Arr me mates! When we think of pirates we usually think of Johnny Depp playing the role of Jack Sparrow. But piracy has a history that goes way back into antiquity. For example, the reality behind "Homer" was Greek pirates versus Trojan pirates. In most of history merchant ships weren't that much different from warships. They were armed. If they saw a ship that looked stronger than them, they fled. If they were hungry and on the hunt, they pursued. In times where rule of law isn't strong enough the law of the jungle applies and each ship, merchant or warship, is a little kingdom. Thus theft, business and warfare have always been connected. That ideology has been passed on down to today.
Privateers as privatized warfare
The only difference between whether a pirate is legal or not is whether the ship has the backing of rule of law or not. A privateer is a pirate who has a letter authorizing his thefts. Those letters were known as "Letters of Marquee". In some cases the authorization was *in the charter* as with the Charter of the East India Company. Privateers were authorized to engage in warfare (organized theft) on behalf of the state.
Pirates as Warriors
Pirates in history considered themselves privateers. Our own revolutionary Navy was a privatized Navy. Our captains such as John Paul Jones and Admirals such as Robert Morris saw themselves as privateers. A Pirate was an outlaw, but privateers, were often knighted; such as Sir Francis Drake who fought the Spanish.
Piracy in the Eyes of the Beholder
But of course for the Brits John Paul Jones is the "notorious pirate" John Paul Jones. I went to the British Naval Museum and saw a display about him in Britain years ago. It was amusing that the hero of my childhood (I'm from a Navy Family and I grew up on tours in the Naval Academy) is described as a Pirate in london. But it is apt.
Privateering and Piracy are both part of our heritage and tradition. Huge amounts of wealth were made from the privateering armies of Robert Morris. On paper they barely broke even. In reality, fortunes were made. Some of them buried in sands by the crews, but most laundered and reinvested through family and business connections into estates, property, slaves, smuggling.
Privateering and Smuggling/Triangular Trade
For most of World History, Piracy, smuggling, privateering and legitimate trade were always interchangeable business models for "sea Dogs," sea Captains. For example, The triangular trade took profits from one kind of smuggling or piracy and then laundered them into slave purchases. It then involved buying raw materials for making rum in the Caribbean, delivering them to places like Glasgow where Rum was made, processing it into Rum and then delivering, rum, guns and other goods to Africa. The circle was completed when the businessmen/smugglers/pirates would buy slaves, ivory and Gold to sell in order to increase the profits.
Might Makes Right
Sometimes pirate/smuggling captains would simply capture locals to sell into slavery. The lines were not clear. The ideology of privateering is the ideology of piracy; "might makes right."
There were all sorts of side currents and shortcuts here -- including piracy. A pirate who could maintain his anonymity even without a letter of Marquee could literally make a killing by stealing the trade goods of others. The term "dead men tell no tales" was about those ships who were captured and never sold as prizes because that would have required "legitimate businessmen" to admit they'd attacked a defenseless ship on the high seas without a letter of marquee.
That is also why pirates used nomm-du-guerre names and why many of the myths and legends about their lives and demises are sometimes suspect. Edward Teach/Blackbeard may have died in a gory and hoary battle. But he also could have quietly retired to pretend to be a country gentleman and paid folks to tell the romantic story of how he died. Piracy is legal when officials are corrupt. Henry Morgan, who was the prototype for John P. Morgans (J.P.Morgan/Chase founder) efforts was officially a privateer, not a pirate, and he died while filibustering in Panama, but his family, apparently, was enriched by his efforts. His power came from connections with the Government of Port Royal in Jamaica. The model of privatizing warfare was established during these wars. One of the early pirate family, The Hawkin's family, would be famous in efforts to colonize the new world and also one of the adventurers who formed the East India Company
Privateering as Privatized Warfare
This tradition of private warfare was transferred to the Colonies that became the US. Our earliest colonies were founded by privateers like Sir Robert Drake. The Colonies were often bases for piracy, smuggling and privateering. Thus there are families all of the country whose names are similar to notorious pirates or privateers from those times -- and probably are descendents of them. This grows out of the use of our shores as pirate bases.
Pirates of the United States
And it didn't stop with independence. Baltimore's fame as a port came from producing the wonderful Chesapeake Clipper, which was designed as a fast privateer. The primary motivation of the British expedition in 1812 into the Chesapeake wasn't to burn our Capital, but to burn the shipyards in Baltimore. The Brits failed in that and that is celebrated in our National Anthem.
