A Supernumerary Crisis.
To the People of America
December 9, 1783
IN "Rivington's New York
Gazette," of December 6th, is a publication, under the appearance of a
letter from London, dated September 30th; and is on a subject which demands the
attention of the United States.
The public will remember that a treaty of commerce between the United States
and England was set on foot last spring, and that until the said treaty could
be completed, a bill was brought into the British Parliament by the then
chancellor of the exchequer, Mr. Pitt, to admit and legalize (as the case then
required) the commerce of the United States into the British ports and
dominions. But neither the one nor the other has been completed. The commercial
treaty is either broken off, or remains as it began; and the bill in Parliament
has been thrown aside. And in lieu thereof, a selfish system of English
politics has started up, calculated to fetter the commerce of America, by
engrossing to England the carrying trade of the American produce to the West
Among the advocates for this last measure is Lord Sheffield, a member of the
British Parliament, who has published a pamphlet entitled "Observations on
the Commerce of the American States." The pamphlet has two objects; the
one is to allure the Americans to purchase British manufactures; and the other
to spirit up the British Parliament to prohibit the citizens of the United
States from trading to the West India islands.
Viewed in this light, the pamphlet, though in some parts dexterously
written, is an absurdity. It offends, in the very act of endeavoring to
ingratiate; and his lordship, as a politician, ought not to have suffered the
two objects to have appeared together. The latter alluded to, contains extracts
from the pamphlet, with high encomiums on Lord Sheffield, for laboriously
endeavoring (as the letter styles it) "to show the mighty advantages of
retaining the carrying trade."
Since the publication of this pamphlet in England, the commerce of the
United States to the West Indies, in American vessels, has been prohibited; and
all intercourse, except in British bottoms, the property of and navigated by
British subjects, cut off.
That a country has a right to be as foolish as it pleases, has been proved
by the practice of England for many years past: in her island situation,
sequestered from the world, she forgets that her whispers are heard by other
nations; and in her plans of politics and commerce she seems not to know, that
other votes are necessary besides her own. America would be equally as foolish
as Britain, were she to suffer so great a degradation on her flag, and such a
stroke on the freedom of her commerce, to pass without a balance.
We admit the right of any nation to prohibit the commerce of another into
its own dominions, where there are no treaties to the contrary; but as this
right belongs to one side as well as the other, there is always a way left to
bring avarice and insolence to reason.
But the ground of security which Lord Sheffield has chosen to erect his
policy upon, is of a nature which ought, and I think must, awaken in every
American a just and strong sense of national dignity. Lord Sheffield appears to
be sensible, that in advising the British nation and Parliament to engross to
themselves so great a part of the carrying trade of America, he is attempting a
measure which cannot succeed, if the politics of the United States be properly
directed to counteract the assumption.
But, says he, in his pamphlet, "It will be a long time before the
American states can be brought to act as a nation, neither are they to be
feared as such by us."
What is this more or less than to tell us, that while we have no national
system of commerce, the British will govern our trade by their own laws and
proclamations as they please. The quotation discloses a truth too serious to be
overlooked, and too mischievous not to be remedied.
Among other circumstances which led them to this discovery none could
operate so effectually as the injudicious, uncandid and indecent opposition
made by sundry persons in a certain state, to the recommendations of Congress
last winter, for an import duty of five per cent. It could not but explain to
the British a weakness in the national power of America, and encourage them to
attempt restrictions on her trade, which otherwise they would not have dared to
hazard. Neither is there any state in the union, whose policy was more
misdirected to its interest than the state I allude to, because her principal
support is the carrying trade, which Britain, induced by the want of a
well-centred power in the United States to protect and secure, is now
attempting to take away. It fortunately happened (and to no state in the union
more than the state in question) that the terms of peace were agreed on before
the opposition appeared, otherwise, there cannot be a doubt, that if the same
idea of the diminished authority of America had occurred to them at that time
as has occurred to them since, but they would have made the same grasp at the
fisheries, as they have done at the carrying trade.
It is surprising that an authority which can be supported with so much ease,
and so little expense, and capable of such extensive advantages to the country,
should be cavilled at by those whose duty it is to watch over it, and whose
existence as a people depends upon it. But this, perhaps, will ever be the
case, till some misfortune awakens us into reason, and the instance now before
us is but a gentle beginning of what America must expect, unless she guards her
union with nicer care and stricter honor. United, she is formidable, and that
with the least possible charge a nation can be so; separated, she is a medley
of individual nothings, subject to the sport of foreign nations.
It is very probable that the ingenuity of commerce may have found out a
method to evade and supersede the intentions of the British, in interdicting
the trade with the West India islands. The language of both being the same, and
their customs well understood, the vessels of one country may, by deception,
pass for those of another. But this would be a practice too debasing for a
sovereign people to stoop to, and too profligate not to be discountenanced. An
illicit trade, under any shape it can be placed, cannot be carried on without a
violation of truth. America is now sovereign and independent, and ought to
conduct her affairs in a regular style of character. She has the same right to
say that no British vessel shall enter ports, or that no British manufactures
shall be imported, but in American bottoms, the property of, and navigated by
American subjects, as Britain has to say the same thing respecting the West
Indies. Or she may lay a duty of ten, fifteen, or twenty shillings per ton
(exclusive of other duties) on every British vessel coming from any port of the
West Indies, where she is not admitted to trade, the said tonnage to continue
as long on her side as the prohibition continues on the other.
But it is only by acting in union, that the usurpations of foreign nations
on the freedom of trade can be counteracted, and security extended to the
commerce of America. And when we view a flag, which to the eye is beautiful,
and to contemplate its rise and origin inspires a sensation of sublime delight,
our national honor must unite with our interest to prevent injury to the one,
or insult to the other.
New York, December 9, 1783.