Chapter 4

    Insufficiency of former measures adopted for Security of the Revenue in America

    The ministry of late years seems to have been aware of the necessity of making further provision for the support of the authority of Government, and securing respect to the Laws.

    In several of the late Acts of Parliament relative to the American Revenue, further regulations were made for securing the payment of the duties and preventing illicit Commerce, and in the Act of the 4th George III [53] all forfeitures and Penalties relating to the Trade and Revenue of the Colonies might be prosecuted and sued for in the Court of Admiralty and by the 7th George III, the Superior Court in each Colony was empowered and directed to grant Writts of Assistants29 to the Officers of the Customs, to enter any place and search for and seize any prohibited goods.30

    In consequence of this last Act, four judges of Admiralty were appointed, with separate Districts including the whole Continent of North America, at established Salaries of six hundred pounds [54] per Annum and several of the Governors, Judges of the Superior Courts, and Attorneys General, in the different Provinces, had Salaries appointed by the Crown, out of this Revenue.31

    By the Mutiny Act provision was made for the Supply of the Troops in the several Provinces with sundry necessaries enumerated therein.32

    But these regulations and provisions, were in no wise effectual, towards maintaining the authority of Government, and supporting the Revenue Laws. [55]

    There were many causes that prevented the Officers from exerting themselves in their duty, and many grievances they laboured under.

    The charges of prosecutions in the Provincial Courts of Admiralty, were very high, so that the expence of Prosecution of Petty Seizures was often greater than the goods would sell for.

    There were combinations amongst the People, to prevent the Sale of the Goods seized so that the Smug[g]ler might buy them in again at a low rate.

    The Magistracy in general were backward in [56] supporting the Officers, though they were under constant apprehensions of violence from the People, in doing their duty.

    The Officers had no probability of obtaining redress for any injuries they received, by a process at Law, before a Jury of the People, who held the very Laws under which the Officer acted, to be Unconstitutional.

    In some of the Colonies, the whole powers of Government were in other hands than those of the Crown, so that it was [57] hardly possible to carry the Revenue Laws into execution in those parts.

    The Person who was called in such Provinces the King’s Attorney was Attorney for the interest of the Province, and not for the Crown. But where such Officer was appointed by the Crown he gave little assistance to the Officers of Revenue[,] especially if he had no Salary from the Crown.33

    Many of the Superior Courts of Justice in America refused to grant Writts of Assistants to the Officers of the Customs, though repeatedly applied to for that purpose by [58] direction of the Commissioners, and several of the Colonies refused to comply with the Act for providing the necessaries for the King’s Troops Stationed therein. And on the refusal of the Province of New York to comply with that Act an Act of Parliament was passed suspending the Legislative Authority of their Assembly, ‘till they complyed therewith.34

    The appointment of Officers of the Navy, to act as Officers of the Revenue, did not answer the end proposed.

    Some of those Gentlemen who exerted themselves in this Service were greatly [59] embarrassed by Prosecutions in the Provincial Law Courts, for Civil Actions, in consequence of their having made Seizures of Vessels, and Goods as Officers of the Customs. And the general dislike which the Gentlemen of the Navy had to being employed in this Service was a great means of preventing them from exerting themselves in this business. Besides, the large Vessels employed in the Navy were of little Service in the prevention of illicit trade, which being generally [60] carried on by small Vessels along a dangerous Coast and in all Weathers, required to be watched by vigilant Cruizers drawing little Water. And on this idea the Commissioners fit[t]ed out a Sloop called the Liberty at a considerable expence[,] which soon after was destroyed by the People of Rhode Island, for which insult and injury no reparation was demanded by Government.35

    If the Officers of the Customs on Shore [61] attempted to do their duty they were assaulted and abused; so that in general they were deterred from exerting themselves at all. For there was scarce a port in America where an Officer had endeavoured to make a Seizure, or refused a complyance with the will of the People, that he had not been Tarred and feathered.

    This mode of punishment was a new invention and used generally towards the Officers of the Customs. They Stript him, put him in a Cart, tarred and feathered him, and then led him in the view of the publick through the Town.36 [62]

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    The Smug[g]ling had been carried on to a great extent[,] yet few Seizures had been made in the New England Governments for two years prior to the Establishment of the Board of Customs, and only one prosecuted to effect.

    In August 1765 the disturbances began at Boston, on account of the Stamp Act.

    In 1766 the Officers at Boston were resisted at [65] Noon day in making a Seizure, and being unsupported were obliged to retire without making the Seizure.37

    Though the several instances of assaults on Officers and resistance to the authority of Parliament had been regularly made matter of information to the proper Offices at home[,] yet no measures had been taken to prosecute and punish the Offenders, or strengthen the hands of Government.

    The Smug[g]lers triumphed in their success, and the Officers of the Revenue were deterred from their duty. [66]

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