War of 1812 Bicentennial

Home > Historic Works > Books > History of the Late War... > History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 6

History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 6

Chapter VI.

Mr. Whitbread's Motion again introduced into the House of Peers by the Marquis of Lansdowne, and in the House of Commons by Mr. Brougham—Outline of the Arguments in Favor of that Motion as far as concerned the Relations between Great Britain and the United States.

At the time when Mr. Whitbread moved to produce the correspondence between the two governments, seve­ral members betrayed a strong desire to unite that sub­ject with that of the Orders in Council, with a view to procure a decision against both measures, without a fair and candid discussion of the subjects. The time, how­ever, which had been so long anticipated, and by many so ardently looked for, at length arrived, when this sub­ject of so vast importance was to be considered. It was introduced in the House of Peers by the Marquis of Lansdowne, and in the House of Commons by Mr Brougham. The motions in both houses were framed in exactly the same terms, calling for a committee to be ap­pointed to take into consideration the situation of the com­merce and manufactures of the country, with a particular reference to the Orders in Council and the trade by shipping licence. As this subject was so intimately connected with the affairs of America, at this time, it shall here have a due consideration.

Those who supported the motion, contended that the commercial calamities of the kingdom had now risen to such a height, and the complaints and clamor of the manufacturers were so loud and general, that the legis­lature of the country was bound in duty to listen to those complaints, and to inquire into the cause and ex­istence of the evil, and the manner of providing a remedy to remove it; that it was the duty and interest of all persons throughout the community to prosecute this enquiry, and to go hand in hand with the movers in its support; that even the conscientious dissentients to the present motion, with reference to the source and extent of the evils existing, must feel desirous of having the sentiments contained in the motion defended and estab­lished . That all with whose approval the system of 1806 met, must certainly be desirous to know to what extent it had been maintained by that of 1807; that those persons who did not, in the first instance, actually disapprove of the new system, but felt surprised at its unlooked-for consequences, must feel solicitous to ascer­tain if there be not sufficient grounds for a change of opinion; that others who yet entertained a favourable idea of the general policy at present pursued, might con­ceive some doubt as to the expediency of the manner in which it was followed, and others again who reprobated the new system from its beginning, and were even prepared to shew their predictions verified, must feel a peculiar anxiety to avail themselves of an opportunity of unfolding the madness and folly of government, and of repressing the calamities that threatened the whole kingdom. That after a fair and impartial inquiry had been instituted, and it were found that the evils of which the country so loudly complained were without a reme­dy, the people would then be prepared to bear them with more fortitude. That it was of the utmost impor­tance to know, since the Orders in Council had ever been represented as being of a retaliatory nature, what that system was on which it was pretended to retaliate. That the course of policy by which France was actuated might be clearly traced to one of the great moving prin­ciples of the government of Buonaparte, namely, that of crushing the commerce of its enemy, even though its own mercantile interests should become the ultimate sacrifice: to this point centered all the measures of that government. That the distresses prevailing among the mercantile establishments throughout France, originating from this very source, were represented by the people of every commercial city and town in the empire. But what was the reply of Buonaparte to these representa­tions? They were told that it wan now too late in the day to speak of commerce; that France had now become a country of arms, and that it was the desire of the government to see nothing but soldiers and peasantry; and in view of supporting this principle by means of theory, Talleyrand had published a book in which he struggled to exhibit the encouragement of arms and agriculture as the only sound and natural policy of the French nation, since the time in which the storm of the Revolution had subsided. Now, under these peculiar circumstances, it was asked, did not the true policy of Great Britain demand of her to foster her own com­merce; and in whatever part of the globe the very semblance of neutrality appeared, it was her interest to nurse and encourage it into existence; but by the mea­sure of retaliation on her enemy to which she has had recourse, she has risked the advantages of both, and has only been inflicting a punishment on an enemy, which, under those circumstances, he was not capable of feel­ing.

