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2 The Caroline Incident—1837

Michael Wood

From: The Use of Force in International Law: A Case-Based Approach

Edited By: Tom Ruys, Olivier Corten, Alexandra Hofer

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 26 May 2024

Individuals and non-state actors — Armed conflict, international — Necessity — Self-defence — Armed forces

This contribution summarizes the facts of the celebrated incident from 1837, in which British militia from Upper Canada crossed to the US shore of the Niagara River and set adrift a small rebel-operated vessel, The Caroline (which drifted over the Falls). The chapter cites the lengthy correspondence between US Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, and British Government’s representatives in Washington (Mr Fox and Lord Ashburton), in which Webster repeatedly used the celebrated Caroline formula (“a necessity of self-defence, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation”). The case is referred to, even today, in discussions of anticipatory self-defence, the requirements of necessity and proportionality, and the use of force against non-State actors. The chapter concludes by examining differing views on the current relevance of the Caroline incident and formula.

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