« ZurückWeiter »
THE RETORT COURTEOUS.
"John Oxly, pawnbroker of Bethnal Green, was indicted for assaulting Jonathan Boldsworth on the highway, putting him in fear, and taking from him one silver watch, value 5/. 5s. The prisoner pleaded, that having sold the watch to the prosecutor, and being immediately after informed by a person who knew him, that he was not likely to pay for the same, he had only followed him and taken the watch back again. But it appearing on the trial, that, presuming he had not been known when he committed the robbery, he had afterwards sued the prosecutor for the debt, on his note of hand; he was found guilty, death." Old Bailey Sessions Paper, 1747.
I chose the above extract from the proceedings of the Old Bailey in the trial of criminals, as a motto or text, on which to amplify in my ensuing discourse. But on second thoughts, having given it forth, I shall, after the example of some other preachers, quit it for the present, and leave to my readers, if I should happen to have any, the task of discovering what relation there may possibly be between my text and my sermon.
During some years past, the British newspapers have been filled with reflections on the inhabitants of America, for not paying their old debts to English merchants. And from these papers the same reflections have been translated into foreign prints, and circulated throughout Europe; whereby the American character, respecting honor, probity, and justice in commercial transactions, is made to suffer in the opinion of strangers, which may be attended with pernicious consequences.
At length we are told that the British court has taken up the complaint, and seriously offered it as a reason for refusing to evacuate the frontier posts according to treaty. This gives a kind of authority to the charge, and makes it now more necessary to examine the matter thoroughly; to inquire impartially into the conduct of both nations; take blame to ourselves where we have merited it; and, where it may be fairly done, mitigate the severity of the censures that are so liberally bestowed upon us.
We may begin by observing, that before the war our mercantile character was good. In proof of this (and a stronger proof can hardly be desired) the votes of the House of Commons in 1774-5, have recorded a petition signed by the body of the merchants of London trading to North America, in which they expressly set forth, not only that the trade was profitable to the kingdom, but that the remittances and payments were as punctually and faithfully made, as in any other branch of commerce whatever. These gentlemen were certainly
Vol. i. 2 H
competent judges, and as to that point could have no interest in deceiving the government.
The making of these punctual remittances was however a difficulty. Britain, acting on the selfish and perhaps mistaken principle of receiving nothing from abroad that could be produced at home, would take no articles of our produce that interfered with any of her own; and what did not interfere she loaded with heavy duties. We had no mines of gold or silver. We were therefore obliged to run the world over, in search of something that would be received in England. We sent our provisions and lumber to the West Indies, where exchange was made for sugars, cotton, &c. to remit. We brought molasses from thence, distilled it into rum, with which we traded in Africa, and remitted the gold dust to England. We etaployed ourselves in the fisheries, and sent the fish we caught, together with quantities of wheat, flour, and rice, to Spain and Portugal, from whence the amount was remitted to England in cash or bills of exchange. Great quantities of our rice too, went to Holland, Hamburgh, &c., and the value of that was also sent to Britain. Add to this, that contenting ourselves with paper, all the hard money we could possibly pick up among the foreign West India islands, was continually sent off to Britain, not a ship going thither from America without some chests of those precious metals.
Imagine this great machine of mutually advan
tageous commerce, going roundly on, in full train; our ports all busy, receiving and selling British manufactures, and equipping ships for the circuitous trade that was finally to procure the necessary remittances; the seas covered with those ships, and with several hundred sail of our fishermen, all working for Britain; and then let us consider what effect the conduct of Britain in 1774 and 1775 and the following years, must naturally have on the future ability of our merchants to make the payments in question.
We will not here enter into the motives of that conduct; they are well enough known, and not to her honor. The first step was shutting up the port of Boston by an act of parliament; the next to prohibit by another the New England fishery. An army and a fleet were sent to enforce these acts. Here was a stop put at once to all the mercantile operations of one of the greatest trading cities of America; the fishing vessels all laid up, and the usual remittances by way of Spain, Portugal, and the Straits, rendered impossible. Yet the cry was now begun against us, These New England people do not pay their debts!
The ships of the fleet employed themselves in cruising separately all along the coast. The marine gentry are seldom so well contented with their pay, as not to like a little plunder. They stopped and seized, under slight pretences, the American vessels they met with, belonging to whatever colony. This checked the commerce of them all. Ships loaded with cargoes destined either directly or indirectly to make remittance in England, were not spared. If the differences between the two countries had been then accommodated, these unauthorised plunderers would have been called to account, and many of their exploits must have been found piracy. But what cured all this, set their minds at ease, made short work, and gave full scope to their piratical disposition, was another act of parliament, forbidding any inquisition into those past facts, declaring them all lawful, and all American property to be forfeited, whether on sea or land, and authorising the king's British subjects to take, seize, sink, burn, or de stroy, whatever they could find of it. The property suddenly and by surprise, taken from our merchants by the operation of this act, is incomputable. And yet the cry did not diminish, These Americans don't pay their debts!
Had the several states of America, on the publication of this act seized all British property in their power, whether consisting of lands in their country, ships in their harbors, or debts in the hands of their merchants, by way of retaliation, it is probable a great part of the world would have deemed such conduct justifiable. They it seems thought otherwise, and it was done only in one or two states, and that under particular circumstances of provocation. And not having thus abolished