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Petition from the Merchants


MONDAY, January 23, 1775.

Mr˙ Alderman Hayley said he had a Petition from the Merchants of the City of London concerned in the commerce to North America, to that Honourable House, and desired leave to present the same; which being given, it was brought and read, viz:

To the Honourable the Commons of GREAT BRITAIN, in Parliament assembled:

The humble Petition of the Merchants, Traders, and others, of the City of LONDON, concerned in the Commerce of NORTH AMERICA, sheweth:

That your Petitioners are all essentially interested in the trade to North America, either as Exporters or Importers,


or as Venders of British and foreign Goods for exportation to that country.

That your Petitioners have exported, or sold for exportation, to the British Colonies in North America, very large quantities of the Manufactures of Great Britain and Ireland; and in particular the staple articles of Woollen, Iron, and Linen; also those of Cotton, Silk, Leather, Pewter, Tin, Copper, and Brass, with almost every British Manufacture; also large quantities of foreign Linens, and other articles imported into these Kingdoms from Flanders, Holland, Germany, the East Countries, Portugal, Spain and Italy, which are generally received from those countries in return for British Manufactures.

That your Petitioners have likewise exported, or sold for exportation, great quantities of the various species of Goods imported into this Kingdom from the East lndies, part of which receive additional manufacture in Great Britain.

That your Petitioners received returns from North America to this Kingdom, directly, Pig and Bar Iron, Timber, Staves, Naval Stores, Tobacco, Rice, Indigo, Deer and other Skins, Beaver and Furs, Train Oil, Whalebone, Bees-wax, Pot and Pearl Ashes, Drugs and Dying Woods, with some Bullion; and also Wheat, Flour, Indian Corn, and salted provisions, when (on account of scarcity in Great Britain) those articles are permitted to be imported.

That your Petitioners receive returns circuitously from Ireland (for Flax-seed, &c˙, exported from North America) by Bills of Exchange on the Merchants of this City trading to Ireland, for the proceeds of Linens, &c˙, imported into these Kingdoms. From the West Indies (in return for Provisions, Lumber, and Cattle exported from North America for the use and support of the West India Islands) by Bills of Exchange on the West India Merchants for the proceeds of Sugar, Molasses, Rum, Cotton, Coffee, and other produce imported from those Islands into these Kingdoms. From Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Flanders, Germany, Holland, and the East Countries, by Bills of Exchange, or Bullion, in return for Wheat, Flour, Rice, Indian Corn, Fish, and Lumber exported from the British Colonies of North America for the use of those countries.

That your Petitioners have great reason to believe, from the best information they can obtain, that on the balance of this extensive commerce, there is now due from the Colonies in North America, to this City only, two millions sterling, and upwards.

That by the direct commerce with the Colonies, and the circuitous, trade thereon depending, some thousands of Ships and Vessels are employed, and many thousands of Seamen are bred and maintained, thereby increasing the Naval strength and power of Great Britain.

That in the year 1765 there was a great stagnation of the commerce between Great Britain and her Colonies in consequence of an Act of Parliament, entituled "An


Act for granting and applying certain Stamp Duties, and other Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America," &c˙, by which the Merchants trading to North America, and the Artificers employed in the various Manufactures consumed in those countries were subjected to many hardships.

That in the following year the said Act was repealed, under an express declaration of the Legislature, that "the continuance of the said Act would be attended with many inconveniences, and might be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these Kingdoms;" upon which repeal the trade to the British Colonies immediately resumed its former flourishing state.

That in the year 1767 an Act passed, entituled "An Act for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America;" which imposed Certain Duties to be paid in America on Tea, Glass, Red and White Lead, Painters' Colours, Paper, Pasteboard, Millboard, and Scaleboard; when the commerce with the Colonies were again interrupted.

That in the year 1770, such parts of the said Act as imposed Duties on Glass, Red and White Lead, Painters' Colours, Paper, Pasteboard, Millboard, and Scaleboard, were repealed, when the trade to America soon revived, except in the article of Tea, on which a Duty was continued to be demanded on its importation into America, whereby that branch of our commerce was nearly lost.

