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A privately owned vessel that is commissioned by one power to attack merchant ships from a hostile power. The term also refers to the commander or a crew member of such a vessel.

A privateer was commissioned by the issuance of a letter of Marque and Reprisal to commit hostile acts at sea, generally in accordance with the Rules of War. Letters of marque and reprisal were issued by a state to its own subjects as well as to the subjects of neutral states. The owner of a vessel who accepted letters of marque from both belligerents was, however, deemed a pirate.

Privateering was abolished on an international scale with the ratification of the Declaration of Paris in 1856, which was signed by Great Britain, France, Turkey, Sardinia, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. The United States, Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela, however, did not consent to the declaration. The United States refused to join the treaty because the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to issue letters of marque, does not authorize it to participate in a permanent treaty abolishing privateering. Regardless, the act of privateering is considered a federal offense punishable by fine or imprisonment (18 U.S.C.A. § 1654 [2003]).

Further readings

Woodruff, James J. 2002. "Merchants, Traders, and Pirates: The Birth of the Admiralty Clause." Tulane Maritime Law Journal 563.

References in periodicals archive ?
During the American Civil War, as the Confederacy issued letters of marque, the United States offered to join the declaration, only to withdraw its offer when it became apparent that France and Britain would not attack Southern privateers.
Part II of this article examines the historical usage of letters of marque and privateers.
The 400-ton Mentor, commanded by Captain John Dawson was just one of around 120 privateers operating out of Liverpool.
teeth as privateers and sometimes as outright pirates.
Patent privateers allow businesses to avoid these obstacles to patent licensing.
This was to prevent privateers from being charged with piracy, which was an offence punishable by death.
Filling a gap in historical literature, this book offers a complete list of the 248 American privateers active during the War of 1812 and the vessels they captured during the war, organizing information scattered throughout editions of Niles' Weekly Register.
government faced a trade-off between a relatively versatile navy at high direct cost and privateers at little direct cost.
Henry Morgan, above, born in Llanrumney, Cardiff, in 1635, was one of the most successful privateers of all time.
Visitors were entertained with pirate-themed surprises, including raids on Dock venues, led by "Frenchy" Hawkins' Privateers and Blackbeard's Pirate Crew.
In terms of size, rig, and armament, Bream was remarkably similar to her opponents, the small privateers from Salem that preyed on British and colonial shipping in the Bay of Fundy and the waters off Nova Scotia.
Instead of pulling the plug they rented the park - including both race tracks - to exactly the same privateers (Kai Richter, J|rg Lindner), who were driving forces behind the Leisure Park's initial private setup.