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INTERCOURSE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND THE BRITISH COLONIES IN THE WEST INDIES 1828 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Joseph Hamburger (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982).
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INTERCOURSE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND THE BRITISH COLONIES IN THE WEST INDIES
Parliamentary Review. Session of 1826-7:—7 & 8 Geo. IV. London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1828, 298-335. Headed as title. Running titles: “foreign relations.—United States.” Unsigned; not republished. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article on the Commerce between the West-Indies and the United States of America, which app. in the Parliamentary review for the session of 1827” (MacMinn, 9). In the Somerville College copy of this volume an inked note in Mill’s hand on the title page identifies this article as his, and, at the equivalent of 133.27-9, there is a pencilled comment (possibly in Mill’s hand) that reads (ignoring a cancellation and an incomplete revision): “The Superior skill of Shipbuilders & Seamen is decidedly with the Americans”. For comment on the article, see lvii-lviii above.
Intercourse between the United States and the British Colonies in the West Indies
a short conversation which took place when a late correspondence between the British Government and the Envoy of the United States was laid upon the table of the House of Commons by Mr. Canning,* affords us an opportunity, of which we gladly avail ourselves, to lay before our readers the history of that correspondence, with a few observations on the subject which has produced so much unfriendly feeling between two kindred nations.
It is known that, until within a short period, it was a favourite object of British policy that British shipping should engross as large a share as possible of the commercial intercourse of the world. With this view, foreign vessels resorting to the ports of Great Britain and her dependencies, and goods imported into Great Britain and her dependencies in foreign vessels, were made subject to numerous burthens and restrictions, from which British vessels, and goods imported in British vessels, were exempt.
It is known, also, that by several recent statutes commonly called the Reciprocity Acts, these restrictions were relaxed, and some of them entirely abrogated, in favour of such countries as should relieve British shipping from all similar restrictions, to which, by the laws of those countries, it was subject. Among the Reciprocity Acts, was one called the 6 Geo. IV, c. 114, an Act passed on the 5th of July, 1825, which permitted foreign nations, upon certain conditions of reciprocity, to trade, in their own vessels, with the British colonies.[*]
Among foreign nations, that which, from its situation and productions, is capable of carrying on the most beneficial trade with our colonies, is the United States of America. That country, however, did not comply with the conditions of reciprocity which the act of parliament required, and consequently did not become entitled to the privileges which that act conferred. An order in council was therefore issued, in July 1826, interdicting, after a certain day, all intercourse, in American vessels, between the United States and the British West India colonies;[*] and, consequently, the shipping of the United States not only did not acquire any new privileges under the Act of 1825, but lost those which it already enjoyed by virtue of a partial relaxation of our Navigation Laws which took place in 1822.[†]
On the appearance of the Order in Council, Mr. Gallatin, Envoy Extraordinary of the United States, addressed an official note to Mr. Canning, as Secretary of State for the Foreign Department, remonstrating against it. He observed that, by the laws of the United States, our commerce and navigation stood, in every respect, on the footing required by the Act of 1825, with the exception of certain discriminating duties on British vessels, and on goods imported in British vessels, entering the ports of the United States from the British colonies. That the British government had already retaliated, by the imposition of countervailing duties on American vessels, resorting to our colonies, and on their cargoes. That, the only inequality supposed to exist having been removed by these countervailing duties, there could be no reason for adopting the harsher measure of altogether interdicting the intercourse, in American vessels, between the United States and so important a part of those colonies.[‡]
In answer to this communication from Mr. Gallatin, Mr. Canning addressed a letter to that gentleman,[§] of which we shall next endeavour to explain the purport. It is, however, not easy to present a connected view of Mr. Canning’s argument, without expressing much of what he himself has rather left to be understood. This is no matter of blame to him; it is no fault of his, if what was meant only for purposes of information, is not sufficiently explicit for purposes of argument. But when a proposition is to be discussed, it must be written out at full length. Mr. Canning rather indicated than stated the several points which he sought to establish; and did not so much make out a case, as bring together the materials, out of which, when properly connected together, a case might be made.
He began by complaining that Mr. Gallatin treated the question as if there were no inherent distinction between colonial trade and the trade of independent nations. Mr. Gallatin misconceived the nature of the colonial trade. It was the unquestionable right, and had, till within these few years, been the invariable practice, of countries having colonies, to reserve to themselves the trade with those colonies, and to relax that reservation only under special circumstances, and on particular occasions. The right, therefore, which Great Britain clearly possessed, as against all nations, the United States could not justly complain if she thought fit to exercise against them. In 1822, Great Britain conceded to the shipping of the United States, under certain restrictions, the privilege of trading with the British West India colonies; a privilege which she still withheld from all the powers of Europe. It could not, however, be supposed—it was not affirmed by Mr. Gallatin—that, by granting this privilege to one nation, Great Britain came under any implied engagement, not at any future period to extend it to others. As little could be supposed that, because Great Britain submitted, at a moment of necessity, to terms which were inconvenient to her, she bound herself to continue to submit to them when that necessity should have passed away. She had a right to open the ports of her colonies, or to keep them closed, as might suit her own convenience. She had a right to open them either unconditionally or conditionally; and if conditionally, on what conditions she pleased. She had a right—(but this necessary step in Mr. Canning’s argument was rather understood than expressed)—she had a right, after her original conditions had been accepted, to revoke them whenever she pleased, and impose others; and though she might profess to take the principle of reciprocity for the guide of her counsels, no other nation had a right to remonstrate, as Mr. Gallatin had done, if the conditions she imposed were at variance with the principle of reciprocity; for Great Britain was not bound to abide by that principle.
Having thus disposed of the general subject of Colonial Trade, Mr. Canning proceeded to explain why the British Government, not satisfied with laying the same burthens upon the trade in American vessels which had been laid upon that in British vessels by the United States, had recourse to the more severe measure of prohibiting the trade in American vessels altogether.
In 1822, when Great Britain permitted the United States, under certain limitations and conditions, to trade in their own vessels with our West India colonies; in accepting these terms Congress at the same time imposed on all British vessels trading between the United States and the West Indies, and on all goods imported in such vessels, an alien duty.[*] This duty was to continue until American vessels, and their cargoes, should be admitted into our colonies on the same terms as British vessels, and as the same description of goods imported from elsewhere: meaning by elsewhere, not only all foreign nations, but the other trans-marine possessions of Great Britain, and even the mother country herself.
This unwarrantable pretension on the part of the United States, to an equalization of the duties on their produce with those on our own, was the motive which had induced the British Government, after an interval of three years, to issue the Order in Council now complained of. The delay which had intervened, Mr. Canning thus accounted for: The British Government at first misapprehended the import of the term elsewhere, conceiving it to apply to foreign countries alone, and not to the British possessions in North America; and could not, for some time, be brought to believe, that it was intended to lay claim to the admission of American produce into our colonies, subject to no higher duties than that of the mother country herself, and her other dependencies. When such was at length ascertained to be the true construction of the Act of Congress, our Government, by their own Act of 1822, were entitled to have at once interdicted all intercourse between the United States and the British West India colonies. The milder measure of a retaliatory duty was preferred, because it was not supposed that a claim so extraordinary as that implied in the above-mentioned Act of Congress would be persisted in after explanation. The attempt, however, to obtain the abandonment of it by means of negociation having failed, and Congress having, during the last session, rejected a motion for the repeal of the discriminating duties, Great Britain had now asserted that right, which, as long as there appeared to be any chance of an amicable arrangement, she had forborne to exercise.
