Letters of Marque and Reprisal
Letters of marque and reprisal are commissions or warrants issued to someone to commit what would otherwise be acts of piracy or banditry. They will normally contain the following first three elements, unless they imply or refer to a declaration of war to define the enemies, and may optionally contain the remainder:
- Names person, authorizes him to pass beyond borders with forces under his command.
- Specifies nationality of targets for action.
- Authorizes seizure or destruction of assets or personnel of target nationality.
- Describes offense for which commission is issued as reprisal.
- Restriction on time, manner, place, or amount of reprisal.
Persons acting under a Letter or Marque were also required by the terms of their letters of marque to obey the laws of war, honor treaty obligations (avoid attacking neutrals), and in particular to treat captives as courteously and kindly as they safely could. If they failed to live up to their obligations, the courts could revoke the letter of marque, refuse to award prize money, forfeit bonds, or even award tort (personal injury) damages against the offenders.