after this notice.

[signed] HOWICK.

 

D. British Order in Council. November 11, 1807.

American State Papers, Foreign Relations, III, 269-270.

At the Court at the Queen's Palace, the 11th of November, 1807: Present, the King's Most Excellent Majesty in Council.

Whereas certain orders establishing an unprecedented system of warfare against this kingdom, and aimed especially at the destruction of its commerce and resources, were some time since issued by the Government of France, by which "the British islands were declared to be in a state of blockade," thereby subjecting to capture and condemnation all vessels, with their cargoes, which should continue to trade with His Majesty's dominions:

And, whereas, by the same order, "all trading in English merchandise is prohibited, and every article of merchandise belonging to England, or coming from her colonies, or of her manufacture, is declared lawful prize:"

And, whereas, the nations in alliance with France, and under her control, were required to give, and have given, and do give, effect to such orders:

And, whereas, His Majesty's order of the 7th of January last has not answered the desired purpose, either of compelling the enemy to recall those orders, or of inducing neutral nations to interpose, with effect, to obtain their revocation, but on the contrary, the same have been recently enforced with increased rigor:

And, whereas, His Majesty, under these circumstances, finds himself compelled to take further measures for asserting and vindicating his just rights, and for supporting that maritime power which the exertions and valor of his people have, under the blessings of Providence, enabled him to establish and maintain; and the maintenance of which is not more essential to the safety and prosperity of His Majesty's dominions, than it is to the protection of such states as still retain their independence, and to the general intercourse and happiness of mankind:

His Majesty is therefore pleased, by and with the advice of his privy council, to order, and it is hereby ordered, that all the ports and places of France and her allies, or of any other country at war with His Majesty, and all other ports or places in Europe, from which, although not at war with His Majesty, the British flag is excluded, and all ports or places in the colonies belonging to His Majesty's enemies, shall, from henceforth, be subject to the same restrictions in point of trade and navigation, with the exceptions hereinafter mentioned, as if the same were actually blockaded by His Majesty's naval forces, in the most strict and rigorous manner: And it is hereby further ordered and declared, that all trade in articles which are of the produce or manufacture of the said countries or colonies shall be deemed and considered to be unlawful; and that every vessel trading from or to the said countries or colonies, together with all goods and merchandise on board and all articles of the produce or manufacture of the said countries or colonies, shall be captured and condemned as a prize to the captors.

But, although His Majesty would be fully justified by the circumstances and considerations above recited, in establishing such system of restrictions with respect to all the countries and colonies of his enemies, without exception or qualification, yet His Majesty being, nevertheless, desirous not to subject neutrals to any greater inconvenience than is absolutely inseparable from the carrying into effect His Majesty's just determination to counteract the designs of his enemies, and to retort upon his enemies themselves the consequences of their own violence and injustice; and being yet willing to hope that it may be possible (consistently with that object) still to allow to neutrals the opportunity of furnishing themselves with colonial produce for their own consumption and supply, and even to leave open, for the present, such trade with His Majesty's enemies as shall be carried on directly with the ports of His Majesty's dominions, or of his allies, in the manner hereinafter mentioned:

His Majesty is, therefore, pleased further to order and it is hereby ordered, that nothing herein contained shall extend to subject to capture or condemnation any vessel, or the cargo of any vessel, belonging to any country not declared by this order to be subjected to the restrictions incident to a state of blockade, which shall have cleared out with such cargo from some port or place of the country to which she belongs, either in Europe or America, or from some free port in His Majesty's colonies, under circumstances in which such trade, from such free ports, is permitted, direct to some port or place in the colonies of His Majesty's enemies, or from those colonies direct to the country to which such vessel belongs, or to some free port in His Majesty's colonies, in such cases, and with such articles, as it may be lawful to import into such free port; nor to any vessel, or the cargo of any vessel, belonging to any country not at war with His Majesty, which shall have cleared out under such regulations as His Majesty may think fit to prescribe, and shall be proceeding direct from some port or place in this kingdom, or from Gibraltar, or Malta, or from any port belonging to His Majesty's allies, to the port specified in her clearance; nor to any vessel, or the cargo of any vessel, belonging to any country not at war with His Majesty, which shall be coming from any port or place in Europe which is declared by this order to be subject to the restrictions incident to a state of blockade, destined to some port or place in Europe belonging to His Majesty, and which shall be on her voyage direct thereto; but these exceptions are not to be understood as exempting from capture or confiscation any vessel or goods which shall be liable thereto in respect to having entered or departed from any port or place actually blockaded by His Majesty's squadrons or ships of war, or for being enemy's property, or for any other cause than the contravention of his present order.

