Privateering

Privateering was a wartime practice in which a belligerent power would authorize its citizens to operate privately owned ships in campaigns against enemy shipping. Motivation for participating in these ventures was partly patriotism, but most of the allure came from converting the prizes (captured ships and cargo) into money. Privateers were distinguished from pirates in that the former were issued "letters of marque and reprisal," official government papers authorizing these campaigns.

Privateering was especially important to nations with small navies, whose activities were thus supplemented. America benefited from this practice in both the War of Independence and the War of 1812.

Numerous abuses occurred over the years, however. It was often an easy step to turn from preying on belligerent ships to non-belligerent ones. Many privateers found it to be financially rewarding to become pirates.

The practice of privateering was outlawed by the international community in the Declaration of Paris in 1856.

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