Letter of Marque
A Letter of Marque and Reprisal is an official warrant or commission from a government authorizing the designated agent to search, seize, or destroy specified assets or personnel belonging to a party which had committed some offense under the laws of states against the assets or citizens of the issuing state, and was usually used to authorize private parties to raid and capture merchant shipping of an enemy.
A private ship and its captain and crew operating under a letter of marque and reprisal was called a Privateer.
A Letter of Marque is a formal statement of the warrant was to authorize the agent to pass beyond the borders ("marque", meaning frontier), and there to search, seize, or destroy assets or personnel of the hostile foreign party ("reprisal"), to a degree and in a way that was proportional to the original offense. It was considered a retaliatory measure short of a full declaration of war, and by maintaining a rough proportionality, was intended to justify the action to other nations, who might otherwise consider it an act of war or piracy. As with a domestic search, arrest, seizure, or death warrant, to be considered lawful it had to have a certain degree of specificity, to ensure that the agent did not exceed his authority and the intent of the issuing authority.
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