Item of the Day: Sheffield on American Commerce (1784)

Full Title: Observations on the Commerce of the American States. By John Lord Sheffield. With an Appendix; Containing Tables of the Imports and Exports of Great Britain to and from all Parts, from 1700 to 1783. Also, the Exports of America, &c. With Remarks on those Tables, on the Trade and Navigation of Great Britain, and on the late Proclamation, &c. The Sixth Edition, Enlarged with a Complete Index to the Whole. London: Printed for J. Debrett, opposite Burlington House, Piccadilly, M,DCC,LXXXIV. [1784]

 

INTRODUCTION.

SINCE the first publication of this work upwards of a year has elapserd, and no less than seven professed answers have appeared; I am not, however, convinced that they disprove one material fact, or confute one essential argument. Many parts, indeed, are misquoted or mis-stated, and others are misunderstood.

It is the opinion of all with whom I have conversed, that those pamphlets do not require any answer; but as they contain strong assertions, which may perplex or deceive, and as many people may not have taken the trouble of informing themselves sufficiently to see that they are in general without foundation, it is perhaps due to the public, to shew that their authors proceeded upon grounds that are fallacious, and that not one of them fairly meets the question.

I do not mean to enter the lists in the way of controversy, as such a labour would be almost endless, and would afford no gratification either to the public or myself — To expose their numberless absurdities and misrepresentations, I should indeed be obliged to comment on almost every page they have written; several of their errors, however, are marked in the notes to the following work, and some others will be noticed in this introduction. Had some of them not been quite so angry, they would possibly have reasoned better: they must excuse me if I do not think it worth while to be angry in my turn; I have no object but to discover and lay open the truth for the public benefit.

The pamphlet which first appeared, and is entitled “A Letter from an American to a Member of Parliament,” does not attempt, even in the most distant manner, to disprove a single fact, or to answer a single argument that I have advanced, unless by asserting, for truths, the greatest extravagancies, without even a shadow of proof to support them. The following is a specimen of this author’s knowledge: —He says, that the American States can now supply the West Indies with beef, butter, tallow candles, soap, beer, and even bar iron, cheaper than Europe — but enough of such a writer. The second pamphlet is entitled “Considerations on the present Situation of Great Briatian and the Untied States of America; particularly designed to expose the dangerous Tendency of Lord Sheffield’s Observation,” &c. This appears to claim more attention. The author informs us, that he has spent the summer in collecting materials; but he gives no authority for the calculations he has produced, or the tables he has inserted: wherever he found them, they differ materially from the Custom-house entries both of Briatian and America, and contradict them in very frequent instances; many facts advanced, as from those entries, are found to be without foundation, or enormously exagerated. The author says, the Americans formerly took 25,000 hogsheads of sugar annually from our islands. The Americans had no motive for entering less sugar at the Customs House than what they actually imported from those islands; yet certainly their importations from thence never, in any year, exceeded 6700 hogsheads, reckoning only 1000 cwt. to the hogshead. The exaggeration of the account he gives of the quantity of refined sugar taken from hence, is equally great. Above 150 pages of his work are filled with calculations and assertions, hazarded without any apparent authority: the article relative to shipping is the most extraordinary of the whole; it is entirely built on an erroneous foundation, and therefore the deductions from it must be fallacious. The same author argues, that the American States, although now foreign, ought to be indulged with nearly all the commercial privileges which they enjoyed whilst British subjects; that in return they will supply our West-India islands with provisions, lumber, &c. and take from thence sugar, rum, &c. That they will become our ship builders, we being unable to build ships but at an intolerable loss. Singular as this mode of reasoning is, it is completely of a piece with all his other disquisitions. He holds out this farther advantage to us, That the Americans will take our manufactures when they cannot get the same articles cheaper, better, and on longer credit, than elsewhere. This work at first appeared anaonymous, but a second editon is now published with the name of Richard Champion, Esq. late Deputy Paymaster, &c. with many additions; which serve however only to confirm what was sufficiently evident before, that the author had no sufficient grounds for his former assertions. He seems now to give up the extraordinary account of sugar, and complains that he has been misquoted, particularly as to the shipping. I had no intention of quoting his every words, nor professed to do so; the mistake, as to his meaning, has been general among those whom I have heard mention that passage; but my observation is omitted in the present editon; and it is unnecessary to state particulary what he has said, because no part of his argument is admissible, from the entire want of authority. . . .

 

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Filed under 1780's, Commerce, Early Republic, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, United States

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