Chapter 1

    Progress of American Revenue from the Act of the 6th George II to the Establishment of a Board of Customs in America.

    In the year 1733 the parliament passed the Act of the 6 George II Chap. 13 for the encouragement of His Majesty’s Sugar Colonies.7

    By this Act Duties were imposed on the produce of American Plantations [and] foreign West India Islands not under the Dominion of His Majesty of

    • 9d8 a Gallon on Rum & Spirits
    • 6d a Gallon on Melasses
    • & 5 per Quart on Sugar. [1]

    This Act obtained by the influence of the West India Planters, instead of operating as a fund of Revenue, was the source of Smug[g]ling and corruption.

    The Ministry, having granted the Planters their desires, took no measures to inforce the Act, but winked at the prostitution of the national authority, at the connivance of the Officers of the Customs, and the illicit Commerce of the People; which introduced a depravity of Morals, and alienated the Subjects from their duty to Government.9

    No attention was paid to the conduct of the Revenue [2] Officers, and indeed, from the dispersed state of the Trade, and wide extent of Coast in a new settled Country, under different Governments, where the authority of the Crown was feeble, little could be expected from the most virtuous and vigilant Officers.

    On passing this Act several additional Officers of the Customs were appointed to carry it into execution, whose Salaries were to be paid out of the Duties arising from the Act, but many of these soon gave up their Offices, on there being no prospect of their receiving any Salary on those terms. [3]

    If the Act was impolitic, or could not be carried into execution, why was it suffered to remain so long unrepealed?

    If the conviction of the guilt brought on the Subject and Officer by perjury and connivance was not a sufficient inducement with the Ministry, yet the consideration of alienating the Subjects from the Laws and Authority and making them Enemies to Order and Government should have prevailed with them. No, for many many Years the temptation to illicit practises was open and unrestrained, and the Officers countenanced in giving [4] a sanction to perjury, and sharing in the advantages of connivance.

    In their Accounts no returns were made of Duties received on foreign West India Voyages. The Vessels all entered in ballast, hence Smug[g]ling became established and Principle corrupted, by an indulged prostitution of the Law.

    This Law, though it did not operate, yet continued unaltered ‘till 1763. ‘Till which time, America never seems to have been considered in any other than a Commercial light. The objects, of establishing good Government, and supporting the authority of the [5] Mother Country, were lost sight of.

    Mr. George Grenville, who was Minister at this time, was intent on Schemes of National Oeconomy. The peace with France was just concluded, and he saw with concern the amazing debt of the Nation, [a] great part of which had been contracted in the defence of America.10 He therefore thought it just that that Country should bear its proportion of the publick burthen. In this view the Act of the 4th George III Chap. 15 was passed. Establishing new Provisions and Regulations for improving the American Revenue, and [6] defending, securing, and Protecting those Dominions; and then an additional Duty was laid on foreign white Sugar, and duties on several other articles imported into America, and the duty on foreign Melasses was reduced to 3d a Gallon, and provision was made by this Act for the distribution of Seizures to be made by Officers of the Navy, who were intended to be empowered to act as Officers of the Revenue, on board his Majesty’s Ships for the support of the Laws of Trade, and Revenue in America.11

    In July 1763 the Secretary of State wrote to the several American Governors, in very strong [7]

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    terms urging them to support the Officers of the Revenue.

    Acquainting them that an Act had passed for improving that Revenue, and that the Commanders of His Majesty’s Ships would be furnished with Deputations from the Commissioners of the Customs in consequence thereof.

    Several small Vessels were accordingly employed in North America and in June 1764 His Majesty’s Schooner St. John,12 Lieutenant Hill Commander, made a seizure at Rhode Island.

    Some days after the people rose on an Officer and party of Men, who went on shore to take a Deserter, and rescued him; then took the Officer prisoner and wounded most of the Boat’s [9] Crew with Stones. They afterwards sent a Sloop, and some Boats full of Men to the Battery, and fired several shot at the Schooner, and did not desist ‘till the Squirrel Sloop of War, then there, brought her broadside to bear upon the Battery.

    Notwithstanding this outrage and insult no notice was taken of it by Government and the Colony of Rhode Island continued to brave the authority of Great Britain, in several acts of provoking insult unchastised.13

    Mr. Grenville continued his attention to American regulation and Oeconomy, the next Session of [10] Parliament, and upon the Principle adopted in the former Session, he got the sanction of Parliament to the famous American Stamp Act.

