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"The Privateering Debate in Revolutionary America" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2017 11:35 a.m. PST

"Historians still debate the relative merit of privateering during the American War of Independence. Key to this debate is understanding how damaging it was to British commerce; the extent to which it strained the Royal Navy's resources; the difficulties it produced for the Continental and state navies by competing for seamen and naval stores; and the mix of patriotism and venality in its motivation. The war's participants debated the same issues historians debate today, but without the historians' advantage of hindsight: not knowing how the struggle would end, they had to form their views based on partial evidence and speculation.

What did contemporary American Revolutionaries think? Did they shun privateersmen as disreputable characters interested only in profit and devoid of patriotic feeling and consider privateering as unscrupulous and akin to piracy? Or did they embrace privateersmen as heroic defenders of liberty and endorse commerce raiding as a valuable contribution to the war effort? This question is more complex than it first appears, and its answer is just as complex. Although critics raised strong arguments— mostly practical, but some based on ethical and moral considerations—their criticisms never posed a serious threat of putting an end to privateering once the Continental Congress had decided to authorize it. The prevalent view was that privateering was a valuable means of funnelling the resources controlled by private interest into the public cause…."
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Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP02 Jan 2018 8:49 p.m. PST

John Hancock was a smuggler.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP02 Jan 2018 8:54 p.m. PST

Interestingly, among the enumerated powers granted to the Legislature (Congress) is to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal. Privateering licenses. The Executive Branch, The President and Department of the Navy, are cut out of it.
If the president were to want to give a privateering license to fight Somali Pirates or drub smugglers, he couldn't. Congress can authorize the beaucracy, but ultimately it's their responsibility. Just like the power to declare war, which it has sadly abandoned.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP02 Jan 2018 9:23 p.m. PST

I find it significant that the Americans refused to sign Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law (1856). It was not until the Hague Convention of 1907 that the United States came close to stopping privateering.

The US issuing letters of Marque now would be breach of International Law (not that some old farts on TMP wouldn't enthusiastically embrace that, not least because it was part of International Law).

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