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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 7

Chapter VII.

The Distresses in the Manufacturing and commercial In­terests of Great Britain chargeable to the Orders in Council, completely disproved—The Distresses in the manufacturing Branches in England only imputable to a Propensity of wild Speculation engendered amongst those Classes, by the unparalleled Prosperity of the British Trade in the years 1809 and 1810.

In reply to the foregoing arguments, it was said, that the distresses alluded to in the manufacturing and com­mercial interest, had not arisen from any effect of the Orders in Council; that these distresses were not gene­ral; and the papers on the table, so far were they from supporting these assertions, that they actually contra­dicted them. That the view was the most ridiculous and absurd imaginable, which had been taken of the state of commerce; that the very year in which the Orders in Council had been enforced, which occurred in 1807, the amount of exports was about thirty-four millions and a half, and in the year following it was about the same, but in 1809 it rose to upwards of fifty millions; in 1810 it fell to about forty-six millions, lea­ving an immense increase since the year 1807, the year in which the Orders in Council were first issued. How ridiculous and unfounded were the reports which those supporting the motion for inquiry had so laboriously circulated; that millions of British property had been confiscated by Buonaparte; and even were they admit­ted as truth, had not the least relation with the subject of the Orders in Council. That the American non-intercourse law and the other measures adopted by that government, instead of impeding the commerce of Great Britain, had laid open to our merchants a direct trade with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, and had thus proved of infinite benefit to the commerce of this coun­try. That in order to dispel that delusion which certain persons have been so studious in imposing on the coun­try, it is only necessary to present a fair account of the exports to America and the West Indies, during the years from 1807 down to the present time. In 1807 the value of exports amounted to nearly fifteen millions; in 1808, notwithstanding that our trade to the United States was partially prohibited, it amounted for nearly sixteen millions; in 1809, the year in which the non-intercourse law was acted upon, it amounted to upwards of nineteen millions; and in 1810, the law of non-intercourse being still in existence, our exports to America, including the West Indies was nearly twenty millions and a half in value. It would appear, then, that in the years between 1807 and 1810, the enormous increase of nearly six millions of pounds sterling had taken place in the export trade of this country to America alone. That the account given of the injury sustained by British shipping, from the effects of the Orders in Council, had been most wilfully and wantonly exaggerated and mis­represented; but which, by a reference to facts, could be very easily contradicted and disproved. In the year 1807, the whole British shipping actually employed amounted to 311,000 tons; in 1808, 436,000 tons; in 1809, 539,008; and in 1810, 609,000 tons; so that in the years between 1807 and 1810 an increase of 298,000 tons had actually taken place. The number of seamen employed in that shipping also increased from 88,000 to 102,000; and notwithstanding the fact, that foreign shipping also increased, yet let it be borne in mind, that this foreign shipping, in the circumstances of the world, had contributed largely to the prosperity of British commerce.

A complaint has been urged by some, that to the foreign shipping of the continent a partiality had been discoverable, over those of America, to such we would reply, that Great Britain never made any such distinc­tion; and if the Americans did not participate in the trade lately carried on, they had none but themselves to blame. That from an immediate intercourse with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in South America, Great Britain derived a very great advantage; that the advantages of commerce, and the objects for which the navigation act was principally intended, were thus equally promoted. If the British Orders in Council had never been issued, France would have remained unin­terruptedly in the peaceable enjoyment of a trade with the whole world, and thus been enabled to supply her­self with the raw materials of her manufactures, an object for which she was particularly anxious, and to which her whole efforts were unceasingly directed.