The magnanimous and dignified character of the British nation rendered It a duty for her to have protected and encouraged a neutral nation, like America, in every branch of commerce; separated as America was from her enemy by a widely extended ocean, which, to him, was impassable. That next to the evils resulting to our commerce from a war between Great Britain and Ameri­ca, would be those arising from a war between America and France; the designs of the enemy would then be complete, for there is not a port on the continent from which British trade would not then be excluded. That the whole course of policy which we had pursued, had hitherto been marked by an unwarrantable hostility to neutral nations; and there was but one language spoken by all the measures we had yet adopted, namely, that they must either declare themselves on the side of one belligerent or the other. That ever since the British Orders in Council had been issued, the commerce of the country had evidently been on the decline; the returns which were presented of the exports and imports of the year 1809, shew the amount of exports to the conti­nent of Europe to have fallen short of that of 1808, not less than ten millions, and that to America not less than five millions, making an aggregate failure of that year of fifteen millions. But that in April, 1809, a complete modification of the Orders in Council had taken place; the former sweeping system had been substituted by a blockade of only a limited extent—Holland, the coast of Germany as far north as the Ems, and that part of Italy situated between Pisaro and Orbitello. Thus had the old system been entirely abandoned, and the reta­liatory measures laid entirely aside. However, the government of France had still had recourse to means, for severity, far surpassing any thing of the kind they had yet adopted; and so far were they from betraying any embarrassment from the policy of Great Britain, that they had driven the anti-commercial system to its utmost extremity. That a lamentable evidence was afforded of the calamities produced by the commercial measures to which England had so tenaciously adhered, in the melancholy and distressed state of our commercial and manufacturing towns and cities, and in the enormous increase of the number of bankrupts In one town alone, [Liverpool,] in the small space of four weeks, the poor had actually increased to four times their number. These proofs of distress exhibit a fearful and appalling state of affairs, and cannot be met by referring to the custom-house books, whatever may be the accounts given by these to the country; in answer to statements of this description, we have only to direct our attention to our jails overflowing with debtors, our poor-houses filled with mendicants, and moreover, to some of our most populous and hitherto wealthiest counties, where the distress had arisen to so appalling a height as to have driven the people to a state of open rebellion. That, notwithstanding the fallacy of the custom-house accounts, still they did not conceal the lamentable truth of the decrease of the mercantile interest of the country; that when the exports of 1811 were compared with those of the preceding year, in those accounts, a very great falling off was discovered; nay, notwithstanding the year 1808 had been the least propitious of any year ever known in the country, yet the year 1811, in the amount of exports, had actually sunk beneath even that. That very little credit is to be placed in the accounts of the custom-house; as a proof of which we need only revert to the circum­stance, that although they exhibited an increase of the amount of exports in 1809 over that of 1807, to the enor­mous amount of twenty millions, yet it was afterwards discovered that this great increase of exportation had been sent to markets where there was not the least de­mand for the goods, and consequently the next year the most part of the goods exported were returned upon our hands, and thereby an additional value was occasioned to the imports, in proportion to the value sent back to us. Such proofs as these, staring us in the face, ought to admonish us how little regard the custom-house books are entitled to, in proving the existence of distress with which the manufacturing and Commercial interest of the kingdom had been visited. That that system, pregnant with so many evils—the system of granting licenses—had grown out of the unparalleled state of our commercial affairs: the number of licenses granted in 1807 did not exceed l,600, but by the year 1810 they had actually swelled to the number of 18,000. It was a fact that all remaining of the principles of the Orders in Council were, by these licenses, conceded to the enemy; and thus were we pursuing a trade, to a participation of which he was admitted, but from which neutral nations were precluded, unless such as chose to avail themselves of the license system. That a mere impolitic course could not be pursued by Great Britain than thus to give encouragement to the commerce of her enemy, and that too, at the expense of neutral nations, since the regula­tions laid down for the government of those acting under the authority of such license, were shamefully violated in every letter; they were in fact secretly pursuing a traffic with the enemy, and that in the very way of which he was most desirous, and to prevent which, there was no way whatever, except lining the whole coast of the enemy with British ships-of-war, and by this means estab­lishing a real and not a nominal blockade. That the result of this license system had been an enormous increase of foreign ships in the ports of Great Britain, and establishing an extensive and well organized nursery of seamen to man the fleets of the enemy. That in Great Britain, the consequences arising from the sys­tem of granting licenses had been no less alarming; that the controul of the commerce had passed entirely into the hands of the executive government. But were this the only danger to which this system was subject, it would yet be comparatively harmless; but it was subject to abuses of a greater magnitude, and which spoke powerfully in favor of the present inquiry. That prodigious errors had, in the issuing of them, been fre­quently committed; that one class of individuals pos­sessed opportunities of information of which others were totally denied, and that it had become necessary for the members of the Board of Trade to hold correspondence with merchants which was calculated to unfold secrets which might be used for the most unworthy purposes That under this system it was at all times in the power of the enemy to ascertain the articles we were desirous of exporting, and what we might wish to have exported from the continent; it would certainly then be a fault of his own if he did not turn such information to his own advantage, and reduce our commerce completely under his own controul.