But further, Mr. Canning could not admit the assertion that the discriminating duties were our only ground of complaint. In making this averment, Mr. Gallatin appeared to overlook the fact, that, by the same enactment which imposed those duties, it was provided that no British ships not coming directly from the West Indies, should be allowed to clear out for the West Indies, from a port of the United States. It was true that something analogous to this regulation had existed on our side. By the Act of 1822, American vessels entering the ports of our colonies, were prohibited from clearing out for any country other than the United States. But such was the peculiar character of colonial trade, that we were justified in imposing this restriction; the Americans were not justified in retaliating.
To allow a foreign ship to enter colonial ports at all, and upon any terms, is a boon; to withhold from the ship of a country having colonies, trading from the mother country to a foreign state, under a regular treaty between the two countries, the right of clearing for another port belonging to that mother country, in another part of the world, is an injury.*
Had the restriction, therefore, still existed on our part, this would have formed no justification for its imposition on theirs. But it did not exist on our part. It had been repealed by the Act of 1825; and yet the retaliatory restriction, expressly founded upon it, continued in force.
Since the 5th of January, 1826, an American ship trading to a British West India colony, may clear out from thence to any part of the world, the United Kingdom and its dependencies alone excepted. But the British ship in the American port still remains subject to all the restrictions of the American law of 1823, prohibiting a trade through the United States between the mother country and her West India colonies. (Ibid.)
In conclusion, Mr. Canning said, that the British Government could not consent to enter into any further negociation upon the intercourse between the United States and the colonies, so long as the pretension recorded in the Act of 1823 remained part of the law of the United States. But further, after the United States had declined conditions which other nations had thought worthy of their acceptance, and by so doing had compelled the British Government to apply to them the interdict prescribed (he should have said allowed) by the Act of 1825, it could not hold itself bound to remove that interdict, as a matter of course, whenever it might suit the convenience of the United States to reconsider the measures by which the application of that interdict was occasioned.
We have thought it necessary to give this full abstract of Mr. Canning’s first letter to Mr. Gallatin, because the views of the British Government concerning the whole matter to which the Order in Council relates, are no where else so clearly and fully set forth. The same minuteness will not be necessary in the account, which it now remains for us to give, of the remainder of the correspondence.
Mr. Gallatin intimated his dissent from the doctrine of Mr. Canning with respect to Colonial Trade.[*] The right of Great Britain to reserve to herself the trade with her colonies, or to open it to whatever nations, and upon whatever terms she thought proper, was not denied; but, considered purely as a matter of right, this, which was an attribute of sovereignty, applied to all other territories as well as to colonies. The real distinction between the trade of foreigners with colonies, and that with other territories, did not consist in a greater or less complete right, but in a difference in the usage and practice. Since the late final separation, however, of the greater part of the continent of America from the mother countries, and the more liberal policy adopted towards the remaining colonies, the usage of nations in respect to colonial policy might be considered to have changed, and the Colonial Trade to have been so far assimilated to all other trade as to admit of being discussed on the basis of equal and reciprocal conditions. Indeed, in every negociation which had taken place on this subject between the United States and Great Britain, the principle of reciprocity had been the basis assumed, by the consent of both parties.
Mr. Gallatin next proceeded to vindicate, at some length,[†] the enactments of Congress, to which exceptions had been taken by Mr. Canning: the imposition, or rather revival, of the discriminating duties, and the prohibition of what is called the circuitous intercourse between Great Britain and her colonies, through the United States. But the reasons which induced Congress to adopt these measures will be more conveniently stated in a subsequent part of this article.
Finally, Mr. Gallatin said, that the United States could scarcely be expected to repeal their restrictions upon British vessels, when not only the intercourse was altogether prohibited in American shipping, but when they were with frankness informed, that a removal of that interdict would not, as a matter of course, follow such repeal on their part.[‡] Since Mr. Canning, however, had refused to negociate while the pretension involved in the Act of 1823 continued part of the law of the United States, Mr. Gallatin informed him, that the Act complained of was already repealed, by virtue of one of its own provisions, which enacted, that it should cease to operate if at any time the British Government should prohibit the intercourse with our colonies in American vessels. That contingency having taken place, the laws of 1818 and 1820 had revived, which prohibited the intercourse in British vessels altogether;[*] and all laws since passed to regulate the intercourse, were abrogated by its entire interdiction.
The answer of Mr. Canning was brief,[†] and replied only to that part of Mr. Gallatin’s letter which denied the peculiar character of the Colonial Trade. It might be true, as stated by Mr. Gallatin,[‡] that every country had a right to interdict to foreign nations a trade even with itself; but the exercise of that right had been so unusual, that foreign nations might justly complain of such interdiction as a grievance. They had no such ground of complaint, and no other nation than the United States had ever complained, of the interdiction of trade to the colonies; because, in all ages, all nations having colonies had maintained such an interdiction. The assumption that the colonial system was at an end, Great Britain explicitly denied. Whatever relaxation Great Britain might think fit to introduce, for her own sake, and for that of her colonies themselves, into her colonial system, she held her right to maintain that system, as with respect to foreign nations, to be unaltered and entire. Considerations of which she alone was the judge, had induced her to open her trade to other nations, on specified conditions, offered to all nations indiscriminately. Other nations had accepted these conditions; the United States, having declined them, were excluded from our colonies, not by any act of ours, but by their own free and deliberate choice.
After an interval of a few weeks, Mr. Gallatin, having received a despatch from the Secretary of State of the United States, again addressed Mr. Canning[§] with a statement of the reasons which had hitherto prevented the United States from accepting the conditions of the Reciprocity Act of 1825. The first of these reasons was, that they had so much difficulty in comprehending the import of the act, and how much it did or did not repeal of former acts, that they did not venture to legislate on the subject without receiving such previous explanations as could not fail to be obtained in the course of the negociation which Mr. Gallatin came authorized to renew. In the next place, so far as they were able to understand the meaning of the act, the reciprocity which it offered appeared to be a reciprocity in name only, not in fact; and this Mr. Gallatin, at some length, proceeded to demonstrate.
In reply to the above communication, Mr. Canning declined entering into any discussion with respect to the nature of the reciprocity offered by the act of 1825.[*] He contented himself with justifying the resolution of the British Government, not to enter into any further negociations on a subject on which there had been clearly ascertained to be an incurable difference of opinion; and with adducing evidence to prove that it was not for want of a sufficient understanding of the intent of the act of parliament, that the conditions of it were not accepted by the United States.
We quote some of the concluding paragraphs of Mr. Canning’s letter, chiefly because they afford indication of the opinion which our Government entertains concerning the principle of reciprocity, and the nature of trade in general.
The undersigned trusts that it is unnecessary for him, in concluding this note, to return to Mr. Gallatin’s assurances of the friendly disposition of the United States of America—assurances equally sincere, that there is the most cordial desire, on the part of Great Britain, to cultivate the friendship of the United States.
The ties of common origin, laws, and language, must always form strong bonds of national alliance between them. Their respective interests, well understood, harmonize together as much as their feelings.
But it has never yet been held a duty of international amity (any more than of friendship in private life) to submit to unequal compacts; nor has it ever been held an offence against such duty that a nation (any more than an individual) should decline to make uncompensated sacrifices.
