Golden Age of Piracy > Ethics & Morals of Piracy
Ethics & Morals of Piracy
To classify between a privateer and a pirate is only determined by the presence of Letter of Marque which meant that the King of whatever kingdom said you could legally plunder the ships of the enemy and he would not prosecute you. Given the fact the king has no real authority whatsoever we generally like to classify privateers as government sanctioned pirates, the equivalent of mercenaries.
During times of war thee privateers could be easily convertible to a navy and helped the royal government reduce the cost of maintaining a large navy. However, during times of peace the powers that be would always turn against their former "tools" and betray them in all manner of ways. It is not simple to look at the Golden Age of Piracy from the standpoint that the royal government was good and the pirates were bad. The truth is the crimes committed by the royal powers stand on scale vastly greater than the pirates as a whole ever committed. Columbus and the Spanish Empire were responsible for the decimation and genocide of the Amerindian population and the introduction of slavery to the hemisphere. The British Empire was responsible for the genocide and decimation of the Native American population in North America. The royal monarchy would eat its own and had no loyalty to anyone but themselves.
It must be known that the royal powers that be established the brutal and draconian economic systems of colonialism and mercantilism that was designed to exploit the colonies and turn them into slave vassal states. The pirates who defied the imperial powers risked their lives for a shot at eternal glory. They were the first progenies of democracy, liberty and freedom in a world totally embraced by absolute tyranny and oppression. The pirates recruited men of all races, colors and creeds and had only one common goal; fight back.
And fight back they did, the pirates hung governors of islands, seized war ships and blockaded entire ports and towns. In fact if they had not given up at the end and succumb to integral conflicts and betrayals they may have even won and been able to establish their own republic in the Bahamas. However, they were eventually defeated but their ideals were not. In fact their stories directly inspired the Patriots of the American Revolution and helped ignite a spark around the world that showed the royal monarchies could bleed. The outlaw pirates nearly shut down trade in the Atlantic and this would have been a deathblow to the political and economic structure of the time.
Overall the story of the pirates is not one that can be easily classified as moral or ethical. The powers that be gained their wealth from the backs of slave labor and the economic plunder and mass looting of entire ancient civilizations. They melted down the cultural and religious treasures of many tribes and civilizations into coins to fund their endless greed. The Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors were responsible for the decimation of two of the greatest Meso-American civilizations who themselves were guilty of human sacrifice and mass-genocide.
The pirates were simply stealing other stolen goods, and the only continuity was that the legality of the entire situation was based on the word of the divine monarchs of the Age of Empires. The merchant ships that employed many of the sailors who eventually became pirates were brutal ordeals consisting of press-gangs, horrible conditions akin to slavery and often being cheated of pay. Work was even worse on the merchant ships where sailors were treated as cargo and levels of acceptable losses. Slaves were treated even worse than the sailors.
The pirates would often hold a hearing of all the sailors on a ship after seizing their prize. If the captain was a just captain he may find himself back in control of his ship but if he was a tyrant then he would die in a number of horrible manners. The pirates had a code of government that they held themselves to and would often allow captured slaves to join their crews, providing one of the best economic opportunities for both indentured servants from Europe and African slaves who were both subjected to different types of slavery.
Overall the pirates can be seen as anti-heroes in an age of brutal conditions. It is hard to judge the past in the context of the future as we now classify pirates much differently in our society. However, the pirates of the past were viewed as cultural heroes by the general population and feared by the crown. Each story would inspire a new generation of pirates to take up the cutlass and raise the Black Flag, inspiring an unbroken chain of pirates and privateers that stretches the course of centuries.
These were men of the sea and they faced death and misery at every waking moment of the day. They lived in wooden ships sailing around the Atlantic Ocean that could one day just as easily become their tomb. It was a real dog eat dog world in these eras and it is hard to place moral or ethical judgements on any of the characters in this story.