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and in my opinion there is nothing more prejudicial, and in prospect more dangerous to any mother kingdom, than the increase of shipping in her colonies, plantations, and provinces. "* But notwithstanding this jealousy on the part of the British crown, the amount of colonial tonnage which entered the provinces of what now constitutes the United States, from the year 1770 to the year 1771, was 331,644, and the amount cleared at the same time was 351,686. In this view of the early condition of American commerce,
may be interesting to exhibit the several proportions which were then owned by individuals. It is stated, that in order to save the du. ties, light money, and expenses, the tonnage was put down at less than a third of its actual amount; and accordingly the amount of tonnage em. ployed in the colonial trade, may be fixed at about three hundred thousand. In order to show the proportions which were said to have been owned by different individuals, we here append the following table. It will be recollected that this tonnage was owned partly by British mer. chants, partly by merchants occasionally residing in this country, and partly by colonists who were citizens, and in the following proportions :
Proportion belonging to Proportion belonging to Proportion belonging to
British Merchants ro British Merchants oc native colonist inhabsident in Europe. casionally resident in ilants.
1-8th, 3-8ths, 3-8ths, 1-8th, 2-8ths, 2-8ths,
6-8ths, 3-8ths, 3.8ths, 1.8th, 1.8th, 1.8th.
The amount entered and cleared in the several colonies, during the same year, we here subjoin.
The business of shipbuilding was indeed deemed a profitable branch of industry in the colonies of New England, fifty ships being sold annually to the parent country. The ordinary mode of proceeding was, to freight these ships with lumber and provisions, and to send them to the West Indies, at whose ports they were laden with West India produce for Great Britain, where they were sold, and thus became a profitable remittance for British manufactures. During the following year, 1772, there were one hundred and eighty-two vessels built in the colonies, whose total tonnage was twenty-six thousand five hundred and forty-four; of which one hun. dred and twenty-three, comprising eighteen thousand one hundred and
* See Pitkin, p. 344.
forty-nine tons, were built in New England, fifteen in New York, one in New Jersey, eight in Pennsylvania, eight in Maryland, seven in Virginia, three in North Carolina, two in South Carolina, and in Georgia five. The actual condition of American trade and commerce prior to the revolution cannot be accurately ascertained. The regulations of the customhouse had not been thoroughly organized, and were seldom published; besides which, the returns that were sometimes made in London appear to have been imperfect. We here subjoin, however, the best report which has been furnished of the commerce of the New England colonies previous to the year 1776, commencing with that of 1697. It could hardly be ex. pected, where the population was so scanty and labor was so crippled, that the amount of its commerce should have been very great, yet we shall perceive that notwithstanding these disadvantages, the colonial enterprise gradually increased from year to year, until it broke forth like the eagle, which bursts his cage and spreads his wings for the shores of the remotest sea. Value of the exports and imports of the colonies of New England, prior to
the revolution :
It will be perceived from the above table that the imports from Great Britain into the colonies during the few years immediately preceding the American revolution, were greater, to a considerable amount, than they had been before that period, and Lord Brougham, in his “ Colonial policy of the European Powers," attributes this fact to the probable occurrence of the revolution. “It appears from the customhouse books,” says this writer, “that the average exportation to the colonies, now forming the United States, in the years 1771, 1772, and 1773, amounted to £3,064,843, and in 1784 it was £3,359,864. Yet the Americans imported more than their usual quantity during the years immediately preceding the
rebellion, because they were preparing themselves for their non-importation agreements, and during the first years of peace we cannot suppose that the British capital, which had been seeking different employments while the war lasted, should all at once find its way into the old channel."
