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While dealing very fully with all the other features of the Commercial Legislation of England towards her American Colonies, he devoted but one page to the regulations with regard to the import of European commodities into the colonies, and instead of presenting us with historical evidence as to the working of these regulations, contented himself with an à priori argument that England must naturally be the entrepôt for all European wares going to the colonies. This is the more unfortunate because it is a violation of his own position elsewhere excellently enforced, that we should not content ourselves with “easy syllogisms,” but bring the question to the test of recorded data, and because it is exactly here that the facts are most disputed.
I propose, then, to deal with this point, and to show that here at least the commercial legislation of England was most ill-judged. It will be remembered that the statute of 1663 enacted that all commodities of the growth or manufacture of Europe to be exported to America should be laden and shipped in England, and in English bottoms,
Professor Ashley, at page 12, says, " that the whole of the English import duty on these commodities was returned as a drawback," and quotes the opinion of Adam Smith that as the duties imposed by the Colonial Governments themselves were light,“ many different sorts of foreign goods might have been bought cheaper in the plantations than in the mother country.” We learn, however, from Mr. Beer 2 that the system was not so simple as Professor Ashley would have us believe. Thus, while tea could be exported to the colonies without paying any inland duties, no drawback at all was allowed on unwrought hemp, no doubt to encourage the English manufacturer and colonial producer. On most commodities, not all, but some 2) per cent. as in the book of rates, was paid back.
It should also be remembered that the imperial duties payable in America were imposed not by or in the interest of the Colonial Governments, but by the Home Government itself, for the ostensible purpose of defraying the cost of enforcing the trade regulations, and that the revenue officers were appointed by the Crown or the governors.3
Professor Ashley himself very properly points out “ that the avowed intention of their regulations was to make England the staple' for the Plantations, and so to secure to English merchants the profits of intermediaries” (p. 12); but it could only happen by a rare chance that the profits of the English involved no loss to the colonists. Nor does he note that, quite apart from the amount of duty to be paid, the regulation that all goods should pass through England was at once highly inconvenient, and must at the same time have increased materially the cost of freight. Thus we find that as early as 1677, the
1 15 Car., ii., cvii. & vi.
2 Commercial Policy of England towards the American Colonies, in Columbia Studies in History and Economics, New York, 1893, Vol. iii., No. 2, p. 105—6.
3 Lecky, iii., 302. No. 37.-VOL. X.
inhabitants of Boston, while declaring their willingness to pay His Majesty's duties on goods arriving at Boston itself, complain that the goods should have to be shipped through London, and cite the absurd case of a ship bringing from the Mediterranean fruits, oil, soap, wine, and salt, of which salt was free under the Acts, which had to carry its load of salt round by London, there to pay customs on the other goods although they formed but a fraction of the cargo. This, as they truly said, “is as the cutting off our hands and our feet as to our trade.” 1 This complaint explains very accurately the nature of the grievance. The critics of these trade regulations do not deny that in some cases, notably that of foreign linens, the colonies were thereby enabled to get commodities cheaper than they could be purchased in England, but they assert, in the first place, that this was not so with regard to all commodities; secondly, that the whole system was resented by the Northern colonists at least; and, finally, that it was only tolerated because it was continually evaded by smuggling, smuggling so universal that men of position indulged in it without any loss of reputation.
That this was the case can, it seems to us, scarcely be denied. Mr. Beer 2 indeed quotes two authorities, one of them a Governor of Massachusetts, to prove that in the years 1679–1680 the smuggling to the port of Boston was not a very serious matter, and gives the opinion of Increase Mather that the people of New England had been sadly wronged in the matter of their breaking the Acts of Navigation, and that only "a few particular persons " had transgressed in the forbidden trade. He also tries to discredit the reports of Randolph, who was appointed collector, surveyor, and searcher for all New England in 1675, and of Colonel Quary, surveyor-general in 1703, who gives an exactly contrary account.
It should, however, be noted that these authorities all deal with a comparatively short period, and that if the testimony of Randolph and Quary is to be impugned, we should at least remember that Mather was writing a “Vindication of the People of New England” against the attacks of “ Squinting Malignity,” 4 and would, therefore, naturally be inclined to minimise the amount of the illicit traffic.
