« PreviousContinue »
him to attention and respect; it consequently becomes necessary, however reluctantly the discussion is entered upon, to point out the motives of such conduct and the sedulous endeavours, which continue to be made, to depress the Shipping Interest of Great Britain and the trading interests of the British colonies in North America.
It will be recollected that the American intercourse bill as originally introduced by EARL TEMPLE, authorized THE KING, with advice of his privy council, to suspend, during the present or any future war, the navigation and colonial system in the British settlements in the West Indies and South America, both as to exports and imports; which placed the whole of the colonial trade, in all its branches, in the hands of ministers, and rendered the mercantile and shipping interests of the empire entirely dependant on the officers of the crown*. The alarm which was excited by this enormous extension of the suspending power of the crown, induced not only the ship-owners and the merchants and others interested in the export trade of Great Britain, to petition the legislature on the subject, but likewise the merchants engaged in the trade and fisheries of the British North American colonies †.
The deep and lasting impression which their opposition to that unnecessary and impolitic measure made on the public mind, is a convincing proof that, on that occasion, "a few common place phrases about our old navigation laws and maritime rights" did not "answer the place of argument, and"-that much, and not, as it is stated, "little trouble was taken to ascertain in how far they may or may not be really injured, by any remedies suggested for the relief of others‡.” On the contrary, the petitioners urged the necessity of an inquiry, before a committee of the house of commons, on the state of the shipping and navigation of the country, and of the resources of the King's colonies in America, and on the result of that investigation they were willing to abide; but all their entreaties were unavailing; and notwithstanding the high
See introduction to Collection of Reports, &c. on Navigation and Trade, edition 1807.-Stockdale.
+ See the Votes of the house of commons, session 1806, for the numerous petitions presented against the American intercourse bill, and compare the bill as originally introduced with the act which ultimately passed on the subject. See also Alfred's letters to Lord Holland in 1 vol. of York's Political Review.
Mr. Baring's Examination, &c. p. 179.
character which the partisans of many of the late ministers gave them, for the zeal and attachment, which it was said they peculiarly felt for the privileges of the people, they denied to them, that which on all similar occasions had been considered a matter of course, if not, of right, namely the appointment of a committee to inquire into the nature and true merits of their application!
No delay could have arisen from this investigation; it was stated, and a pledge was given, in the course of the debate on this bill, that the period for the inquiry would not exceed a fortnight, and it is not pretended any inconvenience would have been felt by the planters, there being no apprehension of scarcity. For MR. WINDHAM by his previous circular letter of April, 1806, had not only directed the governors of the West-India islands to suspend the navigation acts during the war, and to allow the importation of provisions and lumber, but he had likewise promised to provide for them the usual indemnity; thereby, unconstitutionally, anticipating the judgment of parliament.
It, surely, was not too much to expect from an administration, principally composed of persons who had assumed the enviable distinction and character of "the friends of the people," a ready acquiescence to an application in its nature, so reasonable, necessary, and constitutional; especially as it did not proceed from the Shipping Interest only, for whatever objection there might have been to them, from other considerations, yet the respectability of the merchants and traders who signed the other petitions, on that occasion, independently of the national importance of the subject, ought certainly to have induced the late administration to have paused and reflected, before they determined to preclude all investigation.
A reference to the petitions presented against that measure, and to the brilliant and unanswerable speeches of the members of both houses of parliament who opposed the American intercourse billt, will convince every unprejudiced mind, that the representations so industriously circulated to calumniate the Shipping Interest, and to encourage unjust prejudices against the trade of the British colonies in North America
*The Shipping Interest from their supposed attachment to Mr. Pitt, have frequently been subject to the animadversions of his political opponents.
+ See Woodfall's Parliamentary Register for 1806.
are unfounded, and originate in party motives. It is, however, consolatory to observe an increasing attention to these two important interests, particularly the former, which is so immediately connected with the Landed Interest, and constitutes a very large proportion of the elective body of the United Kingdom.
When the circumstances in which the country was placed during the late war are recollected, the conduct of the Shipping Interest will be justly appreciated, from their forbearance to press, during that eventful period, on the attention of government, the apprehensions they entertained of the impolicy of the suspension of the navigation and colonial system, and the evil consequences which they contemplated would result from it. The motives which influenced their conduct were highly creditable to them; feeling the perilous situation of the country, they deemed it most prudent not to afford an opportunity to the turbulent and factious, to intermix the imaginary and unfounded grievances which, at that time, were brought forward to harass and perplex government, with the strong and well grounded claim of the Shipping Interest to the attention of the legislature*.
In 1801-2 they availed themselves of the short interval of the peace of Amiens and applied to government, in LORD SIDMOUTH's administration, but without effect, and it was not until MR. PITT's return to power in 1804, that the shipowners received the attention to which they were entitled; when the strongest assurances were given to them of an intention gradually to resume the former system; and of which no doubt could be entertained, from the measures actually taken during the latter part of his administration t. It also appears that on the commencement of the late war, an order was issued in November 1793 for a strict enforcement of the
* See introduction to Collection of Reports and Papers on Navigation and Trade, edition 1807. p. 26.
