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PIRATICAL depredations, without excepting even the present enlightened and commercial age, have always been more or less perpetrated. Within a few years the Gulph of Mexico and the neighboring seas have been infested with the vessels of pirates, and their robberies and murders have been attended with circumstances of the most shocking atrocity. They became so numerous, active, and formidable in 1823, that the United States, independently of the force kept there for the same purpose by other nations, thought it necessary to maintain on the West India station twenty armed vessels for the protection of their commerce ; and even these were found to be but partially effectual. As pirates do not confine themselves to any particular place or residence, but rove wherever there is a probability of finding their victims, they cannot be considered the subjects of any one government in particular ; and yet it cannot be questioned, that all nations have a duty to perform in respect to them. The principles and duties, therefore, having relation to piracy, are of an international, as well as of an internal and municipal character, and are to be sought for in the Law of nations. But it is undoubtedly true, that the subject is there treated in a
very limited and superficial manner; especially when we consider, that the character of piracy, at least in a modified form, attaches to some large States, such as the Algerines and Tripolitans. It is not enough to say, that a pirate is a sea-thief, an outcast from society, an enemy of human kind ; and to leave it to the discretion of all nations to operate against him as they please. We cannot help regarding the subject as one of too much importance and of too much difficulty to be despatched in this summary way.
Among other things, it ought to be understood, that the pirate operates upon the land, as well as upon the water. It is well known, that the numerous and fearful piracies a few years since in the Gulph of Mexico and the neighboring seas were committed by bands of robbers inhabiting the land, who held an active communication with the large towns; and who, in consequence of the information thus afforded, were enabled to sally out from their lurking places at the precise moment, when the unsuspecting merchantman could not fail to fall a prey to them. They even seduced and corrupted the integrity of a large portion of the surrounding population, by means of the low price, at which they disposed of their iniquitous gains; and by their number, activity, and wealth, perplexed and set at defiance the local authorities. This state of things was supposed to present an urgent case for immediate action on the part of those nations, whose commerce was thus exposed ; but it was very difficult to determine, what precise measures should be taken. As the pirates issued out in small and swift vessels, drawing but a few feet of water, they could not easily be pursued amid the shallows, to which they fled ; and when this could be done,they immediately escaped to the caverns and strong-holds of the interior. Nothing remained then but to pursue the robbers on the land ; but
this was a course requiring much consideration, and very different views were taken of it. Some contended, on the ground that pirates are the enemies of the human race, that we have by the law of nations the same rights against them as against nations at war with us, whose broken forces we are authorized by the existing public law to pursue, in the heat of contest, beyond the limits of neutral territory; and that consequently they might be pursued into the main land, and even into the village es, and be taken without any regard to the existing municipal authorities. On the other hand it was said, that these measures would be likely to be followed by resistance and violence on the part of the inhabitants, which must either terminate in the forcible occupation of the country or the expulsion of the invaders ; a state of things deplorable in itself and leading to deplorable consequences, besides being beyond the prescriptions and guidance of the letter, and probably the spirit of the Law of nations. Among other things it was seriously and ably argued, and was proposed as a measure to be carried into effect, that piracies, which could be traced in their origin to particular countries and cities, constituted sufficient grounds for the blockade of such countries and cities ; a proposition, which was met on the part of its opposers, by abundant scepticism both as to its legality and expediency.
All we have to add is, that this subject is worthy the notice of writers on the public code. In itself and in its connections, it is deserving of their anxious inquiries; particularly as it relates, not merely to the violations and loss of property, but to an immense loss of life, accompanied with circumstances of extreme and horrible cruelty. The pirate makes no distinction of age
It was made to appear before a Committee of the American Congress, that out of twelve vessels, cap
tured within a short period of each other, not one person was suffered to survive.
1,—But here is a great practical difficulty. In what way can the Law of nations, in consistency with peace principles, reach this great evil? We answer in the FIRST place, by the recognition of principles, which naturally tend to the abolition of the slave trade. And among other things, by the adoption of doctrines, which tend to the abolition of slavery itself; by delineating its true character, and by proscribing the existence of slavery under all circumstances. For when slavery dies, the slave trade dies with it. And the slave trade always has been, and always will be the nurse of pirates.
II,—In the SECOND place, the Law of nations, if it would abolish piracy, must take the step of abolishing war on private property on the ocean. The effects of this practice are exceedingly pernicious in their bearing on the private interests and happiness of those, whose property is thus taken ; but it is not often thought, how pernicious they are to those, who are the agents in it; in hardening the heart to sentiments of humanity, in unsettling the moral principles, and in preparing the way,' by a secret but sure process, for a subsequent course of cruelty and crime.
III,-Again, if the Law of nations would abolish piracy, it must abolish privateering. We are inclined to the opinion, that the parentage of piracy is to be sought in privateering more than any where else. If war on private property on the ocean has a pernicious moral effect, even when carried on by public ships of war, the evil is increased ten-fold, when it is carried on by privateers. The man, who finds himself authorized by the public law of his country, to attack and destroy unoffending merchantmen, will easily be led to believe, that there is no distinct and permanent foundation of justice, and that
superiority of force constitutes right; and especially so, as many persons, employed on board of privateers, are young, have had but small opportunities of inquiry and reflection, and their moral principles are not fully established. It is undoubtedly true, that many young men, of whom favorable expectations were entertained, and who in their better days would have shuddered at the idea of piracy, have been introduced to that dreadful practice through the corrupting channel of authorized letters of marque and reprisal. They reason falsely but not unnaturally, that if superiority of national power constitutes public right, (and they do not well understand in what other way it can be constituted in the matter of privateering, ) private power may constitute private right, and that it is accordingly lawful for themselves to pursue, and attack, and possess, whatever and wherever they can.Says Dr. Franklin in a letter to David Hartley, "I do not wish to see a new Barbary rising in America, and our long extended coast occupied by piratical States. I fear lest our privateering success in the two last wars should already have given our people too strong a relish for that most mischievous kind of gaming, mixed with blood ; and if a stop is not now put to the practice, mankind may hereafter be more plagued with American corsairs, than they have been and are with the Turkish.”
IV,-Nor is this all. Measures of a pacific nature may be taken, tending to prevent the introduction and sale of goods taken by pirates. There are but comparatively few piracies, when there is no market for the sale of piratical goods. And whether there is, or is not such a market, will depend chiefly upon internal and municipal regulations, and upon the state of society. Such measures as these strike at the root of the evil. Ships of war may terminate piracy for a time; but the aboli