Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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BOOTY. Borrowed from the Scandinavian word buty (latinized into butinum), in middle German bûten, at present beute. Booty is analogous to the Anglo-Saxon bot, and appears now as the English word booty. It is found in the Italian bottino. The word is found in all languages, and it could not be otherwise since it expresses a fact of war, almost general, in former times.


—To take booty is to take possession, by the right of the stronger, of that which belongs to the vanquished. At present the word booty is applied only to movable objects, but formerly it comprised immovable property. Most of the great feudal fortunes had no other beginning. In Sicily and in England the Norman barons divided the estates of the conquered among them, and what the Normans did the Franks had done in Gaul, and the Visigoths in Spain. In a word, wherever there was a conquest there was booty. With the development of civilization the word booty gradually lost its original extensive application. The following are the provisions relating to it, now considered in accordance with the law of nations: The armies and the navies of states, privateers and even isolated combatants, may take as booty from armies, war vessels and the privateers of the enemy, by force, open or concealed, as well as all the movable property possessed by the latter. (Klüber, Droit des gens moderne de l'Europe, page 324, § 253; Heffter, § 153.) This booty belongs, according to the natural law of nations, to the government waging war, but to-day it is generally left to the soldiers who have taken it. (Vatel, liv. III, chap. ix, § 164.) The victor in our day respects public monuments, products of literature and fine art, the movable property of the castles, edifices and gardens belonging to sovereigns or their families, as well as objects pertaining to worship, and ordinarily abstains from destroying or carrying them away. (Kamptz, Neuere Lit., § 309.) According to the usage of the law of nations established in Europe the enemy acquires, in wars on land, the ownership of booty by a possession of it during twenty-four hours, (Strube's Rechtliche Bedenken, Bd. II, No. 20); so that when this term has expired, any third party may acquire it of him, by a true title without danger of its being reclaimed, and to the exclusion of the right of postliminy. (Vatel, liv. III, chap xiii, §196.) Most governments still recognize the same principle with regard to captures made in naval warfare by war vessels or privateers, (Martens, Essai concernant les armateurs, chap. iii, sec. 11); still there are some who pretend that property in this booty is not lost to the original owner till it is put in a safe place that is to say, till it has been transported to the territory of the victor or into a neutral country. (Vatel, liv. III. chap. xiv, § 208) The plunder of a marauder or pirate does not enjoy these advantages. Movable property belonging to private persons not taking part in hostilities, is not accounted booty by the laws of war, and can not be taken from the proprietors, with the exception of merchant ships and their cargoes, which are lawful prizes for war vessels. (Martens, Recueil, II, 56. et Déclaration de 1856.)


—War has such a demoralizing effect that men who leave home with a horror of booty, become sometimes, if the war is long, familiar with the idea, and permit themselves to take that which does not belong to them. But the plundered proprietor has been seen to follow his goods to the enemy's country, bring the thief before a court and win his case. It would be well if such instances—of which we know but one—should become more frequent; for no matter how rigorous discipline may be, there is always in a large army a number of people who have few scruples. It would be well to teach them that war does not insure impunity.


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