+ Ibid. p. 22, 25. An attempt is made to render doubtful the truth of Mr. Pitt's intention to resume the old system, &c. Vide Mr. Baring's Examination, p. 7. Were it necessary in a work of this nature to go into proofs of the political opinions of a deceased minister, very satisfactory evidence can be adduced that more than one of his Majesty's late ministers were satisfied of the alteration which had taken place in Mr. Pitt's sentiments on this subject, and in further corroboration of these posthumous opinions, as they are now called, of that great statesman, it is only necessary to refer to the minutes of the colonial office, and the board of trade, during Mr. Pitt's last administration, and to some of the printed papers laid before parliament in the spring of 1806.
rule of 1756; a relaxation of which Mr. PITT was most reluctantly prevailed upon to acquiesce in very soon afterwards; BUT SUBSEQUENT CIRCUMSTANCES HAD, IT IS WELL KNOWN, CONVINCED HIM MOST SATISFACTORILY OF THE INFINITE IMPORTANCE TO THE COUNTRY OF GETTING RID OF THAT RELAXATION AT THE EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY, AND OF RECURRING TO THE RULE ALLUDED TO. The death of this illustrious statesman damped the hopes of every one anxious to maintain and preserve the maritime preponderancy of Great Britain, it being evident from the opinions*, openly promulgated by some (and afterwards adopted by all) of his successors, they were determined to adhere to the system of suspension, notwithstanding the injurious consequences which had previously resulted from it, and the depression they would ultimately produce on the naval power of the country.
These explanatory observations, whilst they exculpate the Shipping Interest from the charge of having attempted to impose on parliament, and of factious + conduct in their opposition to the American Intercourse Bill, will, it is trusted, counteract the illiberal attempts to prejudice their character and reputation: experience has shewn, that although the Shipping Interest, in a crisis like the present, forbear to press on the government of the country their claim of attention to their particular case; it is not to be doubted, but that under more favourable circumstances, they will avail themselves of every constitutional means to induce the legislature to adopt such measures as will protect their property from the ruin which will await it, if the maritime rights of the
* See Lord Sheffield's speech, the 12th of May, 1806, on the American intercourse bill: " his lordship said he had always serious apprehensions respecting the loose opinions which were so often delivered on these subjects. But his alarm had become extreme since he had heard a noble lord (Grenville) distinguished for his great abilities and information, to whom neither levity nor imprudence could be imputed, hold a language, which appeared to him intended to prepare us in consequence of the change of times and things for a relinquishment of the most essential parts of our navigation and colonial system."
Also see Mr. Fox's speech on the same bill, on the 22d May, 1806. "I have no difficulty in saying, that in my opinion the course should always be, in time of war at least, such as is proposed by this bill to make it, and I am not sure that it may not be necessary also in time of peace!"
Edinburgh Review, &c.
country continue to be sacrificed and abandoned to the theoretic speculations, and new-fangled philosophy of the modern economists; who, by their timidity and empiricism, have encouraged in neutral powers an insatiate cupidity to demand further concessions *; and thus have brought upon the nation, many of those difficulties and embarrassments in which it is now placed. For, as Dr. JOHNSON has truly remarked, to make concessions is to encourage encroachments."
The persevering efforts of the American party in this country, who call for a revision, or rather for an abrogation of our navigation and colonial system, and boldly proclaim, that the only remedy which promises some permanent and much temporary relief to the British West-India planters, is to open the ports generally to neutrals †; must be obvious to every one who has viewed with attention and impartiality, the mild and conciliatory conduct of Great Britain towards America.
Not content with the powerful influence which they have unfortunately obtained, their endeavours appear to be directed to mislead the public mind on many important points; or to what other motive can the following assertion be attributed, unless it is intended to encourage the prejudices of a few individuals in the British West-India colonies, whose conduct conduces to a belief that their attachment to the mother country is not so strong as their regard for the United States?" At present, by the most absurd policy, our planters are prevented from paying for the large amount of provisions and supplies from America, by a return of their own produce, which would willingly be received, because the whole of it must go to the mother country, where it can only sell at a loss." Though by the 28 Geo. 3d. c. 6. sugar, molasses, coffee, cocoa-nuts, ginger and pimento, are permitted to be exported from the British West India Islands to the United States, in British-built ships §. It is appréhended by the Shipping Interest, in case sugar and molasses are not allowed to be used in the distilleries, that every exertion will be made to obtain permission to export from the British West India Islands to the United States in American bottoms, sugar and other colonial produce. If such an infraction of the colonial system should take place, Cobbett's Political Register, 13 vol. p. 427.
† Mr. Baring's Examination, p. 167.
Mr. Baring's Examination, p. 168.
$Reeves's History of Shipping and Navigation, 2d edit. p.271, 272.