The evidence, however, does not stop here. The other proofs of illicit trade given by Mr. Beer himself are, it seems to us, quite enough to disprove Mather's statement that it was only indulged in by a" few particular persons."
It is true, no doubt, as he has pointed out (p. 132), that the smuggling was for the most part confined to the Northern colonies. Even in the South, however, he admits that there was a considerable
1 J. Hull, Diaries, p. 129 ; Quoted Weeden, Social Economic and Social History of New England, i., 237.
2 Columbia Studies in History, Economics and Public Laws, New York, 1893, Vol. iii., No. 2, p. 140.
3 Andros' Tracts, ii., 57.
contraband trade in tobacco between colony and colony, and on the part of some of the Southern colonies with St. Thomas and the Dutch island of Curaçoa.
In dealing with the North, he appears to surrender the whole position when he allows (p. 131) that up to 1696 the execution of the Acts was lax, and that the period 1696—1763 was marked by “salutary neglect.” I should exceed all reasonable limits if I were to attempt to prove my contention by citing all the cases of smuggling which might be given. If any one will take the trouble of consulting the authorities quoted below 1 they will, it seems to me, have no difficulty in convincing themselves that the Trade Laws were evaded in a most wholesale fashion. Meanwhile we will draw attention to the character of the evidence. In the first place then, let it be noted that almost all the Governors of the three Northern colonies of New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, draw attention to the existence of illicit trade.
Sometimes they declare that it forms not less than one-third of the whole trade, and that if some effectual means be not used “ the greatest part of the commerce of the American colonies will be withdrawn from the mother country.” 3 Sometimes no doubt they flatter themselves that they have done something to mitigate the evil during their tenure of office. But that the measure of their success was not very great is shown by the statements of their successors, and the constant remonstrances and admonitions of the home authorities. A stronger proof, however, is to be found in the difficulty of enforcing the laws. 1.) Thus, in 1679, Edward Randolph declares that on his seizing certain vessels at Boston who were engaged in illicit trade, his action was disowned openly in the courts, that he was cast in all those causes, and that damages were given against his Majesty.5 In 1698 Lord Bellomont says that the observance of the laws was so great a novelty that it gave as great discontent as if it had been an infringement of the charter. He further states that the seizure of uncustomed goods was prevented by the merchants who seized the officers sent, and that when he sent the Lieutenant-Governor with soldiers to release them and seize the goods, the merchants of the town were in such an uproar (not being used to such things) that they exclaimed against him, as if all English laws and rights were violated, and ends with the significant information that a Mr. Monsey gave up his employ rather than make
i Colonial Docs., relating to State of New York; Massachusetts' Historical Collections ; Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England and the Authorities quoted in the Notes ; Prince Andros' Tracts.
? Lord Bellomont; New York Colonial Docs., iv., 778.-N B. He says this of the three Colonies-New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, of which he was then Governor.
3 State of New York Docs., vii., 272.
6 State of New York Docs., iv., 319.
another seizure and so disoblige the merchants. In 1718 Governor Hunter says he has issued proclamations strictly forbidding illegal trade, but “what effect it may have in deterring men from it I cannot say.”2 In 1721 a Mr. Thomas Amory informs a correspondent that “ if he has a captain he can confide in he will find it easy to import all sorts of goods from the Streights, France, and Spain, although prohibited." 3 In 1733 we are told that a Mr. J. Jeykell, collector of customs, was in an obituary praised because with much humanity he took pleasure in directing masters of vessels how they ought to avoid the breach of the Acts of Trade." 4 In 1739 a collector of New York gives information of illicit trade, but is very apprehensive that the jury will not convict, being all equally concerned in carrying on such trade.
