Primary tabs

Petition of the Master Wardens


Mr˙ Burke, then, in a very severe speech, which he pointed chiefly at Lord North, condemned the behaviour of Administration in this business; declaring that they had, for decency' s sake, admitted the Petition, yet had determined that it should never be heard. He said he had a Petition in his hand from the principal Merchants in Bristol trading to America; yet, as he found there were two Committees now, the one for hearing evidence, the other for burying Petitions, he plainly saw his Petition would share the fate of the other, and be buried in oblivion, though not in sure and certain hopes of a joyful resurrection; that his worthy colleague (Mr˙ Cruger) had likewise a Petition of the Merchants of Bristol to present, but it would go to the silent Committee, and the three, he imagined would be left to sleep together. He concluded with asking leave to present his Petition;

Which being granted,

Mr˙ Burke then presented a Petition of the Master, Wardens, and Commonalty, of the Society of Merchants Venturers of the City of Bristol, under their common seal; which was read, setting forth, That a very beneficial and increasing trade to the British Colonies in America, has been carried on from the Port of Bristol, highly to the advantage of the Kingdom in general, and of the said City in particular; and that the Exports from the said Port to America, consist of almost every species of British Manufactures, besides East India Goods and other articles of commerce; and the returns are made not only in many valuable and useful commodities from thence, but also by a circuitous trade carried on with Ireland and most parts of Europe, to the great emolument of the Merchant, and improvement of his Majesty' s Revenue; and that the Merchants of the said Port are also deeply engaged in the trade to the West India Islands, which, by the exchange of their produce with America, for Provisions, Lumber, and other Stores, are thereby almost wholly maintained, and consequently become dependent upon North America for support; and that the trade to Africa, which is carried on from the said Port to a very considerable extent, is also dependent on the flourishing state of the West India Islands and America; and that these different branches of commerce give employment not only to a very numerous body of Artists and Manufacturers, but also to a great number of Ships, and many thousand Seamen, by which means a very capital increase is made to the Naval strength of Great Britain; and that the trade to America has of late years suffered very considerable checks, the first of which was after the passing of the Act for levying Stamp Duties there, which subjected the Merchants here to many and great losses and inconveniences, and threatened them with ruin, from which the repeal of that Act in the following year removed their apprehensions, and restored the trade to its former flourishing state; and that in this prosperous situation the trade continued till the next year, when an Act passed for levying Duties on Glass, Paper, and other articles in America, and it again received a considerable check; but the repeal of a great part of those Duties revived it, till the passing of certain Acts of Parliament, and other measures lately adopted, caused such a great uneasiness in the minds of the inhabitants of America, as to make the Merchants apprehensive of the most alarming consequences, and which if not speedily remedied, must involve them in utter ruin. And the Petitioners, as Merchants deeply interested in measures which so materially affect the commerce of this Kingdom, and not less concerned as Englishmen, in every thing that relates to the general welfare, cannot look without emotion on the many thousands of miserable objects, who, by the total stop put to the Export trade to America, will be discharged from their Manufactures for want of employment, and must be reduced to great distress; and the Petitioners look back with regret to those


times in which their trade suffered no interruption; but they presume not to suggest any particular mode of relief to the House, in whose wisdom they place the most unreserved confidence; they venture, however, to express their wishes that the former system of commercial policy may be taken into consideration; and that the destructive breaches made in their trade by the alarms to which it has been for many years subject, may be closed, the peace of this great Empire restored, and commerce once more fixed on the most solid and permanent foundation.

Mr˙ Burke moved that the said Petition be referred to the consideration of the Committee of the Whole House, to whom it is referred to consider of the several Papers which were presented to the House by the Lord North, upon Thursday last, by his Majesty' s command.

Lord North objected to it, as it did not desire to be heard. He observed it could not be of any information.

Mr˙ Burke replied; the noble Lord had objected to one Petition because it desired to be heard, to the other, because it did not desire to be heard; but nothing was to be expected from him but blunders and inconsistencies.

Lord North said it was impossible for him to have foreseen the proceedings in America respecting the Tea; that the Duty had been quietly collected before; that the great quantity of Tea in the warehouses of the East India Company, as appeared by the Report of the Secret Committee, made it necessary to do something for the benefit of the Company; that it was to serve them that nine Pence in the pound weight drawback was allowed; that it was impossible for him to foretel the Americans would resist at being able to drink their Tea at nine Pence in the pound cheaper.

Governour Johnstone said be got up to speak to a matter of fact; that he could not sit still and hear the noble Lord plume himself on actions which, of all others, were most reprehensible in this train of political absurdities; that it was unbecoming the noble Lord to allege that this dangerous measure was adopted to serve the East India Company, when it was notorious the Company had requested the repeal of the three Pence per pound in America, and felt and knew the absurdity of giving a drawback here, and laying a duty there — a perfect solecism in commerce and politicks; that the East India Company offered their consent that Government should retain six Pence in the pound on the exportation, if the three Pence was remitted in America; that the noble Lord had been requested and entreated, by the Governour himself, in his place, to remove the cause of the dispute, and was foretold the consequence of persevering in errour; that the noble Lord had shewn by his conduct, he was neither financier nor politician, or infatuated with those about him; that the East India Company presented the happiest opportunity which could have offered for removing, with credit, the cause of difference. The noble Lord himself had confessed, in repealing the other articles in the original Act, that the Tea was as much an anti-commercial tax as any of those which were repealed on that principle; but the authority of Parliament being disputed, he could not repeal all till that was fully acknowledged. Here, then, sprung the happiest occasion of doing right, without injuring the claims on either side. The East India Company ask; their situation required the relief. It could not be alleged it was done at the instance of American discontent. But the golden bridge was refused; new contrivances were set on foot to introduce the Tea into America. I know, said he, the various intrigues, solicitations, and counter-solicitations, that were used to induce the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Committee to undertake the rash and foolish business. I protested against it as contrary to the principles of their monopoly; yet the power of Ministry prevailed, and the noble Lord would now cover all those facts, which are ready, from their consequences, to convulse the Empire, and take credit for them as having been done with the most innocent intentions to serve the East India Company; when, on the contrary, it must appear to every man, that the glut, of Tea in their warehouses was chiefly occasioned by the impolitick and anti-commercial imposition of three Pence a pound in America, which deprived them, and still deprives them of that great vent; and that the losses they have since sustained, by sending Teas on their own account to America, is likewise chargeable to Administration. If this is the


manner in which they serve their friends, I desire still to be counted among the number of their enemies.

An amendment was proposed to be made to the question, by leaving out from the word "whom" to the end of the question, and inserting the words "the Petition of the Merchants, Traders, and others, of the City of London, concerned in the commerce of North America, is referred," instead thereof,

And the question being put, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question;

The House divided — Yeas 65, Noes 192.

So it passed in the Negative.

And the question being put, that the words "the Petition of the Merchants, Traders, and others, of the City of London, concerned in the commerce of North America, is referred," be inserted instead thereof;

It was resolved in the Affirmative.

Then the main question so amended being put,

Ordered, That the said Petition be referred to the consideration of the Committee of the Whole House, to whom the Petition of the Merchants, Traders, and others, of the City of London, concerned in the commerce of North America, is referred.