The refusal to regulate the trade of our colonies by a commercial treaty, which the British Government may think (even if erroneously) disadvantageous to its interests, cannot give just cause of offence to any power whatever. (Ibid., p. 51.)
Among the many observations suggested by the perusal of this correspondence, none is more obvious than the continual endeavour of Mr. Canning, not, perhaps, sufficiently resisted by Mr. Gallatin, to give a character to the discussion foreign to that which belongs to the nature of the subject. The whole argument is made to turn upon the question of right; as if our right to regulate the trade of our colonies were disputed, or as if the conduct either of a nation or an individual, in the exercise of a right, could never be a proper subject for censure or animadversion. The clearness of our right does not justify whatever use we can make of it. One person may injure another almost to any extent, by the exercise of an acknowledged right. A man who quarrels with his friends, turns off his servants, or disinherits his children, merely does what every person will allow to be his right; yet surely any of these things, if done without just cause, is an injury, and the party aggrieved by it might very reasonably complain, without being supposed to dispute the right which every man possesses of cultivating what acquaintances, employing what servants, and appointing what legatees he pleases.
But, in the case before us, there is neither any question of right, nor any complaint of injury, except on our side. No such complaint could be made without absurdity. In the commercial intercourse between two nations, as in transactions of the same nature between man and man, the only considerations relevant to the subject are those of mutual interest. If each party, instead of seeking or making occasions for crimination where none exist, would put aside all feelings except those which arise from a calm and dispassionate consideration of the interests of the parties,—those interests, in the case of commercial intercourse, never being contrary, but always the same,—there might be reasonable hope that some arrangement would be adopted advantageous to both. But if either country is more anxious to prove to the other that it will not suffer itself to be dictated to, than to establish the commerce of both upon the most desirable basis, and does not choose to concede to foreigners on their asking, what it ought to grant even if unasked, not for their sake, but for its own; then, indeed, neither the commerce nor the friendship between the two nations, rests upon a very secure foundation.
Putting apart any pretended right on either side to prescribe measures to the other, let us consider merely the interests of the two nations, and examine how far each of them appears to understand rightly what those interests require.
It seems, then, in the first place, that the two parties,—who are, so far, perfectly agreed, that both entrench themselves within the principle of reciprocity, but who differ so widely in its application,—are neither of them by any means aware of the serious objections which may be made to the principle of reciprocity itself.
According, indeed, to Mr. Canning’s view of the principles of trade, there is no room for doubt or hesitation. The permitting foreign vessels, under any circumstances, to carry goods to any part of our possessions, he considers as an advantage to the foreigner, not only unattended with any benefit to ourselves, but implying a sacrifice on our part, and therefore not to be conceded, unless an equal advantage, either of the same or of some other kind, be granted to us in return.
But this, surely, is a very partial view of the case, and implies an entire misconception of the nature and objects of commerce.
That a measure is injurious to Great Britain because it diminishes the employment for British shipping; that it causes a loss to the country because it causes the loss, or the decay, of some particular branch of manufactures, or some particular branch of trade; this would have been consistent language from the lips of a merchant of the days of Sir Josiah Child, but it is scarcely what we might expect from a ministry who inscribe free trade upon their banners, and claim the merit of being guided, in their commercial legislation, by the principles of Smith and Ricardo.
Bread, we apprehend, does not exist for the sake of the farmer, cloth for the sake of the manufacturer, ships and navigation for the sake of the builder and ship-owner. The numerous and diversified productions which conduce, each in its way, to the relief of human necessities, or the convenience of human life, are not called into existence merely in order that somebody may be paid for producing them. That a large number of productive labourers should be employed and maintained, where a small number would suffice, is no advantage, but the reverse. The real advantage would be, if the same amount of produce could be obtained by employing, that is to say, expending, less labour and less capital. Whatever was thus saved would constitute an addition to the fund which might be appropriated to further production, and the further increase of the comforts and enjoyments of man. For what reason, then, does the language we hear from all practical statesmen, even from those who make pretensions to political economy, always import that the one grand danger in the production of commodities is, lest we should get them without employing capital enough? The golden age, then, was not, after all, so desirable a state of existence; since all human wants were then supplied, if we are not mistaken, without employing any capital at all.
The proper and only end, both of production and of commerce, is, to supply commodities: nor, with a view to the national wealth, does one employment of capital possess any advantage over another, except that of supplying them at less cost. It is for the interest of the consumer, not for that of the producer or carrier, that production and commerce exist. The interest of the consumer, however, is an element which is usually left out of the calculations of practical statesmen. They generally imagine that it is their business to take care of the producer. The consumer is commonly left to take care of himself.
Now, the direct contrary of this ought to be the case. The late Mr. Ricardo, in replying to those who never ceased to talk of protection to the farmer, and protection to the manufacturer, and protection to every other description of producer, used to say, that it was strange nobody ever called for protection to the consumer, when, in fact, it is the consumer alone who needs protection.[*] The producer can protect himself. If he is not paid for producing he will not produce. Time, for disengaging his capital, and allowing that portion to wear out gradually which cannot be disengaged, he may justly claim; the rest is in his own hands. It is to the consumer that protection, protection against too high a price, is indispensable. The only protection that is effectual (but it is always effectual) is liberty to supply his wants wherever they can be supplied at the smallest cost. Our legislators are prodigal of protection to those to whom it is superfluous; they withhold it from those to whom alone it is needful.
When we take this view, which surely is not a visionary, overstrained, or fanciful, but a sound, practical, and experimental view of the nature of trade, we are led to conclusions, on the subject discussed in Mr. Canning’s correspondence, widely at variance with his. We conclude, that the opening our ports to foreign vessels is not a boon to foreigners, but a benefit to ourselves, and a much greater benefit to ourselves than to foreigners; that our interest is more promoted by our allowing foreigners to bring goods to us, than even by their granting permission to our vessels to carry goods to them.
To those who cannot perceive that commerce yields any benefit to the nation, other than what it yields to its own instruments and agents, overlooking the great body of consumers, for whose sake it really exists, the above thesis may seem a paradox; but to them alone will it appear so.
From the language which our statesmen hold, one would imagine them to suppose, that, by obtaining the privilege of importing into foreign countries in our own ships, we should gain an entire new branch of trade, with the whole of its profits as a neat addition to the national income. Yet, this is only true in the sense in which it might be said that by planting vineyards on the Surrey hills we should gain a new branch of productive industry. The industry and trade of a country are limited by the capital of the country: if a new channel be opened to either, the capital which supplies it must be drawn from the other channels. We cannot raise capital from the ground, as Pompey imagined that he could raise armies, by stamping upon it with our feet.[*] So that the subject of all this contention is merely the difference between one mode of employing capital and another. The new employment may, indeed, be the more profitable one; and in this consists the advantage, when advantage there is, of the opening of a new channel of trade. But the commonest principles of trade shew us, that when the profits in any employment exceed what can be obtained in others, additional capital rushes in, and restores the level. If it were found that our ship-owners, on being permitted to carry for other countries, could gain more than the ordinary profits of British stock, British competition would compel them to go on lowering their freights (by which reduction the foreigner alone would benefit) until, with the exception of the extra profit which they had made for a short time, neither they nor their country would have gained any thing by the privilege they had acquired. So little is a nation benefitted by being a carrier for other countries; except, indeed, so far as it is an advantage, for purposes of national defence, to possess a large commercial marine; an advantage which, as our marine is already so much more than sufficient for that purpose, may be laid out of the question.