And the commanders of His Majesty's ships of war and privateers, and other vessels acting under His Majesty's commission, shall be, and are hereby, instructed to warn every vessel which shall have commenced her voyage prior to any notice of this order, and shall be destined to any port of France or of her allies or of any other country at war with His Majesty or any port or place from which the British flag, as aforesaid, is excluded, or to any colony belonging to His Majesty's enemies, and which shall not have cleared out as is herein before allowed, to discontinue her voyage, and to proceed to some port or place in this kingdom, or to Gibraltar, or Malta; and any vessel which, after having been so warned or after a reasonable time shall have been afforded for the arrival of information of this His Majesty's order at any port or place from which she sailed, or which, after having notice of this order, shall be found in the prosecution of any voyage contrary to the restrictions contained in this order, shall be captured, and, together with her cargo, condemned as lawful prize to the captors.

And, whereas, countries not engaged in the war have acquiesced in these orders of France, prohibiting all trade in any articles the produce or manufacture of His Majesty's dominions; and the merchants of those countries have given countenance and effect to those prohibitions by accepting from persons, styling themselves commercial agents of the enemy, resident at neutral ports, certain documents, termed "certificates of origin," being certificates obtained at the ports of shipment, declaring that the articles of the cargo are not of the produce or manufacture of His Majesty's dominions, or to that effect.

And, whereas, this expedient has been directed by France, and submitted to by such merchants, as part of the new system of warfare directed against the trade of this kingdom, and as the most effectual instrument of accomplishing the same, and it is therefore essentially necessary to resist it.

His Majesty is therefore pleased, by and with the advice of his privy council, to order, and it is hereby ordered, that if any vessel, after reasonable time shall have been afforded for receiving notice of this His Majesty's order, at the port or place from which such vessel shall have cleared out, shall be found carrying any such certificate or document as aforesaid, or any document referring to or authenticating the same, such vessel shall be adjudged lawful prize to the captor, together with the goods laden therein, belonging to the person or persons by whom, or on whose behalf, any such document was put on board.

And the right honourable the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury, His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and the Judges of the High Court of Admiralty, and Courts of Vice-Admiralty, are to take the necessary measures herein as to them shall respectively appertain.

[signed] W. FAWKENER.

 

E. The Milan Decree. December 17, 1807.

Correspondance de Napoleon, 1, XVI, 192-193. Translation, James Harvey Robinson, University of Pennsylvania Translations and Reprints.

At Our Royal Palace at Milan, December 17, 1807.

Napoleon, Emperor of the French, King of Italy, Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine. In view of the measures adopted by the British government on the 11th of November last by which vessels belonging to powers which are neutral or are friendly and even allied with England are rendered liable to be searched by British cruisers, detained at certain stations in England, and subject to an arbitrary tax of a certain per cent upon their cargo to be regulated by English legislation.

Considering that by these acts the English government has denationalized the vessels of all the nations of Europe, and that no government may compromise in any degree its independence or its rights—all the rulers of Europe being jointly responsible for the sovereignty and independence of their flags, —and that, if through unpardonable weakness which would be regarded by posterity as an indelible stain, such tyranny should be admitted and become consecrated by custom, the English would take steps to give it the force of law, as they have already taken advantage of the toleration of the governments to establish the infamous principle that the flag does not cover the goods and to give the right of blockade an arbitrary extension which threatens the sovereignty of every state: We have decreed and do decree as follows:

  1. Every vessel of whatever nationality which shall submit to be searched by an English vessel or shall consent to a voyage to England, or shall pay any tax whatever to the English government is ipso facto declared denationalized, loses the protection afforded by its flag and becomes English property.
  2. Should such vessels which are thus denationalized through the arbitrary measures of the English government enter our ports or those of our allies or fall into the hands of our ships of war or of our privateers they shall be regarded as good and lawful prizes.
  3. The British Isles are proclaimed to be in a state of blockade both by laud and by sea. Every vessel of whatever nation or whatever may be its cargo, that sails from the ports of England or from those of the English colonies or of countries occupied by English troops, or is bound for England or for any of the English colonies or any country occupied by English troops, becomes, by violating the present decree, a lawful prize, and may be captured by our ships of war and adjudged to the captor.
  4. These measures, which are only a just retaliation against the barbarous system adopted by the English government, which models its legislation upon that of Algiers, shall cease to have any effect in the case of those nations which shall force the English to respect their flags. They shall continue in force so long as that government shall refuse to accept the principles of international law which regulate the relations of civilized states in a state of war. The provisions of the present decree shall be ipso facto abrogated and void so soon as the English government shall abide again by the principles of the law of nations, which are at the same time those of justice and honor.
  5. All our ministers are charged with the execution of the present decree, which shall be printed in the Bulletin des lois.

 

F. British Order in Council, April 26, 1809.

American State Papers, Foreign Relations, III, 241.

At the Court at the Queen's Palace, the 26th of April, 1809; Present, the King's Most Excellent Majesty in council.