Pirates and Loot
Looting the government with contracts was also a venerable tradition that it too dates back to the Revolutionary war. For example, Washington complained constantly about the Continental armies being shorted funds. And he was right, the French sent over an envoy to secretly channel money into the conflict with Britain. And that envoy and his allies in congress immediately started looting these funds.
Robert Morris' Pirate Fleet
The records show that the money was spent on the more lucrative privateering navies we constructed, often in France where our privateers sold their loot. Privateering allowed much of it was pocketed by the officials/businessmen involved. Privateering was popular because sometimes the crew got a share too.
Thomas Paine and Piracy
Things were so bad that Thom Paine (no stranger to privateering himself) exposed the corruption involved from the French envoy and congress threatened to hang him in return. Thomas Paine's exposes of their behavior led to the creation of a committee to investigate the scandal, which Robert Morris immediately turned into a Committee to control information about it. The justification was that if Britain found out that France was helping us rebel, it violated French Treaties with Britain and would be a cause for them declaring war -- which they did anyway. Thus our first secrecy laws were passed to protect the corruption of the Morrises and their allies in the Continental Congress. And we know that Thomas Paine was sent to France largely to get him out of the way of Morris' and his committee. Our first navy was entirely a privatized fleet owned and controlled by Robert Morris.
Privateering illustrating both Tyranny and Democracy
As a Young man Thomas Paine had served on several privateers. He learned things about Democracy from serving on privateers organized in an egalitarian fashion. Real Pirate outlaws (and some legitimate privateers) operated on a rough democracytrawhere crews had a say in the government of the ship's company. Privateers didn't have to share their loot. Paine didn't say too much about this, but the rough democracy of the pirates influenced his Democracy notions -- and his sense of the universal rights of mankind. Most ships were places with people from around the world on them!
Privateering tradition as Tyranny and Legalized Corruption
The tradition of laundering loot through legal channels dates back to before the USA was a country. Any enterprise that makes an income by theft, graft or other illegal means has to have a means to hide the illegal proceeds and make them legal. Thus privateers, who did break the law, usually sought means to hide their loot, wash it and then make it look legal. Often the place for parking loot was in buying land or trade goods.
Privateering and Grifting
The Morrises made loot running pirate fleets during the Revolutionary war. Later he sought to make a fortune by buying land promises from revolutionary war veterans at a fraction of their nominal value and trying to corner a real estate Market in what is now New York State. Unfortunately the real estate market was already over saturated, the North East was suffering horrible cold weather, and the overbuilding collapsed in a "swindle bubble". His speculation precipitated our countries first great depression when the housing market collapsed.
To the Victor Goes the Spoils, sometimes
The land he was trying to sell had been looted from one of the Iroquois tribes as punishment for having sided with the Brits during the Revolutionary war and had been intended to pay back gypped Revolutionary war soldiers. Morris, also in typical privateer form didn't want to share the loot and thus bankrupted himself with borrowed money and also thus precipitated our first bankruptcy laws as his friends in congress didn't want him in a poor house.
The Privateering Tradion continues
Thus our modern privatizing officials and businessmen are engaging in a long time privateering tradition. Running prisons under license from the Government and with an abusive contract is simply a modern version of a privateering tradition that started as piracy on the high seas, but has since manifested in grifter projects all over the country to build canals, roads, rails, with government subsidies and licenses -- and then convert that public money to private wealth. Actual pirates had to share their loots. The Privateering tradition does not. What we call "privatization" is actually just the modern version of privateering. And private execution of public policy is pure tyranny as "private, separate advantage". Our privateers can buy politicians even more effectively than Henry Morgan ever did. This tradition originated in Europe and was exemplified with the East India Company, which privatized the Government of Bengal, and then most of India.
Nowadays these ideas are called "neoliberalism"
Modern Neoliberalism is in this tradition. They've exchanged eyepatches for iphones. And tri-corner hats for power suits. Instead of armies of buccaneers they use armies of lawyers. Canonades replaced with corporate takeovers. But it's the same thing.
I may update the links later, these are cheap and easy ones. I have better, but first I have to remember where I got them.
- Book Source.
- Privateering and Piracy
- Many Kinds of Privateering
- An Ideology of Privateering
- Many forms of Freebooting
- Pirates and Privateers/Privatizing History
- Origins of the East India Company
- Bretton Woods, NeoColonialism and the "Money Men."
- Origins of the East India Company
- Corrupt Court and Undue Influence
- East India Company and Islamic Jihad
- Utility Versus the Pirates
- Tribunals Admiralty Courts & Privateers
- Tyranny is bad process
- Further Readings, *some duplicates