But it is impossible to set any limits to the degree in which we might be benefitted, by permitting foreign vessels to carry for us. They would not be able to do so, unless they could do it cheaper than our own vessels; and if they could, what would be saved in freight would be gained by the British consumer in the price of the goods. If we consider how much of what all of us consume is imported from abroad,—how much more there is which could not be produced, unless the “appliances and means”[†] of its production were imported from abroad,—as likewise, how much of all this is composed of bulky goods, and how great a proportion of its price is occasioned by cost of carriage,—we shall be enabled to form a rough estimate of what the country would gain by allowing its trade of importation to take place in foreign vessels, if the fact be, that it can be carried on less expensively in that way. If, in consequence, any British shipping were thrown out of employment, the evil to the ship-owners might easily be prevented from being considerable. The foreigner would probably be willing to purchase their ships; and, at the worst, a ship does not last one third part so long as a house, or even so long as a steam-engine; and, if a few years were allowed, those ships which could not find other employment would wear out in the course of nature, as would have happened in any other circumstances. Nor would there be the slightest reason to fear, from such an event, the loss of any useful naval strength. Were we excluded from all other commerce—our fisheries, and the perils of the most difficult coasting navigation in Europe, would keep us supplied with ships and seamen to meet every possible emergency.
The admission, therefore, of American vessels to trade with our colonies, not being any sacrifice, does not require any compensation; and if our colonies are to be considered (which for this purpose they must) as a part of ourselves, it is a moot point by which of the two we should gain most, the compensation, or the sacrifice.
The state of the case is this: so far as concerns the trade to the United States, that it should take place in ships of the one country rather than of the other may be of consequence to the people of the United States, who consume the cargoes, but to us it is merely a question whether a certain amount of British capital shall be employed in navigation, or in some other equally profitable business. With respect, however, to the trade from the United States, or from any third country, to our colonies, it is a concern of the colonial consumer, and exclusively so. It is his interest that the goods should be carried by whichever of the two countries, or of all other countries, and carry them cheapest. If the two countries are nearly equal—(which we believe to be the case; for the advantage which America possesses in cheapness of material, we make up by the superior skill of our ship-builders and seamen,) even in this case it is very much the interest of the consumers, who are the inhabitants of our colonies, that the trade should be left open to the competition of both, in order that each may be urged on to the rapid adoption of every species of improvement, by the rivality of the other.
All these things, which are demonstratively true, if such a thing as demonstration be possible in human affairs, clearly show what the principle of reciprocity, in the commerce between two nations, is, and on what grounds it may admit of justification. The only case which offers any difficulty may be stated as follows:
Two nations have carried on, for many years, a war of prohibitions, to the great detriment of both; each of the two perceiving, in the effect of its own interdictions, that part only which is injurious to the other country, and being blind to that part which affects itself. One of these governments subsequently embraces sound and liberal principles of trade, while the other still adheres to antiquated prejudices. As long as the enlightened government maintains its restrictions, it has in its power to offer to the stupid government what that government may consider as an equivalent for the abandonment of the counter-prohibitions. By giving up the restrictions unconditionally, this advantage would be sacrificed. It is a question between the immediate advantage of getting rid of one evil, and the chance of being freed from two by suffering that one a little longer. And we can easily conceive that it may be a very fit problem to propose, though often a very difficult one to solve, whether the enlightened government is justified in maintaining its own restrictive laws, after it has become sensible of their mischievousness, in order to induce the bigotted government to purchase their abrogation by renouncing its own.
But the case before us has none of these difficulties. Perfect reciprocity is here the declared object of both nations: and neither party objected to the conditions proposed by the other, on any ground excepting that they were not reciprocal; each country professing complete readiness to take off its restrictions, provided that the other country would do the same. That two nations, meeting one another with these avowed dispositions, should so far misunderstand one another as to terminate their negociations without removing a single restriction, is sufficiently unaccountable: but that the attempts of both parties to render the trade free, should end by interdicting it altogether, argues either a strange obliquity of intellect, or at least a complete misunderstanding of the principle of reciprocity, on one side, or on both. It shall be our endeavour, in the remainder of this dissertation, to shew, by which of the two governments the principle which both profess has been misunderstood, and at whose door the failure of the attempts at an amicable arrangement ought to be laid.
In order that the commercial intercourse between two countries should be on a footing of exact reciprocity, it is necessary that either there should be no discriminating duties in either country, upon the shipping of the other; or that those duties, if any exist, should be equal. On the first of these suppositions there is free trade on both sides, and consequently reciprocity: in the second case, there is reciprocity of restriction, which, though never desirable, may be allowable as a means of arriving at reciprocity of free trade.
It was in conformity with these principles, that the trade between the United States and the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was regulated by the Convention of 1815.[*] That treaty provides, that no distinction shall be made by either nation, between the ships of the other country coming directly from that country, and its own. Thus far there is reciprocity of free trade. In what follows, there is reciprocity of restriction:—neither country enjoys the privilege of importing into the other the produce of a third country, on any conditions or under any circumstances whatever.
This treaty of commerce extends only to the King’s European dominions. The party, at whose instances it was thus limited, was Great Britain. It was the wish of the United States, that the British colonies should, for the purposes of the treaty, be considered as a part of Great Britain, and the trade between America and those colonies laid open, like that of the mother country, to the shipping of both nations, on a footing of perfect equality. This proposition was recommended, not only by its conformity with sound principles, but by what, to the then ministry, might be supposed a more powerful recommendation,—the authority of Mr. Pitt. We believe it is not generally known, that this statesman, shortly after the close of the American war, introduced a bill into Parliament, admitting American vessels, so far as regards the direct trade between the United States and the West Indies, to all the privileges of our own.[*] The bill was lost by the breaking up of the Shelburne Administration; when the vulgar and exploded ideas of commercial policy regained their ascendancy, by the elevation of Mr. Fox. But the Castlereagh ministry, faithful to their custom of borrowing nothing from Mr. Pitt except whatever was bad in his principles or policy, were resolved to keep, so far as it was still in their power, the monopoly of the colonial trade unimpaired. The colonies were therefore excepted from the Convention of 1815; and the intercourse, in American vessels, between the United States and the West Indies, remained interdicted. The United States, becoming impatient under the exclusion, at length interdicted the intercourse in British vessels, until it should be permitted in their own: a measure which Mr. Canning, in his first letter to Mr. Gallatin, allows to have been, under the circumstances above stated, justifiable.[†]
We have mentioned these circumstances, (although they have no immediate bearing upon the matter at issue,) because they shew that it was Great Britain, and not the United States, who commenced the war of prohibitions; and that nothing, except the obstinate refusal of Great Britain, prevented a perfect system of reciprocity from having been established as long ago as 1815. From what cause such a system failed to be established, when a ministry hostile to free trade had been succeeded by one which has given substantial proofs of an inclination to it, remains to be accounted for.
An examination of the provisions of our Act of Reciprocity, will, we think, explain very satisfactorily the causes of this failure.
The privilege conferred by the Act in question upon foreign nations was, in all cases, one and the same. It was that of trading to our colonies in their own vessels, subject to the same duties, and no more, which were imposed upon the same intercourse when carried on in British ships.
But while the privilege offered was the same to all nations, there was a great diversity in the conditions by the acceptance of which, that privilege was to be purchased. Even the apparent difference in the terms was very great; but the real difference still greater.
From nations which, having colonies, could repay us in kind, nothing more was required than that they should do so. Their colonies were to be opened to our vessels, in the same manner, and on the same footing of equality, on which our colonies had been opened to theirs.