We have it also on the authority of two Governors, Lord Bellomont 6 and Governor Hutchinson, that the officers of customs themselves were implicated. Lord Bellomont more especially informing us that a Mr. Childrey Brooks, commissioner of customs, was generally supposed to have a more valuable office than that of Governor, which, he adds, “must be by indirect methods." In 1759 we have a letter from an official, Mr. Deblois, who asks the law-breakers not to think hard of him if, after his warning, he punish them for shipping their prohibited goods in the ship of a certain Captain Ober, who has offended him, since he will not concern himself about any other coaster, let them bring up what they will.. Moreover, from the Grenville papers we learn that the chief custom house officers treated their offices as sinecures, and by leave of the Treasury resided habitually in London.10 Nay, we have even one case of a Governor himself being charged with connivance at the violation of the Laws of Trade.11
Nor must it be supposed that the offenders under the Acts were men of the usual smuggling class. In the references given above we are told that “the merchants” themselves were engaged in the business, and from other sources we learn that the offenders were often people of position,12 and that great fortunes were made. 13
In the face of such evidence as this, evidence which might be easily added to if space allowed, it seems idle to deny that the practice of smuggling was indulged in on an extensive scale.
i New York Docs., iv., 356—357; for another similar case in 1719 cf. Rhode Island Colonial Records, iv., p. 259. 2 New York Docs., V., 497.
3 Weeden, ii., 556. 4 Weeden, ii., 557.
5 State of New York Docs., vi., 155. 6 New York Docs., iv., 356.
i Cf., Bancroft, iv., 112. 8 New York Docs , iv., 356.
9 Weeden, ii., 661. 10 Grenville Papers, ii., 114 ; Quoted Lecky, iii., 317. 11 New York Docs., iv., p. 433.
12 Weeden, ii., 239, Quoting chiefly from the Mass. Arch., which we have notbeen able to consult.
13 Weeden, ii., 557. Cf. also the case of Peter Fanueil, a thoroughly “representative merchant, who shipped foreign brandy in false New England rum casks, and smuggled Barcelona handkerchiefs as coolly as he took snuff,” Weeden, ii., 612—658..
It may, of course, be held that the smuggling was, as in England, due simply to a fraudulent desire to cheat the customs, and not with the object of evading the vexatious regulations which ordered all European goods to be imported through England; and it was, perhaps, unfortunate that, as has been pointed out, his Majesty's customs payable in America were not levied by the colonial legislatures, and enforced by their own agents. But although no doubt the two objects were often identified, as the public morality became gradually lowered by constant evasion of the law, the following arguments seem to us to forbid such an explanation as the whole one.
1. The definite reference in many of our authorities to illicit trade with European countries.
2. The concessions which from time to time were made in the stringency of the Act, which prove that in some cases the enforcement of the restrictions was abandoned as hopeless.?
3. The status of those who were engaged in the illicit trade, and who were evidently above the class of the ordinary smuggler.
4. The fact that the Molasses Act of 1733 is allowed to have been absolutely disregarded.
This last point requires some further explanation. At the date of the Act a large trade had grown up between the American colonies and the French West Indian islands : the colonies exchanging their surplus commodities for French molasses, sugar, and rum, which, for reasons which need not here be explained, they could produce at a cheaper rate than the English West Indian colonies. Owing to the complaints of the English colonies that their sugar industries were in danger of being ruined by this trade, the Home Government in that year placed duties which were practically prohibitory on rum, molasses, and sugar imported from the French islands. Had this Act been enforced, it would indeed have been detrimental to the other aims of the English trade laws. For if the American colonists had been thus prevented from finding a favourable market for their agricultural and other products, they would have been forced to betake themselves to manufactures to pay for the articles they imported from England, and this it was one of the aims of the Trade laws to prevent. As Mr. Beer well puts it,
“ to obey both measures would have meant at least stagnation, if not self-destruction."
That one or other of the restrictions should be violated seemed a necessity, and since the economical conditions of the colonies, as is the
1 It should be noted that beyond the duties imposed by the Home Government, the Colonies themselves imposed tariffs on imports, and that they too seem to have been evaded. Cf., Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. vii., p. 78—98.
2 Thus, for instance, ships carrying fish to Portugal, were allowed to return thence with wines and fruits in small quantities. Salt might be imported directly to some Colonies. Wines might be imported from Madeira and the Azores. Pro. visions and horses could be imported directly from Ireland and Scotland, and linen from Ireland. Cf., Beer, Columbia Studies, p. 37.