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attended by the cabinet members,105 was substantially a cabinet meeting, from which it would be indistinguishable were it not specifically named. Nevertheless, the tendency is now, on the whole, for the cabinet to attend to the important matters of administration, diplomacy, and foreign policy, and for the committee of council, except as regards colonial business, to occupy itself with details, petitions, requests, and specific affairs. By the end of Sir Robert Walpole's administration the committee is largely occupied with routine and subsidiary things, while the cabinet, or rather an inner circle of the cabinet, is the real executive council of the nation.
105 Cf. Newcastle Papers, Add. MSS., 32,993, f. 136; also ibid., 33,004, f. 47.
I. Observations of London Merchants on American Trade, 1783.
THE original of the document here presented was found by the managing editor of this journal among the Pitt Papers at Orwell Park, Ipswich, the country seat of Captain E. G. Pretyman, M.P., to whose courtesy, and that of Mr. E. H. Hancox, librarian at Orwell Park, we are indebted for an opportunity to print it. The "Observations" were no doubt prepared for Pitt's information when the American Intercourse Bill was under consideration in Parliament in the spring of 1783. They are of particular interest because they set forth in some detail the collective views of a body of men whose interests were much at stake and whose opinions would naturally be consulted by any ministry seeking to determine the commercial policy of the nation.
The provisional treaty between Great Britain and the United States signed on November 30, 1782, had left the question of commercial relations between the two countries unsettled, but it was still hoped both by the American commissioners and also by some in British councils that provision for the restoration of commerce might yet be included in the definitive treaty or else that a separate commercial treaty might be negotiated; efforts to this end were accordingly continued, although without result, almost to the moment of signing the definitive treaty. There was, indeed, as yet no well settled opinion among Englishmen as to the form which the new commercial relations with their former colonies should take. It was inevitable that a strong faction should desire to continue the policy of the Navigation Acts and to retain for England a monopoly of the carrying trade; the mercantile interests on the other hand, while not yet espousing the doctrine of free trade, were nevertheless in favor of important relaxations of the restrictive policy. Between the two extremes there were several shades of opinion. Besides, there were the merchants and planters of the West India colonies, who were vitally interested in the direct trade with the United States. Meanwhile the pressing necessity for some provision for the restoration of trade relations with the United States was keenly felt, although it was generally conceded that any measures then adopted would probably be but temporary. Accordingly, on March 3, Pitt, who was then chancellor of the Exchequer, and at the time a strong advocate of a liberal commercial policy toward the United
States, introduced in the House of Commons a Bill for the provisional Establishment and Regulation of Trade and Intercourse between the Subjects of Great Britain and those of the United States of North America." The bill provided, in addition to the repeal of the prohibitory acts, that American vessels might enter British ports in the same manner as vessels of other nations and that American goods should be liable only to the same duties as if they had been imported in British vessels; it also allowed the same drawbacks and bounties on exports from Great Britain to the United States as on exports to British colonies in America and permitted a direct trade between the United States and the West Indian colonies on the same terms as to British subjects.2 The bill was extensively debated during the next few weeks, was vigorously attacked by the advocates of the Navigation policy, led by Lord Sheffield, and was so radically amended that Pitt finally hesitated whether to push it further.
1 Journals of the House of Commons, XXXIX. 265. It was Townshend however who made the motion for leave to bring in this bill, urging that, until a general commercial system should be completed, it was highly important that some provisional regulation should be enacted. (See Debrett, Parliamentary Register . . . of the House of Commons, IX. 296.) Previously (on January 29) David Hartley had moved for leave to bring in a bill repealing the prohibitory acts (ibid., p. 192; Journals, XXXIX. 123).
2 An abstract of the bill is in the London Chronicle, March 6-8, 1783.
3 Lord Sheffield pursued the attack in a pamphlet, Observations on the Commerce of the American States, which speedily ran to a sixth and greatly enlarged edition and seems to have had much influence in shaping the policy then adopted. The cause of the mercantile interests was voiced by Richard Champion, who came out shortly afterward with Considerations on the Present Situation of Great Britain and the United States of America. The spokesman of the West Indian colonies was Brian Edwards, Thoughts on the late Proceedings of Government respecting the Trade of the West India Islands with the United States of America. Numerous other writers aired their views.
4 During the debate on March 17 "Mr. William Pitt informed the committee, that the American commissioners at Paris, had seen the outlines of the bill, and were highly pleased at the generosity of Britain, and made no doubt but America would do every thing in her power to promote the interests of this country. This was answered by several speakers, who argued, that if the American commissioners liked the bill as originally introduced, their approbation could not be construed to the bill in its present form, as nothing could be more dissimilar than the two bills were in shape and tendency." (Parliamentary Register, IX. 501.) Henry Laurens, who was in London at the time and seems to have been frequently consulted by members of Parliament concerning the bill, was rather antagonistic. (See especially his letters of March 6, 15, 17, 26, and April 4, 5. and 10, in Wharton, Dipl. Corr., VI.) Jay, on the other hand, was decidedly favorable to the measure: "Mr. Pitt's bill was a good one, a wise one, and one that will forever do honor to the extent and policy of his views, and to those of the administration under whose auspices it was formed." (Jay to Vaughan, March 28, ibid., p. 349.) Adams was also inclined to like the bill.
