No. 400.
Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Evarts.

No. 34.]

Sir: I inclose a copy of my letter of June 8 to J. W. Merriam, esq., our consul at Iquique, on the subject of blockade. This ought to have been sent you promptly at the time, but I was deficient in clerical force, and it was laid aside for the time, and overlooked until now.

I will say that at the date of the consul’s letter, May 23, the blockade of Iquique had been raised by the Peruvian forces, and the consul stated he had been informed, by some gentlemen who professed to know, that by the rules of international law it could not be re-established without a three months’ notice.

I will further say, as relating to the same subject (the blockade of Iquique) that both Chili and Peru have become parties to the treaty of Paris, which, among other things, defines what shall constitute a sufficient blockade. That from the time of re-establishment of the blockade at Iquique, about the 1st of June, until the 10th instant, or about that time, no question has been made of the sufficiency or efficiency of the blockade. But it seems that about the time last mentioned, or a little before, the Chilian blockading-squadron adopted the plan of withdrawing [Page 887] at night from the vicinity of the town to the distance of four, five, or six miles or more—fearing, as it is believed, the effect of torpedoes which the Peruvians and Bolivians (who are in possession of the town) might be able to use—and on the night of the 10th instant the Huascar, a Peruvian iron-clad, turreted vessel, of greater speed than the Chilian ironclads, made her way without difficulty into the port, remained there long enough to communicate with the allied forces on shore, and then, toward the dawn, sailed out in search of the Chilian fleet. She soon fell in with the Chilian transport Matias Cusino, a partially armed wooden vessel, and immediately attacked her, principally with small-arms, and demanded her surrender, which demand was at once complied with, and a prize-crew sent off in boats to take possession; but at that moment the Chilian corvette Abtao, the Magallanes, and later the ironclad Cochrane made their appearance.

The Huascar at once recalled the prize-crew she was sending out, and, having no time to take possession of the prize, she fired some heavy shot into her hull, disabling her. Then, seeing the Chilian fleet coming down upon her, she sought to make her escape, and in doing so, came in contact with the Abtao, with whom she at once engaged, and the combat was continued nearly an hour, when first the Magallanes and next the Cochrane coining within range, the Huascar left after doing serious damage to the Abtao, and by reason of her greater speed was enabled to make her escape, with very slight injury. What may have taken place since in the port of Iquique, I am not informed.

But it is now insisted here by the Peruvian press, that the blockade is shown to be ineffectual, and that it should be treated as absolutely ended for all purposes. A strong effort, I have no doubt, will be made to induce the diplomatic representatives (of the neutral powers) here to take this ground. What may be the opinion of the other ministers here upon the point, I am not yet informed; but, for myself, I am not yet prepared to take so broad a ground upon the facts already existing, but on the other hand I am inclined to think the facts only show an unsuccessful attempt to raise the blockade by force.

If any mercantile vessel had in the night (say of the 10th instant), and without actual notice of the blockade, got into the port, she could not have been held guilty of a breach of the blockade for so doing. And it may be worthy of careful consideration whether, if this practice of withdrawing the blockading force so far from the port at night should be generally kept up hereafter, neutral nations might not be justified in treating it as ineffectual, and therefore null. But I do not intend to come to any hasty opinion upon this point, and propose to wait till the contingency renders its determination necessary.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 34.]

Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Merriam.

Sir: I notice that in writing to you on the 1st instant, I overlooked one point in your letter, viz, that in reference to the fact of the blockade having been raised, and the question of the length of time necessary to re-establish it. I will say in answer to your question that I know of no rule of international law which would require three months’ notice to re-establish the blockade. But it requires the same notice (and no other) that it required to establish it in the first instance; and that, as I understand it, is reasonable notice, having reference to all circumstances existing at the [Page 888] time and place. The notice is mainly if not entirely for the benefit of neutrals, and should be sufficient to all or any neutral ships in port to leave with any cargoes they may have on board at the time; but they can take on no more cargo after noticed of the blockade, except with the assent of the blockading squadron, as the recognized purpose of a blockade is to put an end to the foreign commerce of the port, and thus to weaken the power of the nation to which the port belongs.

And as to vessels approaching the port for commercial purposes, they will not be liable to capture unless, after they receive actual notice of its existence, they attempt to enter, in which case they would be liable to capture and forfeiture. But this blockade, not having been formally notified to the governments of neutral powers, so as to give room for the doctrine of implied notice to the ships of such nations; such ships are not to be seized until they shall have received actual notice, which naturally will be given them on their approach by the blockading squadron.

And as to the nature of a blockade itself, you may take it for granted that no mere paper blockade will be recognized by neutral powers, but only such as are maintained by an adequate force. Such an actual force as to render it impossible, or, at least, imminently dangerous, for a vessel to enter the port. But, of course, this doctrine is liable to some qualification. The presence of such force is not required to be absolutely perpetual under all circumstances; as in the case of a storm which may temporarily disperse the blockading force, they will be allowed a reasonable time to resume their position. But, if they voluntarily and completely leave the port so as clearly to indicate a disposition to abandon the blockade, or if they are driven off by the enemy, and the enemy get complete control of the port for a few days (perhaps for;a single day) the blockade is ended.

I am, &c.,

  • J. W. Merriam, Esq.,
    United States Consul, Iquique.