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stress, it appears, was laid by the then ministry*, on the statement of the exports and imports of the country; and the value of the merchandize exported confounded with the increase of shipping. It is, however, easy to shew that such was not a fair criterion; for instance, on a comparative estimate of four years immediately preceding the late war, it will appear, that,
In 1789, 1790, and 1791, taking the average
of those years, that the tonnage of British ships, which cleared at the custom-house, was And that of foreign shipping, in the like period Whilst, in 1792, the tonnage of British ships, which cleared out, was only
And that of foreign ships, in that
And an increase of foreign shipping of nearly
The value of goods exported, on the average of £
the three former years, was
And in the latter year
Being an increase of about one-fifth.
If, therefore, the value of the exports had increased onefifth, and in the same period the tonnage of British shipping only one-fifteenth, it was rather too bold to argue that the increase of one was a fair criterion to judge of the increase of the other, and subsequent to that period an infinitely greater proportion of foreign ships were employed in the trade of this country, for it appears, that
In 1797, before the provisions of the Dutch Property Act could have had much effect, the tonnage of foreign vessels trading with · Great Britain was
And that in 1801, when in full operation, it
Being an increase of foreign tonnage under the suspending acts in the trade of Great Britain, in five years, of
whilst there was a very considerable decrease in ployment of British tonnage as before stated.
* See Cobbet's Political Register, 1st and 2d vols.
manner the employment of the shipping of Great Britain decreased, and the tonnage of neutral ships employed in British trade under the operation of the suspending acts increased; although the reverse has been most confidently stated and attempted to be shewn by the advocates of the new system *.
Another inconvenience resulted from the suspension of the navigation laws, by the encreased employment it afforded to neutral shipping; namely, the difficulty it often created in procuring foreign seamen for British vessels. At every period, when English seamen are required for the navy, it is obvious how injuriously every measure must operate which enables foreign seamen, who would otherwise be employed in British merchant ships, to find so readily safety and employment in neutral vessels, in which they are not liable to be captured by the enemy, or occasionally impressed into the king's service.
In addition to these objections to "the suspending system," a constitutional point arises, of some importance; as the acts on which it is founded divest parliament of its legislative faculties, and invest the same in the privy council, so far as relates to the foreign trade and commerce of Great Britain, and to part of its colonial trade under the American Intercourse Bill of 1806; indeed it approximates in principle to the doctrine of non obstante, which, according to the best legal and constitutional authorities, has always been looked upon with a jealous eye. It is to be observed theré is no authority in the Act of Navigation to enable his Majesty to suspend the provisions of it; it may therefore be fairly 'contended, under the statute of the 1st William and Mary, sess. 2. c. 2. sec. 12, that the acts which authorise the suspension of the Navigation System established by an antecedent statute, the 12th Charles II. c. 18. are contrary to that provision of the Bill of Rights; the words are, "and be it further declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, that from and after the present session of parliament, no dispensation by non obstante of or to any statute, or any part thereof shall be allowed, but that the same shall be held void and of no effect, except a dispensation be allowed of in
* See Alley's Vindication, in which this subject is most ably and impartially treated.
such statute, and except in such cases as shall be specially provided for, by one or more bills to be passed during the present session of parliament."
It is not intended by this observation to question the omnipotence of the British legislature, but merely to point out the words of this statute, which appear to have been either misunderstood or disregarded. It is evident the framers of the Bill of Rights intended by this clause to preclude the exercise of the non obstante or dispensing power, as to the provisions of former statutes, except such power was invested by such statutes in the crown; or in such other cases as might in the course of that session of parliament be specially provided for; and that as to future or subsequent acts, the crown should not exercise the dispensing power, unless the same was granted in the act, the provisions of which it might, from change of circumstances or other cause, be necessary to suspend.
