Encyclopedia > Letter of marque

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Letter of marque

A letter of marque was an official letter from a government authorizing a private individual to raid and capture merchant shipping of an enemy nation. A ship operating under a letter of marque was called a privateer. The United States Constitution (Art 1 sec. 8) authorized Congress to issue letters of marque.

The difference between a privateer and a pirate was a subtle (often invisible) one, and the issuance of letters of marque was banned by international law under the Declaration of Paris[?] in 1854.

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