The War of Paraguay: Chapter III, The Abolition of Privateering

Note: This chapter is hardly relevant to the Paraguayan War, but it’s incredibly short, so why not translate it? It’s so short in fact, I also translated the footnote included with it. I don’t normally include translated footnotes in this online version of the book, but I figured I’d do so for some of the shorter chapters that would be just a few paragraphs without them. Maybe you can get an idea of what the footnotes-and-all version of the book is like from this. To be clear: The “Footnotes” are from Nabuco, the original author. “Translator’s Notes” are my own.

In the time of the Paraná ministry Brazil adhered to the four principles of maritime law proclaimed in the Congress of Paris of 1856 (1)—namely, abolition of privateering; inviolability of enemy merchandise under a neutral flag, except contraband of war; inviolability of neutral merchandise even under an enemy flag; and requirement that a blockade be effective to be respected (2).

1856 Épinal print of European sovereigns at the Treaty of Paris.

Brazil’s adherence was harshly derided as entailing the abandonment of the only resource at our disposal in case of a war with any naval power, but it is true that the principles sanctioned in the Congress of Paris mainly benefited weak nations without armadas. That same behavior of the United States was only a diplomatic strategy to obtain what they wanted: complete immunity of private property on the sea (3) (i).

The foreign policy of the ministry also touches on the issue, or better said, as we will see further on, the various issues of the trafficking of Africans, a constant motive for the English legation for interference. (5)


i. In the congressional session of 1857 (15 June) Paranhos defended his ministry’s act in this manner: “The United States did not adhere to the new maxims approved by the Congress of Paris, because they wanted to take the principle of inviolability of non-offensive property to its logical conclusion, and (in the same way that privateering was abolished) for the safety of property belonging to one of the belligerents to stay guaranteed against enemy ships at sea. The United States did not maintain that privateering was a strategy to which one could resort in the current state of civilization, nor did they deny that it could seem a kind of organized and legal piracy … According to the signatory powers of the Paris Declaration, the four principles should be considered inseparable. A partial adherence is unacceptable; one must accept all or none; the power that doesn’t accept this accord will remain excepted from its application. (Doctor Nabuco: “Seconded.”) So that if we had not accepted it, in case of a war in which any of the powers that signed the treaty of 30 March 1856, or any of those that later adopted those same principles, took part, Brazilian merchandise would be easy prey under an enemy flag, and enemy merchandise would not be protected by the Brazilian flag. Now, should we sacrifice peacetime advantages to an expedient in war? Would this be an agreeable policy for the Empire, which in all its foreign relations, as a rule, practices justice and moderation? (Senhor Jacintho de Mendonça: “And it doesn’t even have any standing as a convenience to the Empire. The history of the war in the South could tell you that.” (4) Senhor J. Otaviano: “Seconded.”)
“Would such conduct suit the Empire that has a navy still very reduced and whose exports are made almost totally through foreign ships? I believe not … Senhores, steamships have reduced the services that privateers can lend down to a very little thing, and the nations that have a great maritime force also have a large merchant marine; if they wish to take advantage of that resource, they will surely surpass those nations of lesser naval power.”

Translator’s Notes

1. A post-Crimean-War meeting of European powers.
2. Here’s the full text of the provisions, courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross: “1. Privateering is, and remains, abolished; 2. The neutral flag covers enemy’s goods, with the exception of contraband of war; 3. Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under enemy’s flag; 4. Blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient really to prevent access to the coast of the enemy.”
3. The US wanted all non-military merchandise to be protected during wartime, even enemy goods under an enemy flag, and they proposed this as a provision at the Congress of Paris. The provision was rejected, so the US did not formally adhere to the declaration, because it did not go far enough.
4. “War in the South” likely refers to the Cisplatine War, a war Brazil fought against Argentina and the nascent state of Uruguay. During this conflict, Argentinian privateers wreaked havoc on Brazilian merchant ships.
5. We will not see this later on. Nabuco here refers to the next section of Um Estadista do Imperio, titled “Trafficking and Slavery,” which was not included in the excerpt La Guerra del Paraguay, because it has nothing to do with the war. There will be later discussion of slavery in this book, as it relates to the Paraguayan War, but not about its relation to trafficking or the Paraná ministry.

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