Item of the Day: “Prior Documents” (1777)

Full Title: A Collection of Interesting Authentic Papers, relative to the Dispute between Great Britain and America; Shewing the Causes and Progress of that Misunderstanding, from 1764 to 1775. London: Printed for J. Almon, Opposite Burlington-House, in Piccadilly, M.DCC.LXXVII. [1777]

PRIOR DOCUMENTS

The dispute between Great Britain and America commenced in the year 1764, with an attempt to prevent smuggling in America. There are some persons who apprehend the seeds of it were sown much earlier. They may be right. –But it is not the design of this compilation to explain motives, or explore latent causes. The object here is, to present an impartial collection of authentic Documents; with such additions only, as are absolutely necessary to connect the narrative.

In 1764, the British ministry having come to a resolution, to prevent, as much as possible, the practice of smuggling, not only the commanders of the armed cutters stationed on the British coasts, but of the ships sent to America, were ordered to act in the capacity of revenue officers, to take the usual Custom-house oaths, and observe the Custom-house regulations; by which that enterprising spirit of theirs, which had been lately, with great success, exerted against the common enemy, was now directed and encouraged against the sujbect. Trade was injured by this measure. The gentlemen of the navy were not acquainted with Custom-house laws, and therefore many illegal seizures were made. The subject in America could get no redress but from England, which was tedious and difficult to obtain.

A trade had for many years been carried on between the British, and Spanish colonies, consisting of the manufactures of Great Britain, imported by the British colonies for their own consumption, and bought with their own produce; for which they were paid by the Spaniards in gold and silver, sometimes in bullion and sometimes in coin, and with cochineal, &c occasionally. This trade was not literally and strictly according to law, yet the advantage of it being obviously on the side of Great Britain and her colonies, it had been connived at. But the armed ships, under the new regulations, seized the vessels; and this beneficial traffic was suddenly almost destroyed. Another trade had been carried on between the North American colonies and the French West India islands, to the great disadvantage of both, as well as to the mother country. These matters had been wined at many years, in consideration of the quantity of manufactures our North American colonies were thereby enabled to take from us. This advantagious commerce not only prevented the British colonies being drained of their current specie by the calls of the mother country, but added to their common circulation of cash; which encreased in proportion with the trade. But this trade being also cut off, by the cruizers [sic], all America became uneasy.

On the 10th of March, 1764, the House of Commons agreed to a number of resolutions respecting the American trade; upon a number of which, a bill was brought in and passed into a law, laying heavy duties on the articles imported into the colonies from the French and other islands in the West Indies; and ordering these duties to be paid, in specie, into the Exchequer of Great Britain. As to the Spanish trade, the Court of Madrid had always been against it; and in complaisance to that Court, as well as in compliance with the old law, and treaties with Spain, it continued to be prevented, as much as possible.

The Americans complained much of this new law; and of the unexampled hardship, of first being deprived of obtaining specie, and next being ordered to pay the new duties, in specie, into the Treasurey at London; which they said must speedily drain them of all the specie they had. But what seemed more particularly hard upon them, was, a bill brought in the same session, and passed into a law, “To restrain the currency of paper money in the colonies.”

At the end o the session, the King thanked the House of Commons, for the “wise regulations which had been established to augment the public revenues, to unite the interests of the most distant possessions of his crown, and to encourage and secure their commerce with Great Britain.”

 

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Filed under 1760's, 1770's, American Revolution, Colonial America, Commerce, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Trade

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