That in the year 1773, an Act passed, entitled "An Act to allow a drawback of Duties of Customs on the exportation of Tea to his Majesty' s Colonies or Plantations in America, and to empower the Commissioners of the Treasury to grant Licenses to the East India Company to export Tea, duty free," &c.

By the operation of these and other laws the minds of his Majesty' s subjects in the British Colonies have been greatly disquieted; a total stop is now put to the export trade with the greatest and most important part of North America; the publick revenue is threatened with a large and fatal diminution; your Petitioners with grievous distress, and thousands of industrious Artificers and Manufacturers with utter ruin. Under these alarming circumstances, your Petitioners receive no small comfort from a persuasion that the Representatives of the people, newly delegated to the most important of all trusts, will take the whole of these weighty matters into their most serious consideration; and your Petitioners humbly crave this Honourable House that they will enter into a full and immediate examination of that system of commercial policy which was formerly adopted and uniformly maintained, to the happiness and advantage of both countries, and will apply such healing remedies as can alone restore and establish the commerce between Great Britain and her Colonies on a permanent foundation.

And your Petitioners also humbly pray that they may be heard, by themselves or Agents, in support of this Petition.

Mr˙ Alderman Hayley expressed his wishes for a speedy reconciliation with America, and 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, and that the Petitioners be admitted to be heard, by themselves or Agents, before the said Committee, upon the said Petition, if they think fit."

Sir W˙ Meredith said, that as the worthy Alderman, whose rank stands so high, and whose character is so honourably distinguished in the list of Merchants, had expressed his wishes not only for a reconciliation, but for a speedy reconciliation with America, he submitted to his judgment whether a speedy reconciliation was practicable or consistent with such a length of inquiry as his motion led to; that of all the evils American Merchants now suffer, suspense is the greatest; that he trusted the Committee already appointed would make the removal of that suspense the first object of their consideration and their care; at least, he hoped that the hands of Government might not be tied up, nor the powers of Parliament restrained from giving that speedy relief which the


pressure of affairs requires; that there is still some hope left, that the flames in America may be quenched, if proper and effectual means are speedily applied; but the task will every hour become more and more difficult, and if protracted to the long period, which the proposed inquiry may lead to, impracticable. He should be very sorry to take upon himself the consequences of exposing the situations of private Merchants to publick view, especially at this juncture; but, if they really desired an inquiry into their affairs, he himself would give his time, his labour, and every possible assistance to it; but hoped such an inquiry might not be made use of to defeat every good intention, and clog every salutary measure that might be proposed in the present Committee; he should therefore recommend it to the House to appoint a separate Committee for the consideration of the Merchants' Petition, and for that purpose move an amendment, to leave out, between the word "of" and the word "Committee," the word "the," and insert "a" instead thereof; and to leave out the words "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."

Mr˙ Burke was glad to hear the right honourable gentleman talk of a speedy reconciliation, and therefore must conclude that the price of his bargain with the Minister when he went over to his party, was a speedy reconciliation; yet, at the same time, he was sorry to see how knavish the noble Lord had been, for instead of putting into his hand the reconciliatory measures, he had slipped into his hand a wand, which wand, was now become one of the main pillars of Administration. He proceeded to shew how materially the trade and commerce with America ought to be considered before any decisive steps were taken, and declared himself totally ignorant that the Committee appointed for the 26th, were to take into consideration the papers only which lay on the table; he insisted that every information possible would add to the despatch, and not to the delay of a reconciliation; that as the noble Lord (North) had denied them the opinions of persons on the spot, the Committee could not receive more material information than from the Merchants trading thither, who were greatly interested in the welfare of the Colonies; that if there was not time sufficient to settle the American business, was not the noble Lord in fault in adjourning a month to eat mince-pies and drink Christmas ale, when so material a question was depending? He called the proposed Committee a Coventry Committee, in allusion to a well known practice by which a troublesome person is voted to be sent to Coventry, whereby, without turning him out of company, he is wholly excluded from all attention; he may be ridiculed and laughed at, and cannot interfere in his own defence. He also called it a Committee of Oblivion, consigning every thing the Merchants could allege to entire oblivion. He congratulated the Minister on such a friend as Sir William; the Merchants on such an able and powerful advocate; the Cabinet on such a Counsellor; the right honourable gentleman himself on such a patron; and the King and Parliament on the happiness of having so respectable a person in a situation to reciprocally impart the desires and wishes of either party to each other. He prophesied the most salutary effects from so happy a beginning. He compared the right honourable gentleman to Sampson, and the Ministers, and the friends of the Declaratory Act, and all the Revenue Acts, to the Philistines; and supposed himself to be involved in the ruin which must follow from pulling down the pillars which had supported the system, of destructive policy and oppression, which the right honourable gentleman contended ought to have been resisted. In a word, he turned, twisted, metamorphosed, and represented every thing which the right honourable gentleman had advanced into so many ridiculous forms, that the House was kept in a continued roar of laughter.

