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The Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law of 16 April 1856 was issued to abolish privateering. It regulated the relationship between neutral and belligerent and shipping on the high seas introducing new prize rules.[1]

Major points

The major points in the declaration were:


  1. Privateering is, and remains, abolished;
  2. The neutral flag covers enemy's goods, with the exception of contraband of war;
  3. Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under enemy's flag;
  4. Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.


The present Declaration is not and shall not be binding, except between those Powers who have acceded, or shall accede, to it.

— Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law.[2]


On the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on 30 March 1856, putting an end to the Crimean War (1853–1856), the plenipotentiaries also signed this declaration at the suggestion of Count Walewski, the French plenipotentiary.[3] The declaration is the outcome of a modus vivendi signed between France and the United Kingdom in 1854, originally intended for the Crimean War. These two powers had agreed that they would not seize enemy goods on neutral vessels nor neutral goods on enemy vessels. The belligerents had also agreed that they would not issue letters of marque, which they had not done during the war. At the close of this war the principal states of Europe concluded that private armed ships, maintained at private cost for private gain, and often necessarily for a long time beyond the reach of the regular naval force of the state, could not be kept under proper control. The Declaration of Paris confirmed these rules and added to them the principle that blockades, in order to be obligatory, must be effective. The Declaration did not as such make privateers into a new category of international criminals, but rather made it a treaty obligation of states that they refrain from commissioning privateers in the first place. Most states normally treated foreign privateers as pirates in any case.

Ultimately, 55 states ratified the Declaration, including the United Kingdom, Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire.[4] This treaty established maritime law among the major powers of Europe. It represented the first multilateral attempt to codify in times of peace rules which were to be applicable in the event of war. This declaration bound only its signatories when at war with each other, and lets them free to use privateers when at war with other states.

The United States, which aimed at a complete exemption of non-contraband private property from capture at sea, withheld its formal adherence in 1857 when its “Marcy” amendment was not accepted by all powers, chiefly as a result of British influence. The US was also keen on maintaining privateers. It argued that, not possessing a great navy, it would be obliged in time of war to rely largely upon merchant ships commissioned as war vessels, and that therefore the abolition of privateering would be entirely in favour of European powers, whose large navies rendered them practically independent of such aid. All other maritime states acceded to the declaration except Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Uruguay.

In 1861, during the American Civil War, the United States declared that it would respect the principles of the declaration during hostilities. The same was done during the Spanish-American War of 1898, when the United States Government affirmed its policy of conducting hostilities in conformity with the dispositions of the declaration. Spain too, though not a party, declared its intention to abide by the declaration, but it expressly gave notice that it reserved its right to issue letters of marque. At the same time both belligerents organized services of auxiliary cruisers composed of merchant ships under the command of naval officers.

Some of the questions raised by this declaration were clarified by the 1907 Hague Convention.

The rules contained in this declaration later came to be considered as part of the general principles of international law and the United States too, though not formally a party, abides by provisions.

See also

  • Hague Conventions (1907) which expanded on the provisions of this declaration.



  • Ronzitti, Natalino (1988). The Law of Naval Warfare: A Collection of Agreements and Documents with Commentaries. Martinus Nijhoff. p. 64 ,65. ISBN 90-247-3652-8. 
  • Schmidt, Donald E. (2005). The Folly of War: American Foreign Policy, 1898-2005. p. 75. ISBN 0-87586-382-5. 

Further reading

  • Martens, Nouveau Recueil Général des Traités et autres Actes relatifs aux Rapports de Droit international, first series, Vol. XV, pp. 791–792
  • Staff, Paris, Declaration of, Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia,
  • Staff, Privateers,, Retrieved 2008-07-27

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