    The Colonies had been made acquainted the Year before (1764) through their Agents that Parliament expected them to raise a Revenue towards defraying the necessary charges for their defence, and the Administration of Civil Government that their Assemblies might make the necessary provisions if they would. But the Assemblies neglected doing any thing therein, and the Parliament passed the Stamp Act the next Session.14

    Though the Principle might have been just and the mode proper, yet the extention of the duty to such a number of Articles, and the Quantum with which many of them were charged, was certainly grievous, and in any view it was highly impolitic to lay a new duty, so burthensome on the Subject in its immediate operation, [11] as the Stamp Act would have proved; and the event shewed how erroneous the measure was, of attempting to raise a Revenue in a remote Country, where the powers of Government were weak, and the Legislators not thoroughly acquainted with the particular local circumstances of the several Provinces. [12]

    As soon as it was known in America that it was in agitation to lay a Stamp Duty in the Colonies, a spirit of opposition to the measure was raised throughout the Continent; and several of the Colonies’ Assemblies passed resolves, declaratory of their Title to all the rights and priviledges of Englishmen.

    No doubt if Mr Grenville had continued in Administration, but the Stamp Act would have been greatly altered, on the inconveniences attending its operation [13] being properly represented, but the People did not wait for such gentle means of seeking redress. The ferment that was raised against the Act was soon followed by violence and outrage, and the People vented their fury on the individuals that were most obnoxious to them.

    At Boston they pulled down the houses of Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson, and Mr. Hallowell, the Comptroller of the Customs, assaulted the Secretary of the Province (Mr. Oliver) who was appointed the Stamp Master for that District, and obliged him to [14] resign his Commission.15

    At Rhode Island they pulled down the houses of Mr. Howard, Dr. Moffatt, and Mr. Johnson, and throughout the Continent obliged the Stamp Masters to renounce the exercise of their Offices.

    After having prevented the operation of the Stamp Act, a Plan of resistance to the Authority of Parliament was concerted throughout the Continent.

    In October 1765 a Congress was held at New York, of Deputies from the several Provinces, in which they passed sundry declarations [15] of Rights and Liberties, and of the Grievances under which they laboured, amongst which they resolved that they were “entitled to all the Rights and Liberties of the natural born Subjects within the Kingdom of Great Britain.”

    “That they were not, and from local Circumstances could not be represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain.”

    “That the Stamp Act and several other Acts had a manifest tendency to subvert the Rights and Liberties of the Colonists, and that it was their duty to endeavour by a loyal and dutiful address to His Majesty, [16] and humble applications to both Houses of Parliament, to procure the repeal of the Stamp Act [and] of all Clauses of any other Acts of Parliament whereby the Jurisdiction of the Admiralty is extended and of the other late Acts for the restriction of American Commerce.”16

    Had Mr. Grenville continued in power, perhaps such measures would have been adopted, as would have convinced the Americans that they should not insult the authority of Parliament with impunity; but at the close of that Session of Parliament, in which the Stamp Act was passed, a Regency bill was brought into the [17] House, and Mr. Grenville differing in opinion with the Members in the Cabinet, as to the Princess Dowager of Wales being nominated as one in the Regency, in case there should be a demise of the Crown during the Minority of the Successor, he was no longer able to maintain himself as Minister and retired from the publick service.

    On Mr. Grenville’s resignation, the Marquess of Rockingham was appointed first Lord of the Treasury, and as a new Minister frequently comes in, in opposition to his Predecessor, so he generally adopts different measures. [18]

    In this State of the Ministry, the advices of the proceedings of the Americans against the operation of the Stamp Act were received and the Ministry, instead of being awakened by the outrages of the Americans to a support of the Power of Parliament, sought to draw a popularity to themselves, by attending to the clamours that were raised against the conduct of the former Administration. The Merchants and Manufacturers were urged to join in Petitions against the Act, and the Ministry resolved to [19] support a repeal of it.