If we examine these terms of reciprocity by the principles laid down by Mr. Canning, in his correspondence with Mr. Gallatin, we must pronounce them highly disadvantageous to Great Britain. No other nation now possesses colonies, in any degree to be compared for extent and productiveness with those of Great Britain. If, therefore, the admission of foreigners to share the trade and navigation of our colonies be indeed, as Mr. Canning represents it, a sacrifice, assuredly our admission to a like share of the trade and navigation of theirs, is by no means an adequate compensation. Sweden, for instance, (as Mr. Gallatin very pertinently observed,)[*] by admitting British vessels to trade, on the same terms as her own, with the single island of St. Bartholomew, would obtain all the privileges which were offered to the United States. All this, in our opinion, is no evil; because it is not the carrier nation, but the nation for whose use it carries, that we consider to be mainly, we may almost say solely, benefitted by the existence of the trade. But Mr. Canning’s opinion was different, and it was his part to shew, how such opinions and such conduct could be reconciled.
These terms, which were offered to nations having colonies, being in their nature inapplicable to those which had not; other conditions, therefore, had to be thought of for these last, of which class America was one. It was accordingly required, that they should place the commerce and navigation of Great Britain and her dependencies on the footing of the most favoured nation.
It is obvious, without proceeding further, that this was a very different, and might be a much greater concession, than that which was required from nations having colonies. A nation, therefore, which possessed colonies, might act very reasonably in accepting the reciprocity offered to it, while yet the United States might be perfectly right in supposing, that what was required from them was not reciprocity, but something totally different. From the acceptance, therefore, of the conditions of the Act, by any nation having colonies, no just argument can be drawn, in condemnation of the policy of the American government in refusing them.
But further, even to countries in a similar situation with the United States, the terms which the Act offered differ in their nature as widely as the laws of one country differ from those of another. What is required is, that they should admit Great Britain to the privileges of the most favoured nation. But the privileges of the most favoured nation are as diversified as the commercial policy of different states. In some countries they may amount to a free trade; in others, to no more than an intercourse loaded with innumerable burthens and restrictions. Nor should we omit to observe, that the concession required from nations without colonies, by what Mr. Canning terms reciprocity, is great in proportion to the general liberality of their policy. And as the policy of the United States, in respect to navigation, is more liberal than that of any other maritime power, Mr. Canning’s assertion, that the United States had rejected terms which other nations had accepted, cannot be admitted. From no other nation were concessions required, equal to those which were demanded from the United States.
Mr. Gallatin, however, with great propriety, waived this objection.[*] He made no complaint on account of the more favourable conditions which were offered to other countries: he looked only to the conditions offered to the United States; and we shall follow his example.
By the laws of the two countries, the trade, both in British and in American vessels, between the West Indies and the United States, had been long prohibited, and when permitted, loaded with heavy duties on both sides. For our permitting this trade to be carried on in American vessels, the proper equivalent would, it should seem, have been, that America should permit the same trade to be carried on in British vessels; to which, equally with those of America, it had, up to that time, been closed. With regard to discriminating duties, if none were imposed on our side, the equivalent would have been, that none should have been imposed on theirs.
Our Reciprocity Act required much more than this; and for what it required beyond this, it offered no equivalent.
It claimed for British vessels freedom of trade between our colonies and the United States; and for this it offered the proper equivalent,—freedom of the same trade to American ships. But it claimed, moreover, certain privileges in the ports of the United States, for the commerce and navigation of the mother country. Now the commerce and navigation of Great Britain, considered as distinct from her colonies, already enjoys every privilege in the American ports, which Great Britain herself grants to the commerce and navigation of the United States. The sole object, therefore, of our pretended reciprocity must have been, to obtain further privileges from the United States, which we ourselves do not grant to that power; or to retain the privileges which our commerce and navigation now enjoy, although we should cease to grant the corresponding privileges to that of the United States.
It has been already mentioned, that, with respect to the direct trade between Great Britain and the United States, British shipping enjoys all the privileges not only of the most favoured nation, but all those of American shipping itself. British vessels, however, are not permitted to trade from any third country to the United States. A similar prohibition applies, in this country, to American shipping. But with us this restriction is founded on the exclusive principles of our Navigation Laws;[*] with the United States, it is part of the general system of reciprocity, and therefore extends only to those countries which have adopted a similar regulation. Were we admitted, therefore, to the privileges of the most favoured nation, (merely in return for our admitting American vessels to our colonies,) we should acquire this privilege without giving the equivalent which the most favoured nation has given for it.
If the United States had accepted what we termed reciprocity, British vessels would have been permitted to trade between the United States and all foreign nations without any discriminating duties whatever; while American vessels would still have been entirely prohibited from trading between Great Britain and any foreign country except the United States. Is this reciprocity?
Moreover, Great Britain, after the expiration of the convention of 1815, (which was concluded for a limited period only,) might have imposed whatever restrictions she pleased upon American vessels trading to the mother country, while the United States must have continued to admit British vessels, on an equality with their own, to every branch of their trade except the coasting trade, or have lost that participation in the colonial trade which was extended to them by this Act. Is this reciprocity?
The reciprocity, then, which we offered to the United States, was a sham reciprocity, a reciprocity only in name. Instead of requiring concessions from America only equivalent to those which we offered in return, we demanded privileges for our vessels which we withheld from hers, and which if we ceased to withhold from hers we should by that alone, as her law actually stands, obtain for ourselves without difficulty.
The navigation laws of the United States are founded on perfect reciprocity.[†] No nation which does not impose restrictions on American vessels, has any restrictions imposed upon its own. But Congress did not think it fair reciprocity that our vessels should be relieved from all restrictions, while restrictions continued in this country on the shipping of America; our ministers did. This was the radical and incurable difference of opinion, which Mr. Canning held it to be beyond the power of negociation to remove.[‡] And certainly any minds which were capable of for a moment entertaining such an opinion as that professed by our ministers on the subject, might be very well presumed capable also of holding that opinion, in spite of any arguments which it would be in the power of the ablest negociator to adduce in opposition to it.
Thus far, it will probably be admitted, that the state of the case, as we have represented it, has not tended to place the conduct or policy of ministers in a very advantageous light. But it may perhaps be supposed that although the rejection, by the United States, of the conditions of our act of 1825, might not be a sufficient reason even for withholding from them the privileges of that Act, much less for depriving them of that partial trade with our Colonies which they had enjoyed since 1822; those Acts of Congress which Mr. Canning complains of as unfair and injurious to this country, must be of a character to justify the very strong measures which were adopted in retaliation.
It is proper, therefore, that we should give some account of these Acts of Congress, which unquestionably, on the face of every statement yet laid before the British public, appear highly discreditable to the United States. Yet these Acts were not passed without sufficient cause, although the cause has never been clearly stated in this country; and if it were stated, it is doubtful whether it would be listened to. The people of this country expect little wisdom in the commercial legislation of a nation who can be persuaded to pay 25 per cent for the pleasure of having manufactures of their own. Their preposterous tariff,[*] contrasted with the liberal policy which has been adopted and is still adhered to by our ministers, has prepared the most intelligent Englishmen to consider any thing which can be said or done by the Americans, against such antagonists as our ministers, in the matter of free trade, as worthy of entire disregard. This prejudice, or prejudgment, is a natural, well-grounded, and unavoidable one under the circumstances of the case. If the people of the United States did but know how much injury the tariff has done them, and will continue to do as long as it exists, in the opinion of all instructed and unprejudiced persons in this country, of all who were best able to appreciate their character, institutions, and policy when good, and on whom they might otherwise have confidently relied for doing them justice, and forcing the British public to do them justice, now when they are in the right—this alone ought to make them lose no time in blotting out this absurd law from their statute book, and in consigning the foolish idea of protecting manufactures to the contempt it deserves.* But, be their commercial policy in all other respects what it may, they are entitled to a vindication of it where it is justifiable, as we are prepared to maintain that it has been with respect to the question between our navigation and theirs. And the partial and prejudiced representations which have been made to the British public on the question, by authorities which in other respects rank deservedly high, ought to be, and so far as depends upon us, shall be, fully exposed.