But the greatest evil to which this system was sub­ject, was that which it produced on the morals of the mercantile branch of our community; they were allured into speculations which, commenced with forgery, are carried on by a course of perjury, and terminated in the most bare-faced frauds. That the very conditions of these licenses were disgraceful to that government that issued them; that besides the ships' regular papers, the licenses allowed the captains of ships to take on board other sets of papers which were forged from beginning to end, and when the ships arrived at their destined ports, these forgeries had all to be confirmed by the most solemn oaths of the captain and all his crew. In support of all this, a letter of a very singular description was then referred to; it was written by a person who had made a regular profession of the forgery of ships' papers; it read thus: "Gentlemen, we take the liberty herewith to inform you, that we have established ourselves in this town, [Liverpool] for the sole purpose of making simulated papers, which we are enabled to do in a way that will give ample satisfaction to our employers, not only being in possession of the original documents of the ships' papers and clearances from the various ports, a list of which we annex, but Mr.G.B., having worked with his brother, Mr. J. B., in the same line, for the last two years, and under­standing all the necessary languages. Of any changes that may occur in different places on the continent, in the vari­ous custom-houses and other offices,and which may render a change of signature necessary, we are careful to have the earliest information, not only from our own connec­tions, but from Mr, J. B. who has proffered his assistance in every thing, and who has for some time made simula­ted papers for Messrs. B. and P. of this town, to whom we beg leave to refer you for further information. We remain, &c." Such were the degraded and miserably disgraceful expedients to which this new system had driven the British merchants. It was not a sufficient reply to palliate the guilt attendant on such transactions to say, that had our merchants not committed those crimes, others would certainly have taken the advantage, and perpetrated them; though the universe besides should commit itself by such a shameful and unprinci­pled procedure, let not Great Britain, the character of whose merchants had always in former years been pro­verbial for probity and honor, descend to this depth of shame and degradation.

A great deal was urged against the Orders in Council relating to the effects they were likely to have on American manufactures; that they would tend to in­crease their growth in the New England States, till at length they would supercede the British manufactures in the South American markets. That it was not de­rogatory to the national character of England to endea­vor to conciliate America; that they had not been haughty or violent in advancing their claims; that it was a natural expectation, since they believed firmly in the repeal of the French decrees, that the repeal of our Orders in Council should follow; that in common cour­tesy to France, America was bound to believe what had been solemnly asserted by the French government, that her decrees had in truth and verity been repealed. Much clamor, and that without the least foundation, had been raised for the security of our maritime rights; but no question had ever been made by America to those rights in their fair and liberal interpretation. And final­ly, that it was a singular feature in affairs, to hear the advocates of the Orders in Council opposing investiga­tion, who, had these orders been really serviceable to the country, had of all others least reason to fear inquiry

[Public Domain mark] Copyright/Licence: This work was published in 1922 or earlier. It has therefore entered the public domain in the United States.