5 The course of the bill in the House of Commons may be traced in the Journals, XXXIX. 265, 270, 278, 284, 289, 293, 295, 301, 303, 308, 316, 320, 325, 346, 353, 362, 409, 429. The fullest record of the debates is found in Parlia
If the House, he said on April 2, was agreed in general upon the principle of the bill, he thought they might proceed; otherwise he would approve its postponement to a future day.
On March 20 Sir Cecil Wray said during the debate that the merchants had advertised a meeting upon the subject and that it would be better to wait for their sense of the principle of the bill and of its several clauses. On March 27 Pitt stated on the floor of the House that "the American merchants of the city of London had called a meeting upon the subject, and had since applied to him, desiring a little more time to digest their ideas, and make up their minds upon the business". In order, therefore, to give those who were so deeply interested in the effect of the bill the opportunity of maturing their opinions upon it, he would ask that the consideration of the bill be postponed until Friday. Again, on Friday (March 28),8
Mr. Chancellor Pitt informed the House, that there had been several meetings of the merchants of London trading to America, who had come to various resolutions on the different clauses in the bill, which they had thought proper to communicate to his majesty's Ministers: Their report was well worthy of the most serious considerations; but as he had not seen it till this day, he had not had time to consider it: In order, however, to have time to peruse the report before any farther proceeding should be had on the bill, he would move that the farther consideration of it should be postponed till Monday.
On Monday however Pitt announced his resignation from office, and on April 2 a new ministry came into power, and although Pitt's bill was further considered on April 2 and April 9,9 it thereafter died of postponements. The "Observations" of the London merchants, notwithstanding they bear the date July 22, may be identical with the report that was presented to Pitt on March 28; or they may be a later fruition of the merchants' views;10 an extensive, though not exhaustive, investigation has failed to discover other mention of such a document at this time.11 At all events, as Parliament admentary Register, IX. 296, 409-446, 474-484, 501-503, 504-509, 540, 546, 547, 592-597, 600-603. The more important parts of the debates of March 7 and 11 and April 9 are contained in Cobbett's Parliamentary History, XXIII. 602-615, 640-646, 724-730.
6 Parliamentary Register, IX. 508.
7 Ibid., p. 540.
8 Ibid., p. 546.
9 Ibid., pp. 592-597, 600-603. On April 9 the bill was put over to May 7, then to May 21, then to June 4, and it was not again called up.
10 Certain similarities between the "Observations" and Champion's Considerations (see note 2, ante) suggest that there is a possible relation between the two.
11 Representations of one sort or another from the merchants were frequent during the following years. For mention of one such see Adams to Jay, January 4, 1786 (Works, VIII. 360; Dipl. Corr. of U. S. A., 1783-1789, II. 558).
journed on July 16, the "Observations" could not have been delivered to Pitt after that date save with a view to possible future use.12 It should be noted further that on April 5 the "Merchants and Traders of London interested in the Commerce of North America" presented to the king an address, in which they express the hope that the laws for the regulation of commercial intercourse between Great Britain and North America "may be made with that liberality which we conceive to be the true Policy of Commercial States "13 The proceedings of the new ministry as to American intercourse may be briefly told. During a discussion of Pitt's bill on April 9, Fox, who was now foreign secretary, and was evidently inclined toward a retention of the old policy, held out hopes that a treaty of commerce between the two countries would soon be consummated. His hopes, however, if such he really had, failed of fruition.14 Meanwhile he proposed as a provisional measure to repeal the prohibitory act, abolish the requirements of manifests, etc., for American vessels, and empower the king in council for a limited time to regulate commerce with the United States. These measures were pushed rapidly to a conclusion (May 12),15 and on May 14 an order in council was issued opening trade with the United States to a limited extent, somewhat further extended by order in council, June 6. On July 2, however, trade in American ships between the United States and the West Indies was practically prohibited.1 Of the subsequent proceedings of the British government it is not necessary here to speak. It should be added however that, besides, the economic influences which affected the attitude of the ministry and
12 After the change of ministry the merchants presented their case also to Fox. See Laurens to Livingston, April 10: "I have conversed with Mr. Fox, from whom the body of merchants by deputation had just retired. Their errand, as I learned, was on the business of opening the communication between Great Britain and the United States. There is a general and pressing eagerness to that point." Wharton, Dipl. Corr., VI. 366. For other interviews of Laurens with Fox see ibid., pp. 358, 360, 493, 637.
13 London Gazette, April 1-5, 1783; Almon's Remembrancer, XV. 274. The address is signed by Edward Payne (whose name is attached to the "Observations") and about one hundred and fifty others. A similar address from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of the City of London, on February 26, contained this passage: We beg Leave to declare it to be our firm Persuasion, that the great Commercial Interests of this Country and of North America, are inseparably united." London Gazette, February 25-March 1, 1783.
14 These negotiations are recorded in Wharton, Dipl. Corr., passim. 15 See Commons Journals, XXXIX. 362, 365, 368, 370, 377, 384, 386, 390, 392, 393, 394, 395, 409, 410, 411, 414, 415; Parliamentary Register, IX. 600-603, 603-607, 614-618; X. 1; Parliamentary History, XXIII. 724–730, 762-767, 894-896.
16 These orders in council are in the Lords Journals, XXXVI. 15, and in the issues of the London Gazette for May 13-17, June 3-7, and July 1-5, respectively; that of May 14 is conveniently found in Wharton, Dipl. Corr., VI. 428; that of July 2 is in ibid., p. 541.