The reader will not have forgotten, that the enactments of Congress, which Mr. Canning resented as acts of injustice at least, if not of special hostility, to this country,[*] were the imposition of an alien duty on British vessels trading between America and our Colonies, and the prohibition of the circuitous intercourse between Great Britain and her colonies, through the United States. We shall consider these questions separately, since they are separate in their nature.
The following extract from Mr. Huskisson’s speech in Parliament, on the 21st March, 1825, contains the history of the alien duty, placed in the point of view in which it was convenient to our ministers that it should appear:
The committee would perceive that, in allowing the countries of America to trade with our colonies in their own vessels, we had, in fact, conceded to the navigation of the United States a privilege which was not granted to any state in Europe; and this privilege, though nominally extended to all the countries of America, was really a boon to the United States alone, as the other countries had as yet scarcely any commercial marine. What had hitherto been the return made by the United States for this indulgence? In the first session of their Congress, which had followed the opening of this trade by our Act of Parliament, they passed a law, imposing alien duties in their ports upon all British ships which might trade between those ports and our colonies, to be levied until the productions of the United States should be admitted into our colonies upon the same terms and duties as the like productions of any other country; meaning thereby, the like productions not of any other foreign country, but of our own country, or of our own provinces in North America. Whatever might have been the arguments used to induce the American Congress to adopt this course, their real reason for making the attempt was an impression, on their part, that we had yielded this intercourse to necessity, and that as our colonies could not subsist without it, they might prescribe the conditions under which it should be carried on.*
The name of Mr. Huskisson has long been so completely identified with liberal and enlightened principles of commercial policy, that his reputation is national property, and we should be most unwilling to prejudice it undeservedly, or to put any other than the most favourable interpretation upon his words or actions. Yet the representation contained in the above passage is so grossly unfair, the facts of the case are so egregiously misstated, and the intentions imputed to the government of the United States are so directly contradicted by the whole tenor of their conduct, that the promulgation of such a statement by Mr. Huskisson seems to argue a degree of blindness which, if involuntary, cannot possibly be too much regretted, nor, if wilful, too severely condemned.
Mr. Huskisson pretends, that Congress requited us for removing restrictions from their ships, by laying restrictions upon ours. Now the direct contrary of this is notoriously the truth. To lay on restrictions did not happen to be in the power of the United States; since the intercourse in British ships, being already altogether prohibited, did not admit of being further restricted by any act of theirs. Far from laying on, the sole intention and effect of the Act was to take off restrictions; and all the complaint is, that it did not, in Mr. Huskisson’s opinion, take off enough.
Could Mr. Huskisson have forgotten that, previously to the measure of which he complains, the intercourse between the United States and our colonies in British vessels was prohibited? And because the act of Congress which took off the prohibition, did not also take off the discriminating duties, which have existed by the American navigation laws ever since 1790, and which have never been rescinded except in favour of those nations which would extend similar privileges to the United States, is it fair in Mr. Huskisson to represent the Act as imposing restrictions, when all the effect it was intended to have, or could have, was that of mitigating them?
So anxious were Congress to meet all our concessions by corresponding ones with the least possible delay, that they began to legislate even while our Act of 1822 was still pending in parliament. In order not to lose even the interval between two sessions of Congress, they passed a temporary bill, authorizing the President, on receiving satisfactory evidence that the trade had been opened to American vessels, to open it by proclamation to British vessels, on what he should consider fair conditions of reciprocity.[*] The President did so, and what they had authorized him to do by proclamation, was done in the succeeding session of Congress by a permanent law.
It is another question, whether Congress would have done right in taking off the duties as well as the prohibition; whether, when we removed the interdict from American vessels, they were bound in justice, or on the principle of reciprocity, to have taken off all restrictions whatever, and left the trade with our colonies subject only to the general regulations of their customs. Yet if this ground be taken by Mr. Huskisson’s partisans, it may very properly be asked in return, had we also taken off all special restrictions on our side? By no means. Our Act of 1822 only opened the ports of our colonies to certain enumerated articles, and that under high duties. Among these articles, pot and pearl ashes, dried and pickled fish, beef, pork, bacon, whale oil, spermaceti oil and candles, butter, and cheese, which are articles of considerable importance among the exports from the United States, were not included. All these commodities not only could not be imported in American, but could not even be imported in British vessels.
Did Mr. Huskisson—did our ministry—did these patrons of reciprocity seriously expect, that in return for the partial freedom of trade thus conceded to the United States, entire freedom of trade should be granted by them to Great Britain? If instead of opening their ports to all the produce of our colonies, Congress had opened them only to certain enumerated articles, excluding from the number some of the most valuable staple productions of the West Indies, this surely nobody would have thought of denying to be fair reciprocity. And perhaps it is to be regretted that Congress did not take this mode of limiting their concessions, to correspond with the limitation of ours. They preferred to open their ports to all the produce of our colonies, subject, when imported in British vessels, to a discriminating duty. This restriction was certainly different in kind from the restriction which provoked it; but if it was not greater in degree, it is no ground of complaint against the United States, that being entitled on the principle of reciprocity to withhold something, they thought proper to be themselves the judges what they would withhold.
Such is the true history of the Alien Duty. It was not, as Mr. Huskisson mistakenly imagined, an attempt to take advantage of our necessities, and engross the whole trade of our colonies to the shipping of the United States. It was adopted in perfect simplicity, as a matter of course, arising naturally out of the system of reciprocity, which they had uniformly and consistently observed towards us. As they had met our interdict by another interdict, so they never dreamed of giving any thing in return for our partial concessions, but partial concessions. In the choice of a limitation, they were guided by their own convenience, and by the ancient established principle of their navigation laws; never suspecting that our government would resent their not giving up the whole in return for a part, or that, if the nature of the restrictions which they retained did not please us, it would deprive them, in our eyes, of the whole merit of those they gave up.
Our ministers, misunderstanding the object of the discriminating duties, imposed countervailing duties, of equal amount, in the ports of our colonies, upon the shipping of the United States. And that measure, although condemned in the first volume of this publication,[*] would have been proper, if Mr. Huskisson’s view of the conduct of the United States had been the true one. It was the interest of our colonies that there should be freedom of competition between the vessels of the two countries; and the Americans having created an artificial inequality in favour of their own ships, our countervailing duty did no more, so far as navigation was concerned, than restore the equality. The error of our ministry consisted in not reflecting, that,—restrictions having been imposed by America, only because restrictions existed in our colonies,—to impose ulterior restrictions would not be to retaliate upon the United States, but to create a new source of inequality, justifying retaliation on the other side.
