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Sovereignty through its meanings have varied across history, also has a core meaning, supreme authority within a territory. It is a modern notion of political authority. The state is a political institution in which sovereignty is embodied. The pursuit for power was not only concerned with the ownership of land but also to do with economic growth and superiority through trade. The stabilised and expanding Atlantic Economy was a source of enormous profits and renewed imperial power- therefore making it a huge attraction to power thirsty leaders desperate for the most capital wealth and appeal of reputation-thus starting a trade war amongst states.
Private violence should be looked at in the context of the relationship between state-building, political economy and violence, rather than through the narrative of states gradually monopolising violence. Pirates and privateers in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century Europe were embedded in a broader political economy of violence which needed and actively promoted ‘private’ violence in a broader pursuit of power, both by newly forming states that relied on naval power, and by economic actors who relied on violence as a form of protection.
How did this dialectic of violence between pirates and the nation-state develop? What were its causes? Why did pirates express such rage—and seek such vengeance—against ship captains and royal officials? And why did they “cry up a Pirate’s Life to be the only Life for a Man of any Spirit”? The outburst of privacy following the Spanish succession took no one by surprise.
Spain and France on one side and Britain on the other, lasting until 1713. Twenty of the sailors’ first twenty-five years were passed in an Atlantic world at war. Sailors knew that war was fought over wealth and key commodities of trade such as gold, silver and slaves.
The Atlantic empires competed fiercely with each other, pursuing policies that would enhance their own power over and against their rivals, all certain that control of the seas was a key to increased trade, larger profits, far-reaching markets, economic growth, and national power. Privateers were mobilised by kings and queens to attack and plunder the trading vessels of enemies. Whether by moving commodities or waging war by sea, the sailor provided the labour power of transatlantic endeavour, ‘’The sailor knew that thousands of people were moving and labouring around the Atlantic, some willingly, some unwillingly, with many of them, like himself, subjected to violence.’’ Atlantic empires mobilized labour power on a new and unprecedented scale, largely through the strategic use of violence—the violence of land seizure, of expropriating workers, of the Middle Passage, of exploitation through labour discipline, and of punishment (often in the form of death) against those who dared to resist the colonial order of things.
By all accounts, by 1713 the Atlantic economy had reached a new stage of maturity, stability, and profitability. The growing riches of the few depended on the growing misery of the many. The end of the War of Spanish Succession had resulted in an extensive demobilization of the navies of Britain, France, and Spain. At the same time privateering commissions expired, adding to the number of sailors looking for work. Most of these sailors joined pirate ships after working on merchant and naval ships where they experienced brutal discipline, low wages, devastating disease and premature death. Piracy offered ready money, abundant food and drink, the election of officers and equal distribution of resources ‘the sailor learned the importance of equality: his painfully acquired experience told him that a fair distribution of risks would improve everyone’s chances for survival.’’
Being separated from the rest of society, pirates created their own set of traditions and culture witch included them believing of themselves as people without a nation, that could not be governed or run by national authorities, their lives were lawless and interests were driven more by freedom and equality rather than by political and economic power. Pirates had begun to settle in Madagascar as early as 1691; their presence had long caused “a great Deal of uneasiness and Fear in the Several Nations trading to the Indies.” By 1718 Madagascar served as a pirate settlement, and for the maritime powers of Europe, a nightmarish model of a place they could not control, In the English imagination, Madagascar was a world in which the English could peacefully trade and benefit from contacts with hospitable locals.
The English worried that pirates would influence and ruin Malagasy communities before lawful traders made a mark. They had wreaked havoc in the system by capturing hundreds of merchant ships many of which they plundered of cargo and most importantly disturbed trade in strategic zones of capital accumulation. Europeans worried about the pirate successes threatening their trading ventures in both oceans, particularly the tenuous hold the trading companies had over commerce including trade in cloth and spices as well as exports from Madagascar. Pirates posed an obvious threat to European interests due to the fact that Sea power was crucial for the development of the Atlantic economy, and European mercantilist empires more generally.
The technological development of trans-oceanic ships allowed for the discovery of new lands, the expansion of trade over the seas, and also necessitated the protection of such routes. Pirates disrupted and destroyed many trade ventures but also rebelled against authority by refusing to be governed. Their lawless behaviour brought down economic growth drastically and threatened supreme authority by being a nationless bunch of people that could not be restricted. But at the same time the British and French viewed the history of piracy on Madagascar as demonstrating the successful extension of their military and economic power in the region. The removal of pirates from the island meant trading companies had successfully defended their right to enforce legal trading practices near Madagascar.
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