Letter of introduction
A letter of introduction or simply a Letter is a means of establishing trustworthiness in Praetonia and abroad. Originally the meaning was literal, but it has grown into an abstract insurance-based system.
In early Common Law Senland, most people were settled farmers, the population density was low, and distances were short. There wasn't much need for a formal system of identification and creditworthiness. When people did feel the need to travel somewhere they were unknown, whether for business or permanently, they would often ask a leading local jurist to write a letter of introduction to a leading jurist at the destination. Since jurists were inherently trustworthy, and tended to be in contact with each other or at least aware of one another, this allowed people to more quickly integrate into a new area. In this early system, however, the jurist would only express an opinion of the person being introduced, and did not assume any liability for his behaviour.
The modern system was founded by the Court of Maritime Settlement in the mid 1600s, when merchants travelling abroad needed much stronger evidence of their trustworthiness. The court began offering letters which indemnified the recipients up to a certain amount for listed misbehaviours. So if a merchant took goods and then did not pay for them, the Court of Maritime Settlement might reimburse the seller plus compensation if they had accepted a letter of introduction from the Court giving such a guarantee. The system became seen as doubly advantageous for merchants, first because possessing a letter made it easier to do business with honest merchants, and second because the Court's indemnity offered some protection against false accusations: to minimise payouts the resources of the Court would generally be used to investigate false claims and to extract falsely imprisoned merchants.
Modern Letter system
By the late 1700s, the Court of Maritime Settlement's insurance business had become by far the largest component of the whole organisation. It was spun out in 1782 as Oryontic Assurance and continues to be the leading issuer of Letters, although many other organisations began issuing them as early as the late 17th century. As well as in international trade and big business, the Letter system has found use in selecting employees and residents where a landlord or homeowners' association has the right to choose residents. This latter use has become famous or infamous abroad, although in Praetonia itself it is relatively uncommon to have to present a Letter to purchase a house; selective homeowners' associations more commonly use their own selection processes.
An important attribute of the Letter system which distinguishes it from other credit scoring systems is that Letters indemnify recipients and more particularly against specific things. The things against which a Letter indemnifies a recipient need not be illegal: for instance, a Letter could promise to pay out a certain sum if a person chooses to quit a certain job within a certain time. For common purposes, a number of standard template Letters are offered by Oryontic Assurance and other companies. To qualify for a Letter at a certain level of indemnity, the applicant needs to submit information to prove their reliability. Issuing companies can also take information on applicants from the public domain. Increasingly, Letters are stored electronically by the issuing company rather than taking the form of physical letters.
Although its original purpose was to guarantee trade, the Letter system has become ubiquitous primarily because of its relation to criminal justice. In Common Law countries, all people who are not outlaws can only be made liable for restitution. However, this can place people in lifetime debt bondage if the restitution they owe is greater than their ability to earn money. It was this consideration primarily that drove the Letter system to evolve an insurance element. Today, the overwhelming majority of people in Praetonia carry a Letter indemnifying them at least against intentional unlawful acts, usually up to very large sums. Possession of such a letter is very affordable for those of good family background who have not displayed any bad conduct throughout their lives. Repeated criminals, however, often find such Letters unaffordable and are forced to go without them. Lack of a Letter is therefore sometimes taken as evidence in itself of low character and bad conduct.
In Questers a Letter is often considered much more important, especially for traveling, than in Praetonia or North Point. Questers is subject to vast migrationary pressure and is significantly less homogenous than the rest of the Commonewealth, so many homeowners or commercial associations prohibit persons without Letters from renting or buying properties or entering areas of the country owned in association.
Some traditionalists oppose the letter system on various grounds. These include a general objection to all insurance by those who consider it to be a form of gambling and immoral. Others believe that a "true yeoman" should not have to carry a Letter as his conduct is impeccable and his name speaks for itself. This approach has proved workable within certain old and settled Senland communities, where admitting to possessing a Letter is considered a major social faux pas, but not in international trade for all but the best known and most reputable individuals and organisations.