Whereas, His Majesty, by his order in council of the 11th of November, 1807, was pleased, for the reasons assigned therein, to order that "all the ports and places of France and her allies, or of any other country at war with His Majesty, and all other ports or places in Europe, from which, although not at war with His Majesty, the British flag is excluded, and all ports or places in the colonies belonging to His Majesty's enemies, should from henceforth be subject to the same restrictions in point of trade or navigation as if the same were actually blockaded in the most strict and vigorous manner; and also to prohibit "all trade in articles which are the produce or manufacture of the said countries or colonies; "and whereas, His Majesty, having been nevertheless desirous not to subject those countries which were in alliance or amity with His Majesty to any greater inconvenience than was absolutely inseparable from carrying into effect His Majesty's just determination to counteract the designs of his enemies, did make certain exceptions and modifications expressed in the said order of the 11th of November, and in certain subsequent orders of the 25th of November, declaratory of the aforesaid order of the 11th of November and of the 18th of December, 1807, and of the 30th of March, 1808;

And whereas, in consequence of diverse events which have taken place since the date of the first-mentioned order, affecting the relations between Great Britain and the territories of other Powers, it is expedient that sundry parts and provisions of the said orders should be ordered or revoked;

His Majesty is therefore pleased, by and with the advice of his privy council, to revoke and annul the said several orders, except as hereinafter expressed; and so much of the said orders, except as aforesaid, is hereby revoked accordingly. And His Majesty is pleased, by and with the advice of his privy council, to order, and it is hereby ordered, that all the ports and places as far north as the river Ems, inclusively, under the government styling itself the Kingdom of Holland, and all ports and places under the Government of France, together with the colonies, plantations, and settlements in the possession of those Governments, respectively, and all ports and places in the northern parts of Italy, to be reckoned from the ports of Orbitello and Pesaro, inclusively, shall continue, and be subject to the same restrictions, in point of trade and navigation, without any exception, as if the same were actually blockaded by His Majesty's naval forces in the most strict and rigorous manner; and that every vessel trading from and to the said countries or colonies, plantations or settlements, together with all goods and merchandise on board, shall be condemned as prize to the captors.

And His Majesty is further pleased to order, and it is hereby ordered, that this order shall have effect from the day of the date thereof with respect to any ship, together with its cargo, which may be captured subsequent to such day, on any voyage which is and shall be rendered legal by this order, although such voyage, at the time of the commencement of the same, was unlawful, and prohibited under the said former orders; and such ships, upon being brought in, shall be released accordingly; and with respect to all ships, together with their cargoes, which may be captured in any voyage which was permitted under the exceptions of the orders above mentioned, but which is not permitted according to the provisions of this order, His Majesty is pleased to order, and it is hereby ordered that such ships and their cargoes shall not be liable to condemnation, unless they shall have received actual notice of the present order, as were allowed for constructive notice in the orders of the 25th of November, 1807, and the 18th of May, 1808, at the several places and latitudes therein specified.

And the right honorable the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury, His Majesty's principal Secretary of State, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and the Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, and Judges of the Courts of Vice-admiralty, are to give the necessary directions herein as to them may respectively appertain.
Stephen Cottrell.

 

G. The Rambouillet Decree. March 23, 1810.

Duvergier, Lois, XVII, 59.

Napoleon ... considering that the Government of the United States, by an act dated March 1, 1809, which forbids the entrance of the ports, harbors and rivers of the said States to all French vessels, orders:

1st. That, dating from the 20th of May following, the vessels under the French flag which shall arrive in the United States shall be seized and confiscated, as well as their cargoes;

2d. That, after the same date no merchandise and productions coming from the soil or manufactures of France or of its colonies can he imported into the said United States, from any port or foreign place whatsoever, under penalty of seizure, confiscation and fine of three times the value of the merchandise;

3d. That American vessels cannot repair to any port of France, its colonies or dependencies;

We have decreed and do decree as follows:

  1. That all vessels navigating under the flag of the United States, or possessed in whole or in part by any citizen or subject of that Power, which, dating from May 20, 1809, may have entered or shall enter into the ports of our Empire, our colonies or the countries occupied by our armies, shall be seized, and the products of the sales shall be deposited in the surplus fund.

    Vessels which may be charged with despatches or commissions of Government of the said States and which have not cargo or merchandise on board are excepted from this provision.

  2. Our grand judge, minister of justice, and our minister of finance, are charged with the execution of the present decree.

 

References

The best consecutive account of the whole system is in Mahan, Sea Power . . . French Revolution, II, 265-357. Henry Adams, History of the United States, IV, Ch. IV, should be read with reference to documents C and D; valuable comment upon the other documents may also be obtained through the index. See also Fournier, Napoleon, 503-507; Rose, Napoleon, II, 95-99, 195-206 215-216; Lanfrey, Napoleon, III, 179. 183, 357-358, IV, 269-278.


 

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