The following was now the comparative state of the restrictive regulations on both sides. Their duties on our shipping were equivalent to our duties on theirs, and so far there was reciprocity; but, on our side, many productions of the United States were prohibited, while all those of our colonies were admitted into the American ports. The principle of reciprocity would have justified them in imposing fresh restrictions; but from this they, with great good sense and moderation, abstained: while we, who could neither plead the principle of reciprocity nor any other rational principle for restricting still further an intercourse in which already the excess of restriction was on our side,—we chose rather that there should be no trade, than this equal trade—equal as respects navigation, unequal in other respects by our own act, and, as we imagined, in our own favour. We interdicted the trade in American vessels; knowing all the time that when our ports should be closed to their ships, their interdict on ours would revive; so that not even our ship-owners, and our cherished navigation, would gain one jot by this ebullition of national jealousy and pique.
Perhaps, if Congress had simply re-enacted the discriminating duties, and had evinced no disposition to consent to the abandonment of them upon any conditions whatever, they would have produced considerably less irritation in the minds of our government. But by offering to give up the duties on a condition which ministers considered derogatory to our dignity—namely, the admission of their produce into our West India colonies, subject to no higher duties than that of Canada,* —they rendered their case considerably worse than it could have been made by expressing the most fixed resolution to hold fast by the discriminating duties to the end of time.
This stipulation,—(we do not, with Mr. Canning and Mr. Huskisson, call it a pretension;[*] for the offer of a benefit, upon conditions however inadmissible, is no pretension; nor does there seem any peculiar propriety in treating it as an affront,)—this stipulation, it must be allowed, was evidently an ill considered one. It is true that what it required from us was no more than what we ought to have had no hesitation in consenting to; the abolition of a most pernicious and indefensible tax, imposed by us on the West Indies, ostensibly for the benefit of Canada, but with no effect save that of diverting the capital of that colony to other than its natural and most beneficial employment. However, on the principle of reciprocity, the United States were bound, if they claimed this, to grant us the corresponding privilege, by admitting our colonial productions into their ports, subject to no higher duties than their own produce carried coastwise.
The United States were not indeed without plausible, and even, to a certain extent, sound reasons, for insisting on this point. The British North American colonies (they urged) have by no means a large surplus produce to dispose of, and cannot export much to the West Indies, without importing, for their own consumption, from the United States. The trade, therefore, between the West Indies and Canada, is in reality a circuitous trade through Canada, between the West Indies and the United States: with this difference, that, being a trade between one part of the British dominions and another, it is confined by our navigation laws exclusively to British vessels. To admit, therefore, the produce of Canada, on more favourable terms than that of the United States, is really to admit the produce of the United States on more favourable terms when imported in British, than when imported in American vessels. This argument, though it does not entirely destroy, must be admitted to weaken considerably, the force of the objection to the supposed pretension involved in the Act of Congress.
But our ministers were destined to lose even the feeble apology which this infringement of reciprocity on the part of the United States might, by very partial judges, have been supposed to afford them. The negociations of 1824, regarding, inter alia, the Colonial Trade, had been suspended, with the understanding that they were to be renewed at an early period. The United States had never been informed that the Act of 1825, passed in the interval, was intended to preclude the resumption of these discussions. This our ministers knew; and they knew moreover, that Mr. Gallatin was actually on his way to Europe, specially commissioned to renew this very negociation. What might be his instructions they knew not; and therefore, probably, most persons in their situation, knowing that they had not the ultimatum of the United States, would have thought it expedient to wait for its arrival before they acted upon the presumption that nothing beyond what had been offered previously, would be granted now. Unfortunately for their foresight, two days after the publication of the Order in Council, Mr. Gallatin arrived, with instructions to give up the claim to an equality of duties between the produce of the British possessions and that of the United States. Any person may persue these instructions, by consulting Niles’s Register for 23d June 1826, which contains the original document signed by Mr. Clay, Secretary of State to the United States.[*] The principal point of difference, and the only one in which the United States were not thoroughly in the right, being thus removed, Mr. Canning chose rather to take refuge in the pretence of an “incurable difference of opinion,”[†] than to retract the uncalled-for interdict, or, by resuming the negociation, to draw forth information which would have shewn his conduct as petulant and precipitate as it was: and up to this day it has never been stated, and is not generally known to the British public, that Mr. Gallatin had authority to waive the pretension characterized in Mr. Canning’s correspondence as the ground of the interdict, and the one insuperable bar to all further negociation.
The only measure of the United States which still remains unexplained, is the prohibition of what is termed the circuitous intercourse: and Mr. Canning’s remonstrances on this point are so vehement,[*] that it must not be passed by without full consideration. We shall therefore explain the motive which induced the United States originally to withhold, from British vessels, the privilege of clearing out from their ports for the British colonies.
To understand the circumstances which dictated, and sufficiently warranted this restriction, it is necessary to remember, that previously to our Act of 1822, all commerce in ships of either country, between our colonies and the United States, was interdicted by the reciprocal prohibitions of the two countries.
The means of enforcing the prohibition on our side, were simple and obvious. We had only to declare that no American vessels should be permitted to unload their cargoes in our colonial ports. But the United States could not, in the same manner, prohibit British vessels from trading to their ports; because the trade, in British vessels, between America and the mother country, was not, nor consistently with the treaty could be, interdicted. Not being at liberty, therefore, nor probably desiring, to prohibit British vessels from coming to them at all; what means had they of excluding such vessels from the prohibited trade, except by requiring bonds that they should not take in cargoes in America and land them in the West Indies? All the attempts of the United States to enforce the prohibition would have been fruitless, if what they might forbid to be done in vessels coming directly from the colonies, they were bound to permit in the same vessels coming from any other part of the British dominions.
It may be asked, why the prohibition of the circuitous intercourse, adopted as being necessary to the due enforcement of the prohibition against the direct intercourse, continued after this latter prohibition was done away by the Act of Congress of 1823.
The reason was, because a similar restriction existed on our side.
In permitting the trade between our colonies and the United States, as well as all other countries of America, in foreign vessels, our Act of 1822 required, that goods imported from these countries in other than British ships must be brought and shipped directly from the country of which they were the produce; and that goods exported to these countries from our colonies in foreign ships must be exported directly to the country to which those ships belonged. By this Act, therefore, no trade could take place in vessels of the United States between that country and our colonies, unless such vessels came directly from the United States, and returned thither directly. Hence it is obvious that the United States only exercised a fair reciprocity in confining the same trade, when carried on in British vessels, to such as came directly from our colonies, and returned directly to them.
Mr. Canning’s attempt to shew that the one restriction did not justify the other, because the colonial trade is, by the consent of nations, an exclusive trade, is founded on incorrect reasoning. We may admit his premises, and yet deny his conclusion. However widely the colonial trade may differ from that of independent nations, yet, if we have a right to prescribe the conditions on which we will admit the United States to our colonial trade, they have an equal right to determine for themselves on what conditions they will accept of it.
It is, indeed, made matter of additional complaint by Mr. Canning, that although the prohibition of the indirect intercourse had been removed on the side of Great Britain by the Act of 1825, no steps had yet been taken by Congress to remove theirs.[*] In answer to this, Mr. Gallatin could only say, that he, and (as he conceived) his Government likewise, had been unaware that the Act of 1825 had the effect now ascribed to it.[†] This appears, from documentary evidence, to be perfectly true. Mr. Gallatin’s instructions, which may be perused, as we have already observed, in Niles’s Register, proceeded upon the supposition that the restriction imposed by the Act of 1822 still continued; and any one who will take the trouble to read a despatch from Mr. Gallatin to Mr. Clay, printed in the number for 6th January, 1827, of the same periodical work,[‡] will not wonder that an enactment so confusedly and unskilfully drawn up as our Act of 1825, should not have been understood by those who had no access to any commentary, and to whom no official explanation was afforded.
