The National Archives at New York City

Teachable Texts from the National Archives at New York City

The Union Blockade: Lincoln's Proclamations


Following the surrender of Fort Sumter to the Confederacy, Abraham Lincoln and his military advisors began to consider a variety of plans to bring the South back into the Union. In less than a week, the Union began its blockade of the southern states in an effort to prevent the trade of goods, supplies, and weapons between the Confederacy and other nations.

Prize law is that part of international law which concerns the capture of enemy property by a belligerent at sea during war. The National Archives at New York City maintains prize cases of ships seized during the blockade from an array of ships. These records are organized by ship name and included with these records are materials confiscated from the seized vessels. Also in these materials, is a copy of two Presidential proclamations from Abraham Lincoln concerning the blockade. These proclamations, like Lincoln's more famous Emancipation Proclamation and Proclamation suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus, had the force of law despite the fact they didn't follow the legislative process. The constitutionality of these acts of Presidential power continues to be debated to this day.


President Abraham Lincoln's Union Blockade Proclamations (Proclamations 82 and 86), 4/27/1861 - 8/16/1861
Record Group 21: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 - 2004
Civil War Prize Case Files
Series National Archives Identifier 620244

Discussion Questions:

  • Why would Lincoln use the blockade against the South during the Civil War?
  • In the April 27th proclamation, why did Abraham Lincoln decide to extend the blockade beyond the original 7 states to include Virginia and North Carolina?
  • What is the main purpose of the August 16th proclamation?
  • In the August 16th proclamation, what words does Lincoln use to describe the states and actions of the Confederacy?
  • What laws does Lincoln use to justify his actions?
  • What is Lincoln proposing to do to ships and vessels owned by people from the Confederacy that are found at sea or in a US port? Why?

Extension Activities

  • Debate the issue: Should the President be allowed to make such sweeping decisions without Congressional approval? Why or why not?
  • Debate the issue: What limits should there be on presidential authority during times of war?
  • Creative Writing: Imagine you are a member of the Confederacy and you receive news of Lincoln's proclamations concerning the blockade? What would be your opinion of these actions? Write a journal entry or an editorial about these actions.


National History Standards

  • Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
    • Standard 2A: The student understands how the resources of the Union and Confederacy affected the course of the war.

NY Standards

  • SS1.I.3. Study about the major social, political, economic, cultural, and religious developments in New York State and United States history involves learning about the important roles and contributions of individuals and groups.
  • SS1.I.4. The skills of historical analysis include the ability to: explain the significance of historical evidence; weigh the importance, reliability, and validity of evidence; understand the concept of multiple causation; understand the importance of changing and competing interpretations of different historical developments.

NJ Standards

  • 6.1.8.D.5.b Analyze critical events and battles of the Civil War and determine how they contributed to the final outcome of the war.
  • 6.1.12.A.4.c Evaluate how political and military leadership affected the outcome of the Civil War.

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