    Nevertheless the Court was adverse to the Measure, and on the first moving of this business in the House of Commons, there were a great number of the King’s Servants in opposition to Administration, but the Ministry being bent upon the repeal, and the Cabinet considering that rejecting the measures of the Ministers must occasion a change in the Ministry in the middle of a Session, and throw the National affairs into confusion, they yielded to the [20] Ministers in Office, and suffered the Stamp Act to be repealed. Thus the National authority gave way to Commercial views, and the popular cry. The Colonies triumphed, the Stamp Act was repealed, and from that day the Parliament of Great Britain was no longer respected. Their right to make Laws binding on the Colonies was denyed. The operation of their Acts was resisted and the principles of Independence in general avowed.17

    In the debates on the repeal of the Stamp Act, Lord Chatham made a [21] famous speech, in which he said he rejoiced that America had resisted. This declaration had a great effect on the Americans, and they were animated in their resistance to the authority of Parliament by hearing of the Speeches of several great Personages in their favor.18

    After repealing the Stamp Act in 1766 the Parliament during the Rockingham Administration made a further alteration in the American Revenue by the 6th George III Chap. 52, whereby some of the Duties laid by the 4th George III Chap. 15 were [22] repealed, and the duty reduced on all Melasses Imported to 1d per Gallon.19

    In the Summer of 1766 the Rockingham Party went out of Office, when they were succeeded by the Duke of Grafton as first Lord of the Treasury and Mr. Charles Townshend as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    After so much had been done and undone in the affair of American Taxation, one would have thought that the Ministry would have suffered that business to have lain quiet for some time; at least, one would have imagined that measures would have been [23] taken to strengthen the hands of Government, and support its authority, before any new Revenue Laws had been imposed.

    To enact, and suffer that act to be denied and trampled upon with impunity, must be very degrading to Government; yet in one instance it might have been thought most prudent to submit to the indignity and not inforce a complyance with the Law; but to repeal the measure, and not guard against the consequences; to plunge the Nation again into [24] circumstances of receiving aggravated insult and indignity, is truly astonishing, and for several years to bear an accumulation of disgrace from its Subjects, without an exertion of power in the support of its honor, and authority, is very surprizing; yet such was the Case.

    In April 1767 the Commissioners of the Customs in London presented a Memorial to the Lords of the Treasury on the propriety of Establishing a Board of Customs in America; and amongst other reasons [25] represented that the oppressions the Officers of the Revenue labour under in America have lately grown to such an enormous height, that it is become impossible for them to do their duty, not only from the outrage of Mobs, but for fear also of vexatious Suits, Verdicts, and Judgments in the Provincial Courts, and even of Criminal Prosecutions.

    Soon after this Memorial was given in, an Act was passed to put the Customs in America under the management of Commissioners to reside in that Country. [26]

    Immediately on the passage of the Act for Establishing a Board of Customs in America an Act was passed imposing duties on Paper, Glass, Red and White Lead, Tea, and Painters’ Colours, for defraying the charge of Administration of Justice, and the support of Civil Government.20

    This Act, se[t]ting aside the bad policy of laying duties on British Manufactures, was laid on such Articles, as made the ascertaining the duties on them very fretful, and troublesome; particularly the Paper, of which there were more than sixty sorts expressed on which the duties varied, and these [27] articles being of small bulk, might be easily run and the payment of the duties be evaded. But as the Stamp Act had been repealed the Year before, it was very extraordinary that fresh duties should be imposed and no effectual measures taken to support the authority of Government, or conciliate the minds of the people. Instead of that, the Commissioners were sent out with this new duty act in their hands, which took place in four days after they opened their Commission. [28]

    The Stamp Act was imposed on so many articles, and laid so heavy on some of them, as made it severe, and raised the greatest opposition and resistance from the people to its operation. It was repealed without limitation, and the Americans triumphed in their victory.21 Had it been continued on some articles of little consequence, the authority would have been supported, and there might have been a better plea for altering the mode of taxation from that to other Articles; but as the people by resistance, and opposition, had [29] compelled Government to repeal the former Act, so, as they equally resented the imposition of the new duties, they resolved on the like measures to get rid of them; and as the Commissioners came out just as they took place, they considered the appointment of a Board of Customs as only a method adopted by Government, to support that Act, so that the bad Policy of joining the new Duties with the Establishment of the Board, increased their resentment to the latter measure. [30]

    In the Year 1771 under Lord North’s Administration the Duties that had been imposed in 1767 were repealed, except those on Tea, and in 1773 the Duties that had been paid at home on Tea exported to the Colonies were taken off, and the East India Company entered on a Measure of Shipping their Teas to America for Sale on their own account, which produced a further opposition and resistance to the Laws of Parliament.22 [31]

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