Sir Gilbert Elliot replied to Mr˙ Burke, and ironically complimented him; but begged leave to differ from him as to the matter in debate. He observed, that the Committee appointed for the 26th was intended to consider of the papers, in order to come to some speedy resolution suited to the dignity of Parliament, and the present situation of affairs in America; that the great variety of facts, and mass of matter which would come of course under consideration in the Committee to which the Petition must be referred,


would be a work of great and laborious toil; and that the views and objects of the inquiry, originating with the papers, and the Petition being totally distinct in their nature, the determinations and execution arising from both must be different.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend contended that it would be fairer, and more manly, to reject the Petition at once, than thus endeavour to defeat it; that the pretence of appointing a Committee was but a mere evasion; and that, indeed, as much had been already avowed by the right honourable Member who proposed the amendment, who pointed out so late as the month of June before it could be supposed capable of determining or coming to any resolution.

Lord Clare was for not submitting to the Americans in the least, and ridiculed the opinion of those who said we had a right to tax America, yet ought not to exercise it. He was warmly for the amendment. He said if we were resolved to sacrifice the supremacy of Parliament, he would much readier consent to it on any other ground than that which the present Petition would lead to, as this would be an inexhaustible source of applications of the same nature; for whenever the Americans had any point to gain, let it be ever so unreasonable, all they had to do was to refuse to pay their debts, to threaten to stop all commercial intercourse with us, and their business would be done; if, therefore, we were to submit, let us fairly give up the point, at once; let us sooner even become their vassals, than remain open to demands which could have no bounds, and must be irresistible when they were brought forward in the present form.

Mr˙ Charles Fox, in favour of the Americans, repeatedly called on Lord North to know who was the man that advised the late Acts, for it was he who had created the disturbances, it was he who had placed General Gage and his Troops in the ridiculous situation in which they were, and it was he who ought to answer to his country for the mischief and expense that might ensue. He attacked the Minister violently; pointed out his delays before Christmas, and his speed after; he said the Committee meant no more than a mere farce to delude the Merchants, as he was certain nothing serious was intended.

Lord J˙ Cavendish was for the Petition being heard with the papers, and condemned Lord North for his behaviour in bringing in estimates at the beginning of the session before he knew the expense which would be necessary; that it was a deceit to the country gentlemen, who retired into the country satisfied with the estimate at first, and who never imagined there would be any further sum required; that the noble Lord was pressed, and ought to have laid before the House the papers before the holidays, as he was desired.

Lord North defended the delay before the holidays chiefly on two grounds: first, for want of necessary information; secondly, because he understood from several persons, who pretended to know it, that the Address from the Continental Congress to the King was of that conciliatory nature as to make way for healing, lenient measures. As to the question before the House, besides repeating the very great delays which the matters contained in the Petition would probably occasion, it could not with the least colour of propriety, be considered with the papers; one being simply an object of commerce, the other clearly a matter of policy. He said, his reasons for not laying the papers before the House sooner was on account of what the Americans called a Congress, but what he called an illegal and reprehensible meeting, not being finished; and that he was informed a Petition would be sent from them to the Throne, which would reconcile all matters in an amicable manner.

Sir George Macartney was severe against the Petition, though, he said, he wished to be thought a friend to so respectable a body as the Petitioners: Petitions were generally framed, he said, and brought about by some interested persons who had artifice enough to induce others to sign them.

