Pirates' Rule
August 6, 2006 12:42 PM   Subscribe

The Golden Age of Piracy [video/audio] in the Atlantic peaked as the War of Spanish Succession ended. Piracy was a natural progression for the privateers [2] and buccaneers who had lost their sanctioned prey, and faced little resistance due to a lack of strong government in the majority of the American Colonies. Meanwhile captured naval seamen and slaves often willingly joined with pirates, or fled brutal treatment for the egalitarianism of piracy. This motley crew of motives were united in pirate democracy, laid down in a pirate code, preparing the way for democracy in the United States. But as the popularity of pirate life and pirate utopias grew strong, they became a pest to be mercilessly crushed by colonial opposition and the British navy.
posted by MetaMonkey (11 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

preparing the way for democracy in the United States

No. In the linked article, "a Gainesville middle school teacher" is paraphrased: "Comparing pirate charters with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution . . . he was amazed by the similarities."

This is a massive stretch, but even if the similarities were there, so what? To show that pirates influenced the Constitution you have to show that the Framers were aware of and influenced by pirate law. The men who wrote the constitution left behind a huge volume of political writings--nothing on pirates, except a few instances where pirates are used a symbol of lawlessness. (A search of the massive The Founders' Constitution will confirm this.)

This is the same line of reasoning pursued by those who want to say the Iroquois Confederacy served as the model for the Constitution. There just isn't much evidence to support it. We know from their writings what influenced the Framers--ancient and modern history, Enlightenment philosophy, common sense, and a dose of paranoia. Not pirates.
posted by LarryC at 1:31 PM on August 6, 2006

(But I do like the post!)
posted by LarryC at 1:32 PM on August 6, 2006

Thanks - these are some very interesting links.

I had never really seen the egalitarian spirit of piracy highlighted before (though there are hints of it in this classic, which pits a plucky English privateer against the decadent, authoritarian Spanish). However, most of these sources downplay the pirates' frequent brutality - behaviour which should put the lie to the notion that democracy is inherently humanizing, or that unlimited license is equivalent to genuine liberalism.

We should also bear in mind that piracy is far from extinct in today's world...
posted by Urban Hermit at 1:46 PM on August 6, 2006

..."a Gainesville middle school teacher" is paraphrased

A tad harsh, he did do a thesis on pirates. Did you not see his paraphernalia? And he's a descendant of a real pirate for the love of betsy!

But yes, I agree it is a huge stretch to suggest pirate articles had a direct impact on the founding fathers. I may have meant, preparing the way for democracy... in spirit, and by supporting colonial trade and killing Spaniards.
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:47 PM on August 6, 2006

I had never really seen the egalitarian spirit of piracy highlighted before

Honor among thieves.
posted by three blind mice at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2006

I thought we were currently in the golden age of piracy, just ask the RIAA? (I was going to make "piracy" a link to RIAA's anti-piracy page and end the sentence there, but they appear to be down. I wonder if they are under attack - ha ha?)
posted by caddis at 1:56 PM on August 6, 2006

heh Did the History Channel show on the Pirates of the Caribbean inspire you? Really interesting stuff, although egalitarianism wasn't always a given, such as the example of Black Beard who purposely got one of his ships stuck in order to ditch most of his crew and sail away with the gold.
posted by vodkadin at 2:30 PM on August 6, 2006

It's not ha ha. It's ar - ar. And my understanding is that the Iroquois Charter influenced the Articles of Confederation. And it is hard to imagine the founding fathers would not know something about the Iroquois system of government and their concept of division of power, it being in their backyards.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:36 PM on August 6, 2006

posted by dopamine at 5:18 PM on August 6, 2006

Would this be a good time to point out that Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up in about six weeks? Last year's funny thread on MeFi.
posted by diddlegnome at 9:26 PM on August 6, 2006

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