It might be enquired, from what cause did the Orders in Council originate? France issued a decree that there should be no farther trade to England; the natural answer of England was, that nothing should be exported from France but as she permitted; and by her maritime superiority she had the power of enforcing her mandate. She, too, possessed a right of apprising neutrals, that if they countenanced restrictive edicts of one belligerent, inimical to all commercial interests, they must likewise submit to regulations which she should dictate in defence of those interests. That the government of great Britain had ever cultivated a friendly disposition towards Ameri­ca, while on the contrary that of France had been extremely hostile. On every opportunity which presented itself, had France seized and destroyed the property of American citizens. That the government of France had evinced many proofs of its insincerity in its regulations with America, and more particularly in the repeal of its decrees; and even in the courts of ad­miralty in England had those marks of insincerity on the part of France manifested themselves. That many persons who support the motion, either from ignorance of the fact, or intentionally to serve some purpose or Other, had drawn a line of distinction between seques­tration and condemnation, while with the French government the difference existed only in name, but in effect they are one and the same thing; and by the easy term of sequestration had France condemned much property of citizens of the United States. That not­withstanding the great length which some had allowed themselves to be carried on the subject of perjury, an connected with the Orders in Council and license trade, and the feeling manner in which the immorality attend­ant on such a traffic had been depicted, yet let it be remembered that the system of perjury had been in ex­istence long before the Orders in Council or license traffic had been known in the kingdom. That at Emb­den a house was established for no other purpose whatever but to practise frauds of that description, for which a regular commission of two per cent was charged, and allowed; and even though the license trade and Orders in Council were abolished, the country would have to return once more to the system of neutralization which was mainly supported by tyranny, in the mode by which it was pursued. Many schemes have been called into contribution with a view to impress on the minds of the people, that their distresses were wholly imputable to the Orders in Council; it is true, that subject was most learnedly discussed on, but the picture was most extrava­gant, and only existed in the minds of those by whom it was propagated, if indeed it had even an exist­ence there. That the exportations from this country in the year 1809 had been returned on our hands, or any part of them, was an assertion founded on some gross error; the very goods of that year's exportation found a ready and profitable market, which market remained open to us until the spring of 1810. With the declara­tion of the French government staring us in the face, that no repeal of the commercial decrees of that country could take place, until Great Britain should, in the first instance, abandon her right of blockade, how childish it were to talk of the actual repeal of those decrees; under this delusion, too, America has been loud in her claims upon Great Britain to rescind so much of her commercial regulations, of 1807, as would leave the commerce of that country perfectly free. But let it he first enquired where such a measure would end; were England to repeal her Orders in Council and abandon the license trade, a trade would at once he opened by which America would be enabled without interruption to carry the produce and manufactures of France and her dependencies to every port in the world; while England would be entirely shut out from that trade which her enemies were only enjoying by her permission, That no doubt can exist in the mind of any person in the world, who will take pains to consult the evidence we have on the subject, that the commercial restrictions adopted hy the French government, although they, in some measure, affected this country, inflicted a severe wound on their trade and resources; that since the Orders in Council were issued in 1807, the commerce of France had experienced a severe falling off, as appeared evident from the affairs of her national bank, and the transac­tions in her money market; and in like proportion has her revenue failed since that period.

It was said that an appointment of a committee of the House of Commons, for the purpose of considering the measure now before them, could answer no good end, without that committee, by an interference with the affairs of America, should controul the deliberations of the cabinet, a proposal not at all likely to find support in this house. At the deliberations of such a committee, persons of conflicting interests were to be examined; some from whose connection with the trade of America hove naturally imbibed certain prejudices in its favor; others again who stand connected solely with the trade to the continent of Europe, and whose prejudices must therefore stand opposed to those of the first class; under such a state of things, it would be impossible for a com­mittee to arrive at any conclusion. On the whole, it would be an act both mean and despicable to announce to the world, that a question in which was involved so much importance to the nation, should be decided en the narrow and sordid principle of profit and loss.

But there is yet a quarter to which we may look, as having produced many of the evils which may have afflicted our commercial and manufacturing interests, viz. the unexampled prosperity of British trade in the years 1809 and 1810, which had begotten such a spirit of wild speculation amongst our merchants and manu­facturers, that in the event of the least stagnation, in connection with the French decrees, could not fail of drawing in its train all the evils alluded to. Under such circumstances, is this house to set their seal to a prejudice imbibed by the manufacturers, and no doubt originating from corrupt motives, that all the distresses which befel them have grown out of the bad policy of their own government. That not the least connection exists between the Orders in Council and the license trade; that the property of British subjects has no other means of admission into the continent of Europe, only under cover of neutrality; and in order to pursue a trade between enemies, it is necessary to grant neutral licenses, that a treasonable and unlawful intercourse may he prevented, and that neutrals may not be subjected to British seizure. That there is no available means, un­der the existing circumstances of Europe, by which England could have carried on a trade with the Euro­pean continent, entirely pure and irreproachable; but to say that in consequence of the frauds practised on that trade, it ought to be entirely abandoned, betrays a vile hypocrisy. But admitting, for argument's sake, that a repeal of the Orders in Council had taken place, and that Americans, without interruption, had been permit­ted to carry the sugars of the Island of Cuba into France, and in return to carry back to South America be manufactures of Germany, while the French de­crees were still in full operation upon the trade of Great Britain, there would yet have been (as was remarked of the present system,) "forgery in the origin, and perju­ry and fraud in the conclusion of the transactions."

