THE BERLIN DECREE (1806)

 

[At least as early as 1796 the French government con­ceived the idea of forcing its English enemy to cry for peace by ruining her commerce. This became a cher­ished policy of Napoleon after he had given up the idea of invading England. After his victory at Jena he felt that the time had come to put into execution his project of excluding England from the continent. England had given him an excuse for the Berlin Decree given below by declaring the coast from the river Elbe to Brest in a state of blockade (May, 1806).]

 

FROM OUR IMPERIAL CAMP AT BERLIN,

November 21, 1806

 

Napoleon, emperor of the French and king of Italy, in consideration of the facts:

 

1. That England does not recognize the system of inter-national 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 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….

 

8. That it is a natural right to employ such arms against an enemy as he himself makes use of, and to combat in the same way as he combats. Since England has disre­garded all ideas of justice and every high sentiment implied by 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 on 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 shall be restricted to fortified places actually invested by sufficient forces.

We have consequently decreed and do decree that which follows.

 

ARTICLE I. The British Isles are declared to be in a state of blockade.

 

II. All commerce and all correspondence with the Brit­ish Isles is 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.

 

III. 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.

 

IV. All warehouses, merchandise, or property of what-ever kind belonging to a subject of England shall be re­garded as a lawful prize.

 

V. Trade in English goods is prohibited, and all goods belonging to England or coming from her factories or her colonies are declared a lawful prize.

 

VI. 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.

 

VII. 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.

 

X. The present decree shall be communicated by our minister of foreign affairs to the kings 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.

 

(Signed)

NAPOLEON