Letters of Marque and Reprisal

Letters of marque and reprisal are commissions or warrants issued to someone to commit what would otherwise be acts of piracy. They will normally contain the following first three elements, unless they imply or refer to a declaration of war to define the enemies, and may optionally contain the remainder:

  1. Names person, authorizes him to pass beyond borders with forces under his command.
  2. Specifies nationality of targets for action.
  3. Authorizes seizure or destruction of assets or personnel of target nationality.
  4. Describes offense for which commission is issued as reprisal.
  5. Restriction on time, manner, place, or amount of reprisal.

Many of these documents were taken, with permission, from the Isle of Tortuga site, which is about piracy and letters of marque. Here is a link to our local copy of their Letters of Marque page.

The U.S. Constitution provides, Article I, Sec. 8 cl. 11:

The Congress shall have Power ... To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;


The following are some examples of letters of marque and reprisal, with the attributes above indicated for each:

Links Year Issuing Authority Target Nation 1 2 3 4 5 Comment
HTML Version  1205 England Any enemies X X Implied against nations in a declared state of war.
HTML Version  1325 Holland England, Scotland X X X
HTML Version  1400 England Scotland X X X
HTML Version  1404 England Any enemies X X Implied against nations in a declared state of war.
HTML Version  1405 England Any enemies X X Implied against nations in a declared state of war.
HTML Version  1411 England France X X X X X Value not to exceed 5250 marks.
HTML Version  1413 England Genoa X X X X X Value not to exceed 10,000 £.
HTML Version  1543 England Any enemies (Scotland, France) X X Implied against nations in a declared state of war. Granted to all citizens.
HTML Version  1606 Belgium ? X X
HTML Version  1625 England Spain X X Issued to all merchants and some others granted letters of reprisal.
HTML Version  1626 Scotland Spain X X X
HTML Version  1626 Dutch West India Company ? X X The Dutch West India Company acted as an instrument of the sovereign.
HTML Version  1629 Holland ? X X
HTML Version  1652 Holland England X X X
HTML Version  1653 Dutch West India Company ? X X
HTML Version  1669 France Spain X X X
HTML Version  1670 England Spain X X X X
HTML Version  1675 Dutch West India Company ? X X
HTML Version  1688 Holland ? X X
HTML Version  1693 France England, Scotland X X X
HTML Version  1695 France England, Holland X X X
HTML Version  1695 England France X X X To William Kidd.
HTML Version  1702 Holland ? X X
HTML Version  1703 England France, Spain X X X X For 6 months.
HTML Version  1709 Holland ? X X
HTML Version  1729 Spain X X Against pirates, smugglers.
HTML Version  1738 Holland ? X X
HTML Version  1799 British Colonial authority Any enemies (France, Spain) X X Implied against nations in a declared state of war.
HTML Version  1812 United States Britain X X X Issued by President under Act of Congress.
HTML Version  1812 United States Britain X X X Issued by President under Act of Congress.

In December 1941 and the first months of 1942, the Goodyear blimp Resolute was operated as an anti-submarine privateer based out of Los Angeles. As the only US craft to operate under a Letter of Marque since the War of 1812, the Resolute, armed with a rifle and flown by its civilian crew, patrolled the seas for submarines. See Shock, James R., Smith, David R., The Goodyear Airships, Bloomington, Illinois, Airship International Press, 2002, pg. 43, ISBN 0-9711637-0-7

See also:

Home » Defense
Original URL: http://www.constitution.org/mil/lmr/lmr.htm
Maintained:
Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 2007/12/28 — 




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