It was ridiculous to imagine from the policy of Buonaparte, that he was inimical to all trade; he undoubtedly was to British commerce, but as regarded that of his own, he seemed to have its interest very much at heart. That the government of the United States had coalesced with him not only in requiring the repeal of the Orders in Council, but also an entire abandonment of the system of blockade practised by Great Britain; it was therefore idle to think, that a repeal ot the Orders in Council was sufficient to conciliate America. The principles upon which these orders were founded were entirely retalia­tory, and as such were they described by Mr. Canning; it had however been deemed expedient on the part of Great Britain to mitigate them in favor of neutral nations which fully evinced the desire of the British government to confine the evil wholly to the enemy. The injury sustained by the neutral through the operations of the Orders in Council, where the principle of retaliation was closely adhered to, was merely incidental, and which could not be avoided and therefore became, on the side of the government of Great Britain, a matter of deep re­gret; but on whom had been forced the measures from which it resulted.

Persons who raised such strong objections to the prin­ciples of retaliation with an enemy, would have done well to have borne in mind that no other method is at­tainable, by which to enforce obedience to the law of nations. Let a considerable power once presume to hold in contempt every principle of honor which the civilized nations of the world have hitherto held sacred, and to set at open defiance all law, by which nations have as yet suffered themselves to be governed, and to pro­secute a war in violation of all this, how is it to be arrest­ed in its mad career but by recurring to measures of retaliation? A remark had been made, that, should Great Britain retaliate, it ought to be in that manner in which the enemy had inflicted the injury on her; how wild and extravagant would be such a mode of proceed­ing. If it were the choice of the enemy to violate the law of nations, in a case where his own risk was nothing, (as he had nothing to lose, at the same time we had every thing at stake,) will it be once pretended that we were bound to chastise him in a way in which he would not feel the consequences of his madness and folly? The very object for which the Orders in Council were issued was never intended to destroy the commerce of the continent of Europe, but to compel the continent to trade with Great Britain, and to ensure to Great Britain alone an exclusive right to that trade.

What a mode of reasoning was that which imputed to the Orders in Council all the embarrassments which have recently overtaken the commercial interests of the country, when it was incontestably proved that for two or three years after these orders had been issued, an effect diametrically opposite to this had been the result, and when the commercial difficulties had evidently been traced to causes very different.

In reply to those who complained of the immoral ten­dency of the system of granting licenses, as exhibited in the form of the licenses themselves, it was observed that the very clause which had undergone such a severe censure had been framed by the previous administration, and that the present ministers in their offices found them prepared and digested by those very persona who now affected to be so much scandalized by the discovery. It was surely a childish idea to imagine for a moment, that the commercial interests of France felt no effect from the British Orders in Council; the impoverished state of her custom was a sufficient proof against such an opinion; if it were not, look to the tenor of an address from her senate to Buonaparte, where it was confessed that no longer did the people of France enjoy a commerce, except what their canals afforded them; while it was fully and unequivocally admitted, that, in every respect, they lahored under the most unparalleled commercial embarrassments.

That under no principle of reasoning was Great Britain under an obligation to suffer an arrogant power like France to prescribe laws to neutral nations, without making an effort to induce those neutrals to assert their rights; from which is plainly observable that the lead­ing object of the famous Orders in Council, was, not only the chastisement of France for her insults, but to incite America to disentangle herself from a connection into which, in an evil hour, she had unhappily silvered herself to be involved, and to resume that situation of rank and independence which she had once held among the nations of the world.

Such are the outlines of those celebrated debates ou the causes which led to the war with the United States, in both houses of parliament; the result of which was, that the motion introduced into the House of Lords, by the Marquis of Lansdowne, and that into the House of Commons, by Mr. Brougham, were negatived by a large majority.

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