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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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
So perhaps we will never know where Captain Morgan was actually born but what we do know, thanks to this fascinating book, is that he died on August 25, 1688 and was awarded a state funeral, and an amnesty was declared so that pirates and privateers could pay their respects without fear of arrest.
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.
With a fair wind, and without the intervention of privateers, the 600 miles between Dublin and Bordeaux could be travelled, and letters delivered, in a remarkably short time.
Part II of this article examines the historical usage of letters of marque and privateers. A brief historical discussion shows the use of letters of marque in national defense.
putting in place a sort of registration system for privateers:
While the numbers of their privateers' captures are specifically listed, with around 1,500 more speculated about, what impact did that have on English shipping and custom revenues?
Some companies don't need privateers. Firms such as IBM, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have developed the capacity to run successful licensing programs in-house.
This was to prevent privateers from being charged with piracy, which was an offence punishable by death.
THIS horsemeat saga is another example of governments who wash their hands of responsibilities and put every industry into the hands of privateers who then rip us off.
And the Akwesasne club had its season come to an end when it was defeated 2-1 in its best-of-three opening playoff series versus the 1000 Islands Privateers, a club based in upper New York state.
American privateers in the war of 1812; the vessels and their prizes as recorded in Niles' weekly register.
Mr Johnston argues that the current system of different private train operators makes for a massively complicated system that only lines the pockets of "privateers" rather than help travellers or the country.