After all, this Act, even as interpreted by Mr. Canning, takes off only one half of the interdict on the indirect intercourse. Foreign vessels trading to our colonies may now export colonial produce to a third country; but they may not import into our colonies the produce of any other country than that to which the vessels belong.
These, and all other misapprehensions, would at once have been cleared up, if the negociations which the United States have professed throughout to wait for, in order that they might be guided by the result, had been renewed. But Ministers had determined otherwise; and when Mr. Gallatin arrived on the implied understanding that the discussions were to commence immediately, and bearing instructions in which almost the only disputed claim which was not given up was that which, according to Mr. Canning, we have yielded, a participation in the trade between our colonies and foreign countries; he is told that not only now, but hereafter, even if the United States should grant to us every thing which our pretended reciprocity system demands, we will not pledge ourselves to suffer any trade in American vessels, between our colonies and America![*]
Could we hope that Mr. Canning’s American policy had died with him, it would be no inconsiderable advantage to set off against the evils of a loss otherwise so deeply to be lamented. We are persuaded that no impartial person, who takes for his standard of approval any kind of reciprocity, except that which is jocularly said to be all on one side, will consider that any one has deviated from the principle of reciprocity, except our Government; or that any thing would be necessary to bring America to reason, except to be ourselves reasonable. We wish it were in our power to add, that the present ministers,* by the conduct which they have pursued either before or since they came into office, had afforded much ground for hope that they are the men through whose agency these differences will be accommodated. That strength of intellect which comprehends readily the consequences of a false step, and what is a still rarer endowment, that strength of character which dares to retrace it, are not qualities which have often belonged to a British ministry. That the present ministers possess these attributes, it still remains for them to prove. For us, if we can contribute in any degree to give the right direction to the opinions of any portion of the public on this question, we shall have effected all that we aim at, and all that is in our power.
[* ][“Correspondence between Great Britain and the United States, Relative to Commercial Intercourse between America and the British West Indies,”] Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of his Majesty, March 26, [1827,] PP, 1826-27, [XXV,] 21-51. [See also PD, n.s., Vol. 17, cols. 44-67 (26 Mar., 1827). The United States Envoy was Albert Gallatin.]
[[*] ]Other “Reciprocity Acts” included 4 George IV, c. 77 (1823), and 5 George IV, c. 1 (1824).
[[*] ]Order in Council on Colonial Trade, 3 May, 1826, in London Gazette, 30 June, 1826, p. 1614.
[[†] ]See 3 George IV, c. 44 (1822), and, for the earlier laws, 12 Charles II, c. 18 (1660), and 15 Charles II, c. 7 (1663).
[[‡] ]Gallatin, “Correspondence,” PP, 1826-27, XXV, 25-7.
[[§] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” ibid., pp. 27-32.
[[*] ]See 17th Congress, Sess. II, c. 22 (1823).
[* ][Canning, “Correspondence,”] p. 31.
[[*] ]Gallatin, “Correspondence,” pp. 33-6.
[[†] ]Ibid., pp. 36-7.
[[‡] ]Ibid., pp. 37-8.
[[*] ]15th Congress, Sess. I, c. 70 (1818), and 16th Congress, Sess. I, c. 122 (1820).
[[†] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” pp. 38-41.
[[‡] ]Gallatin, “Correspondence,” pp. 33-6.
[[§] ]Ibid., pp. 42-7.
[[*] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” pp. 48-51.
[[*] ]Cf. David Ricardo, Speech on a Motion for a Committee on the Agricultural Distress (18 Feb., 1822), PD, n.s., Vol. 6, cols. 479-86.
[[*] ]See Plutarch, Life of Pompey, in Lives (Greek and English), trans. Bernadotte Perrin, 11 vols. (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914-26), Vol. V, p. 267.
[[†] ]Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II, III, i, 29.
[[*] ]“Convention of Commerce, between Great Britain and the United States of America; Signed at London, 3rd July 1815,” PP, 1816, XVII, 143-6.
[[*] ]“A Bill for the Provisional Establishment and Regulation of Trade and Intercourse between the Subjects of Great Britain and Those of the United States of North America,” 23 George III (3 Mar., 1783), House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, XXXV (Bills 1782-84), 71-3.
[[†] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” p. 28.
[[*] ]Gallatin, “Correspondence,” pp. 44-5.
[[*] ]Ibid., pp. 44-6.
[[*] ]12 Charles II, c. 18 (1660) and 15 Charles II, c. 7 (1663) were repealed by 6 George IV, c. 105 (1825), and replaced by 6 George IV, c. 109 (1825).
[[†] ]See 1st Congress, Sess. II, c. 30 (1790), 14th Congress, Sess. II, c. 31 (1817), as well as 15th Congress, Sess. I, c. 70 (1818), 16th Congress, Sess. I, c. 122 (1820), and 17th Congress, Sess. II, c. 22 (1823).
[[‡] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” pp. 50-1.
[[*] ]See 18th Congress, Sess. I, c. 136 (1824).
[* ]In justice, however, to the people of America, we are bound to state, that the direct or virtual exclusion of almost all their staple productions (except cotton) from the mother country, by the general regulations of our customs, together with the impediments on their trade with the colonies, furnished to the advocates of American manufactures their most plausible and most effectual argument.
[[*] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” pp. 30-1.
[* ][William Huskisson, Speech on Colonial Trade (21 Mar., 1825),] PH, 1825, pp. 288-9. [In PD, n.s., Vol. 12, col. 1106. The U.S. statute referred to is 17th Congress, Sess. II, c. 22 (1823).]
[[*] ]17th Congress, Sess. I, c. 56 (1822); this temporary Act was replaced by 17th Congress, Sess. II, c. 22 (1823).
[[*] ]Anon., “Foreign Dependencies, Colonial Trade Bill,” PR, 1825, pp. 630-40.
[* ]We say Canada, although we are aware that the mother country herself, as well as her transmarine dependencies, were included in the stipulation of the Act of Congress. But the latter only are really concerned in it, since the exports of Great Britain, being altogether different from those of the United States, can never come into competition with them; whereas those of our North American provinces, and those of the United States, are exactly the same, and do, in fact, meet each other continually in the West India market.
[[*] ]Cf. Canning, “Correspondence,” pp. 32, 41, and Huskisson, quoted above, p. 140.
[[*] ]Henry Clay, “Extract of Instructions to Albert Gallatin” (19 June, 1826), Niles’ Weekly Register, XXXI, or 3rd ser., VII (23 Dec., 1826), 266-8. Mill would appear to have mistakenly conflated the month when the instructions were given with the month when they were published.
[[†] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” p. 51.
[[*] ]Ibid., pp. 29-30.
[[*] ]Ibid., p. 31.
[[†] ]Gallatin, “Correspondence,” p. 33.
[[‡] ]Gallatin, “Extract of Despatch to Henry Clay” (27 Oct., 1826), Niles’ Weekly Register, XXXI, or 3rd ser., VII (6 Jan., 1827), 300.
[[*] ]Canning, “Correspondence,” pp. 31, 41, 49.
[* ]Written in December, 1827.