Marque and Reprisal

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Marque and Reprisal

A commission by which the head of a government authorizes a private ship to capture enemy vessels.

The authority to do such capturing is granted to private vessels in letters of marque and reprisal. In the technical sense, a letter of marque is permission to cross over the frontier into another country's territory in order to take a ship; a letter of reprisal authorizes taking the captured vessel to the home port of the capturer.

Since letters of marque and Reprisal allowed privately owned and operated vessels to carry out acts of war, the practice came to be known as privateering. Privateering was frequently encouraged from the period between 1692 to 1814, at which time weaker countries used privateers to hurt a stronger country in the way guerrilla warfare is currently used. Privateers operated concomitant to regular navies. Their main purpose was to annoy the enemy; however, an enemy's merchant vessels were often seized in retaliation for acts of hostility.

The system of privateering was subject to extensive abuses. In the absence of proper letters, a privateer was tantamount to a pirate. Piracy is subject to severe punishment throughout the world. Although privateers allegedly existed in order to support the defense of their sovereigns, they frequently acquired much personal wealth through their activities. In addition, since privateers were not subject to the same discipline as a regular navy, they yielded to the temptation to seize ships beyond the scope of their authority.

Such abuses, and new theories of naval warfare led civilized nations, in 1856, to sign an agreement outlawing privateering. The agreement does not prohibit a state from organizing a voluntary navy of private vessels, which are under the dominion and control of the state.

The U.S. Constitution provides that no state can grant letters of marque and reprisal. The federal government is not limited in this right by the Constitution; however, modern custom and treaties prevent it from granting the letters.


Admiralty and Maritime Law.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

MARQUE AND REPRISAL. The name given to a commission granted by the supreme power of a state to a private person for the purpose of seizing the property of a foreign state or its subjects. Wheat. Law of Nations, 340. Vide Letters of Marque.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
This history may help explain why letters of marque and reprisal were not mentioned during the ratification period as imposing significant limitations on the president's power.
Some writers distinguished letters of marque on the one hand from letters of marque and reprisal on the other, based on whether they were issued during times of war (marque) or times of peace (marque and reprisal).
Kevin Marshall, Comment, Putting Privateers in Their Place: The Applicability of the Marque and Reprisal Clause to Undeclared Wars, 64 U.
Gregory Sidak, The Quasi War Cases--And Their Relevance to Whether "Letters of Marque and Reprisal" Constrain Presidential War Powers, 28 HART.
of establishing rules for deciding in all cases, what captures on land or water shall be legal, and in what manner prizes taken by land or naval forces in the service of the [U]nited [S]tates shall be divided or appropriated; of granting letters of marque and reprisal in times of peace; appointing courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas; and establishing courts for receiving and determining finally appeals in all cases of captures, provided that no member of [C]ongress shall be appointed a judge of any of the said courts.
The Marque and Reprisals Clause was inserted into the language of the Constitution immediately after the "Declare War" substitution.
A corollary of the power to issue letters of marque and reprisal was the power to regulate how letters of marque and reprisal could be used.
During the Constitutional Convention, the Framers made little mention of letters of marque and reprisal. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts proposed that Congress be given the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal, as he did not believe that this power was included in the power of war.
(83) If the Framers had understood "letters of marque and reprisal" in accordance with Lobel's interpretation, then Gerry's proposal surely would have generated more debate than it did.
Letters of marque and reprisal were mentioned twice in both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.
Instead, the structure of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution indicates that the Framers viewed the issuance of letters of marque and reprisal as a supremacy issue rather than a separation of powers issue.
Finding scant textual or historical support for the proposition that the phrase "letters of marque and reprisal" defines a residual category of all forms of hostility short of declared war, some contemporary scholars have turned to Blackstone and Story.