Benjamin Franklin’s War on Piracies

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
4:00 pm PDT

Little Theater, Macgowan Hall
245 Charles E. Young Dr., East

Early Modern Cosmopolitanisms Lecture

—Mark G. Hanna, University of California, San Diego


Without a strong organized navy the American patriots depended upon independent privateers to harass the British at sea. In the early years of the revolution, Benjamin Franklin, diplomat, intellectual, and American socialite, enthusiastically supported an expansive and aggressive American form of privateering, including the questionable exploits of Captain John Paul Jones. While in France, Franklin had a momentous change of heart as the war drew to its close. Realizing an opportunity to dramatically change the world by eliminating private warfare, he called for a global end to privateering in peace negotiations with the British. Franklin’s critique of privateering for the “Interest of Humanity in general” continues to resonate in modern debates over human rights and international law.

Mark G. Hanna is assistant professor of early American history at UC San Diego. Hanna received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 2006. He recently completed his first book, Pirate Nests: The Rise of the British Empire, 1570–1740 for the Omohundro Institute at the University of North Carolina Press. Pirate Nests reveals the little known yet significant relationship between high seas piracy and landed maritime communities in the formation of the British Empire. Hanna is also the author of several book chapters and articles, including “Protecting the Rights of Englishmen: The Rise and Fall of Carolina’s Piratical State,” the forthcoming “Well-Behaved Pirates Seldom Make History: A Reevaluation of English Piracy in the Golden Age,” and a historiographical essay on early modern smuggling. He is currently curating an exhibit, Pirates: Unlikely Naturalists,at the San Diego Natural History Museum. His current book project, “Infamous Designation: The Discourse of Piracy, Slavery, and Empire in the Early Modern World: 1600–1900,” explores how piracy was used as a blunt rhetorical weapon to attack militant colonization, the impressment of sailors, and the use of privateers in wartime, rebellion and revolution, and even rapacious capitalism.