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

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
429 of 1105



EXCHANGE OF PRISONERS.The conventions entered into sometimes between belligerent powers, to regulate the methods of carrying on war and to determine the hostilities from which the respective armies are to abstain, are generally called cartels. Thus certain parts of territory are declared neutral ground, and contributions to be levied, the repression of marauders, the continuation or the stoppage of commerce and postal service, etc., are agreed upon.


—One of the most important cartels is that relating to prisoners of wr. Engagements are made on both sides to treat prisoners according to their rank and fortune; the bases of this treatment and the price of their maintenance are fixed; finally, arrangements are made for exchanging them. In times long passed not to speak of antiquity proper, it was the rule, with few exceptions, that the prisoner belonged to his captor. The latter gave him his liberty in consideration of a ransom, the amount of which was agreed upon between the interested parties. At that time the exchange of prisoners was very rare, for it could only happen by the merest chance that the man who had made a prisoner of another man had a personal interest to redeem another prisoner, whose fate was at the disposition of his prisoner. But by degrees sovereigns or governments came to form regular armies, and soldiers in their pay captured prisoners only on the account of the state. It was the affair of the state, then, to pay the ransom to redeem its own men, and treat with the enemy in order to fix the price for which it would free those which it had taken itself. Then, by the nature of things, exchanges became easy and frequent.


—It must be observed that two belligerent armies are interested in the mutual liberation of prisoners. Each army is glad to recover the troops which are useful to it and each glad to find itself freed from caring for hostile prisoners and from conducting them to their final destination.


—The first cartels were chiefly cartels of ransom. On both sides, lists of officers of every grade were drawn up, and even of simple soldiers, and the amount of ransom for each grade in the ranks was fixed. Thus in glancing over some of the most ancient cartels mentioned in diplomatic collections, we find that at the end of the seventeenth century there was an enormous disproportion between the prices of men of different grades. A marshal of France, commander-in-chief, or vice-admiral, was generally valued at 50,000 livres tournois; a soldier or sailor at five or seven livres. The price of men being determined, the exchange of prisoners was easily effected at their money value.


—A century later, the development of civilization and philosophic ideas had accustomed governments to consider men as having a personal value independent of their social position. In a cartel of 1780 between France and England, a marshal of France, an admiral, etc., were valued at 1,500 livres; simple soldiers and sailors at twenty five livres. The idea of ransom was no longer uppermost, but that of exchange. Exchange was made as far as possible for men of equal or nearly equal grade. In 1690 a marshal of France would have been exchanged for 10,000 soldiers; in 1780 no one would have thought of offering sixty soldiers for a marshal.


—At the period of the great wars of the French republic, another step in advance was made. The principles of equality which ruled in France caused the rejection of every estimate of a man at a money rate.


—Cartels for the exchange of prisoners are usually concluded directly by the government, that is to say, by commissioners with the plenary powers of the sovereign. Still, commanders-in-chief being always authorized to make military conventions in the name of the state with hostile generals so far as their own command is concerned, it frequently happens that cartels of exchange are concluded between general and general. Even an exchange of prisoners is often made without a count, except of officers who have a greater importance on account of their rank.


—Finally, it has become an invariable custom, as soon as peace is concluded, for the prisoners remaining in the hands of their enemies, to be sent by both sides in complete liberty to their respective countries, without exchange or ransom.


429 of 1105

Return to top