Captain Luttrell. I have listened with attention to this debate, in hopes of receiving such instruction as might enable me to judge which way of acting will be most conducive to the welfare of America and this country. Sir, I am sorry to find such a variety of opinions prevail amongst us, as makes it very difficult to determine what measures are likely to prove the most salutary; but being neither


willing to be led astray by the oratory of one man, or the party zeal of another, I feel a wish to consider this Petition on the day moved for, and to pursue an opinion I have adopted from my own personal knowledge of the Americans, their country and their coasts. Sir, that the Colonies are inseparably united to the Imperial Crown of this Realm, I trust will never be denied by the friends of either clime; but though it has been asserted, America can subsist without our commerce, I believe nobody will say she can flourish without our protection. If we abandon her to her present miserable situation she must soon sue to us or to some other Power for succour. Insecure in their lives and properties, the Americans must, ere long, experience the fatal consequences of being exposed to the depredations of marauders and lawless ruffians; they will soon cry aloud for the re-establishment of those judicial authorities that have been imprudently overturned, and which are necessary, not only to the welfare, but to the very existence of the subject, among the rudest nations of the globe. Sir, I fear, indeed, the Americans at this hour cannot properly be styled the most civilized people in the known world; but an unfortunate fatality seems to have awaited that unhappy country for a series of years past. The late war was scarce at an end before you put a total stop to their trade with the Spanish West Indies. ' Tis true, it was, strictly speaking, illicit, but it was very beneficial to them, for from thence they got their specie. Then, sir, as if you meant to add insult to bad policy, no sooner had you deprived them of the means of assisting you, but you ungenerously imposed the right of taxation. Sir, if such a power is vested in the British Parliament, you have mistaken the season to exercise it; but I never can consider that we, who are many of us strangers to the resources of that country and its produce, are competent judges which of their commodities can best bear the burden of taxation. Sir, those that are acquainted with America know as well as I do, that from Rhode-Island northwards they have no money; that their trade is generally carried on by barter, from the most opulent Merchant to the necessitous Husbandman. Sir, before your Fleets and Armies visited their coasts, you might almost as soon have raised the dead as one hundred Pounds in specie from any individual in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Then, sir, let us suppose the Americans to be the most tractable, the most loyal of all the King' s subjects, with every good inclination to pay obedience to the mandates of the mother country, where are their abilities to comply with your present demands? For my part, I know but one method by which you can possibly put America into a situation to assist this country; agree with her upon a fair and certain subsidy to be paid you annually; wait with patience the arrival of her merchandises here, and the sale of them also; then, and not till then, their money will be forthcoming to pay you. Sir, such are my present sentiments with respect to the situation of our Colonies at this important crisis; but I will hope for better days, and better information; because I wish to be convinced that neither America nor this country are in danger of being undone.

Lord Stanley, for a young speaker, acquitted himself very decently. He expatiated largely on the legislative supremacy and omnipotence of Parliament; spoke much of treason, rebellion, coercion and firmness; and insisted, that if we gave way to their present temper, the consequence would probably be their desiring a repeal of the Navigation Act, and every other Act on our Statute Books that in the least degree affected them.

Mr˙ Adam and Mr˙ Innis also spoke for the amendment; Governour Johnstone and Alderman Sawbridge against it.

And then the question being put, that the word "the" stand part of the question; the House divided, Yeas, 81; Noes, 197.

So it passed in the Negative.

And the question being put, that the word "a" be inserted instead thereof;

It was resolved in the Affirmative.

And the question being put, that the words "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," stand part of the question;

It passed in the Negative.


Then the main question, so amended, being put,

Ordered, That the said Petition be referred to the consideration of a Committee of the Whole House; and that the Petitioners be admitted to be heard by themselves or Agents, before the said Committee, upon the said Petition, if they think fit.

Resolved, That this House will, upon Friday morning next, resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House, to consider of the said Petition.



* 5 Geo˙ 3˙ c˙ 12.

† 6 Geo˙ 3˙ c˙ 11.

‡ 7 Geo˙ 3˙ c˙ 3, c˙ 46.

§ 10 Geo˙ 3˙ c˙ 17.

|| 13 Geo˙ 3˙ c˙ 44.