to Mr. Denby.
Washington, July 28, 1886.
Sir: Your No. 141 is before me, and brings to the Department, with much clearness, a question of great interest. It is unquestionable that a belligerent may, during war, place obstructions in the channel of a belligerent port, for the purpose of excluding vessels of the other belligerent which seek the port either as hostile cruisers or as blockade-runners. This was done by the Dutch when attacked by Spain in the time of Philip II; by England when attacked by the Dutch in the time of Charles II; by the United States when attacked by Great Britain in the Revolutionary war and in the war of 1812; by the United States during the late civil war; by Russia at the siege of Sebastopol; and by Germany during the Franco German war of 1870. But while such is the law, it is equally settled by the law of nations that when war ceases such obstructions, when impeding navigation in channels in which great ships are accustomed to pass, must be removed by the territorial authorities. Such is the rule apart from treaty; and it was implicitly admitted by Mr. Seward, when, in replying to the remonstrances by the British Government on the placing by the blockading authorities of obstructions in the harbor of Charleston, he stated that these obstructions were placed there merely temporarily. Were there any doubt about this question, which I maintain there is not, it would be settled by the provisions of our treaties with China, which virtually make Canton a free port, to which our merchant ships are entitled to have free access in time of peace. You are therefore instructed to make use of the best efforts in your power to induce the Chinese Government to remove the obstructions in the Canton River, which, as you state, operate to close the port of Canton to the merchant vessels of the United States.
In sending to you this instruction, I affirm the instruction of Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. Young, No. 267, dated April 18, 1884, printed in the foreign relations of that year.
I am, &c.,