A reference to the debates on the temporary Acts for regulating the trade between Great Britain and the United States, after the acknowledgement of their independence, will prove the propriety of these remarks. It was observed by Mr. GEORGE DEMPSTER, in the debate on one of these acts in 1787*, " that when he voted in favor of the proposition that the government of the trade with America should be vested in his Majesty in council, he felt some reluctance, being conscious that he resigned the powers of that house, in an unconstitutional manner; but the unsettled condition of the United States of America, and the peculiar circumstances of the times, appeared to him to warrant such a resignation of his own right as a member of parliament, and to justify that concession. The case was however now different, and he saw no reason why the house should not re-assume their powers, and return as soon as possible to the exercise of their functions. Every friend to the constitution, he conceived, must feel with him upon the subject, and the persons who originally asked for the act confessed themselves at the time to be conscious that they were unavoidably obliged to desire what was obviously unconstitutional.". "That annual acts were no novelty"" but he could not help being of opinion that the sooner the house returned to
* Debrett's edition, vol. 36, page 429:
the ancient practice, and the less they trusted to the discretion of the executive government, the better."
The evils resulting from such innovations of our maritime laws are great; their injurious operation on the Shipping Interest manifest; and the ultimate depression they will produce on the naval power of Great Britain becomes daily more apparent. The British Ship-owners have also too much reason to complain of the facility with which licences have been granted by the Privy Council, (notwithstanding the abuse of them) authorising the employment of neutral ships in the trade of this country, and it is from the experience which they have dearly bought in that respect, they are so anxious the former system should be resumed.
It is observed by LORD SHEFFIELD," the very existence of these powers is calculated to produce various mischief. When the regulation is known and fixed, commerce may direct its concerns accordingly. But when men in office and governors unrestrained by any written statute, regulation, or principle may suspend or alter the accustomed direction of trade, the prospects of commerce will be rendered uncertain and precarious by the precariousness of the regulation, and commercial speculation in consequence will be intimidated and depressed. It cannot be expected that trade can prosper under such circumstances; firmness and stability of system can alone enable speculation to look forward with any mercantile confidence to the future, to prosecute its plan with steady determination, and to anticipate with any probable security those necessities which it may be called on to supply. But what inducement is left to commerce which may, in a moment, be counteracted in its views and objects by discretionary orders; what provision will be made for the supply of distant markets, if those markets be daily liable to be opened by orders from the treasury or council to foreign competition, and thereby rendered precarious, hazardous, and unsteady; what merchant will continue in a trade which the signature of a West-India governor may hourly interrupt or defeat? I think, therefore, it cannot be denied that these powers of discretion so eminently liable to abuse, are at least dangerous and repulsive to trade; that they tend to introduce into commercial concerns uncertainty and indecision, which cannot but confine or repress the enterprise of the merchant: and I must also add, that they are so hostile to the genuine spirit of the law and the constitution, that ministers have thought it necessary to
procure an annual act of indemnity for the exercise of those, discretionary powers*.
These are the constitutional and commercial objections to the statutes, by which the Act of Navigation, emphatically styled, "The Charta Maritima of England," has been during the last twelve years suspended, to the serious injury of the better interests of the country. It should always be remembered, that our brave and wise ancestors never did for any purpose of revenue or of political accommodation to other states, depart from the strict principle of the Navigation Laws, but took especial care, that our own trade was carried on in our own ships, and invariably made the commerce of the country the medium of the increase of its shipping. "What, my thoughtless sons, should fire you more Than when your well-earned Empire of the Deep The least beginning injury receives?
What better cause can call your lightning forth?
The Shipping Interest having pointed out the ruinous consequences resulting from the suspension of the navigation and colonial system, and the concessions to neutral nations; the advocates of America and the partisans of the late ministers, have availed themselves of every opportunity to calumniate that respectable and valuable class of his Majesty's subjects, by representing that in their opposition to the American intercourse bill, they attempted to impose on parliament, and that the domineering spirit which they evinced, on that occasion, fell principally on the West-India planters ||.
This calumny which had been chiefly confined to anonymous publications, would have been passed over and treated with the contumely it merited, had it not been countenanced by the author of the defence of America, for such it must be considered, whose rank and situation in life entitle
* Lord Sheffield's Strictures, 2d edition, page 225.
+ Medford's Oil without Vinegar, &c. &c.
Emancipation in Disguise.
Mr. Baring's Examination, p. 170.
§ Ibid, p. 2. to 13.