Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy

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An Act to protect the commerce of the United States and punish the crime of piracy is an 1819 United States federal statute against piracy, amended in 1820 to declare participating in the slave trade or robbing a ship to be piracy as well. The last execution for piracy in the United States was of slave trader Nathaniel Gordon in 1862 under the amended act.

The original act was An act to protect the commerce of the United States and punish the crime of piracy (Pub.L. 15–77, 3 Stat. 510, enacted March 3, 1819), and provided in section 5 that "That if any person or persons whatsoever shall, on the high seas, commit the crime of piracy, as defined by the law of nations, and such offender or offenders shall afterwards be brought into or found in the United States, every such offender or offenders shall, upon conviction thereof ... be punished by death." Section 6 set the act to expire at "the end of the next session of Congress".

The act was amended by An Act to continue in force "An act to protect the commerce of the United States and punish the crime of piracy," and also to make further provisions for punishing the crime of piracy (Pub.L. 16–13, 3 Stat. 600, enacted May 15, 1820), sometimes known as the 1820 Piracy Law. It extended the original act to 2 years after, then to the end of the next session of Congress after that. It also added three additional types of piracy: in section 3, robbery of a ship, its crew, or contents is declared piracy, punishable by death; in section 4, to seize or "decoy" onto a ship "any negro or mulatto, not held to service or labour by the laws of either of the states or territories of the United States with intent to make such negro or mulatto a slave" is also declared piracy punishable by death; and in section 5, attempting to confine, deliver, or sell a negro or mulatto (similarly qualified as "not held to service", etc.) is also declared piracy punishable by death.

The act was made "perpetual" by the 17th United States Congress (Pub.L. 17–8, 3 Stat. 721, enacted January 30, 1823).

Nathaniel Gordon was the only American slave trader to be tried, convicted, and executed "for being engaged in the Slave Trade" under this law. He was hanged in New York on February 21, 1862.

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