The early staples of export from the colonies of the United States were principally the furs and peltry which abounded in the forests, whale oil, derived from the hazardous enterprise of that species of the fisheries which was early carried on from the northern ports of New England, and also lumber, rosin, tar, pitch, turpentine, derived from North Carolina, where
See An Enquiry into the Colonial Policy of the European Powers. By Henry Brougham, Jr., Esq., vol. I. 262.
they are produced to a great extent at the present time, and tobacco, as well as naval stores. Besides these articles, ginseng, oak bark, and other dyes, furnished important objects of commerce. Rice, which was one of the early products of South Carolina, and formed the chief support of its original settlers, was also shipped from its ports, to the amount of one hundred and sixty thousand barrels, in 1770. The various kinds of lumber wrought into the proper forms for ships and houses, as well as bar. rels, formed materials of considerable value abroad, transported as they were from a wilderness in which they were abundant; and during the year 1770, the total value of this species of product exported, was $686,588. The value of the exportations of tar and pitch was also deem. ed so great, that in consequence of the attempt by the Pitch and Tar Com. pany of Sweden, which had before supplied Great Britain, to raise the price of these articles, by prohibiting their exportation except in the company's ships, Great Britain was induced to encourage their production in this country, by granting a bounty of £4 per ton on the importation of tar and pitch, and £3 per ton upon the importation of rosin and turpentine from the American colonies ;* and that bounty was so advantageous, that during the same year the value of the export of these articles was $144,000, that of furs and peltry during this year exported from the country, inclu. ding Canada, was $670,000, while that of pot and pearl ashes was $290,000—a society having been instituted in London, in 1671, which offered large premiums for the production of the last-named articles, and published treatises respecting the best mode of their manufacture, which were widely circulated throughout the colonial settlements. A substan. tial profit was also derived to the colonies from the cod fishery, which, from the earliest colonization of the country, constituted an important object of commerce to the provinces of New Hampshire and Massachusetts ; a traffic which, prior to the revolution, annually employed four thousand American seamen, twenty-eight thousand tons of shipping, and produced three hundred and fifty thousand quintals of fish, then valued at more than a million of dollars. This fishery was prosecuted principally upon the banks of Newfoundland, the French, and subsequently the English, claiming the exclusive right of fishing in that region, in consequence of their owning the adjacent coast. Nor was the whale fishery an unimportant species of traffic, carried on as it was by a portion of hardy adventurers from the northern coast of New England, a kind of enterprise which we have before described.
Such as we have endeavored to portray it, was the condition of our colonial commerce previous to the American revolution, an event which cast a gloom over the whole country, paralyzing the mercantile enterprise of the nation, and converting the ploughshare into the sword, and the pruning hook into the spear, throughout its length and breadth. It must naturally have been supposed that but little of the foreign commerce of the American colonies could have traversed the ocean, when its surface was dotted by the ships of the most formidable maritime power of Europe, with which we were then at war; or that much of domestic trade would have been prosecuted when a foreign army of a powerful military nation was invading our shores.
The return of peace, in 1783, found the commercial condition of the
# Seo the Statute of 3d and 4th Anne.
VOL. V.-NO. I.
country in a disordered state. The contest with Groat Britain, protracted through the period of seven years, when the colonies were but poorly prepared for war, left the nation in a state of deep and wide-spread suffering, The national debt was estimated at $42,000,375, the annual interest of which was $2,415,956. As no funds had been provided for its payment, it became necessary that congress should organize measures for that object. By the original articles of confederation, the power of regulating the commerce of the country was lodged in the several states, and a recommendation of congress was made to the states, as early as 1781, that the states should delegate to that body the power to levy a duty of five per cent upon all goods, wares, and merchandise, of foreign growth and manufacture imported, with the exception of certain articles, and the amount thus raised should be appropriated to the payment of the principal and interest of whatever debts had been contracted, or should be contracted during the course of the war ; but the recommendation was not complied with. This suggestion was again pressed upon the attention of congress upon the 18th of April, 1783, for the purpose of creating funds for the payment of the national debt; and it was enforced by a cogent address, drawn up by Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, and which advocated the payment of the interest, at least, of the debt. But the recommendation met the same fate as the former suggestion. Public and private credit were shaken. The requisition which was made by congress upon the states to fill the public treasury was not satisfied, on account of the public embarrassment; the public credit was destroyed, and the original debt was at length sold for one tenth of its original value. Upon the conclusion of the war, the country, unprovided with any wellorganized commercial system which might have furnished a solid revenue, was flooded with foreign importations, which drained the nation of its remaining specie; and we are informed from an authentic source,* that du. ring the two first years after that event, goods to the amount of six mil. lions of pounds sterling were imported from England. Pressed down by such embarrassment, the country impoverished by a debt of one hundred and thirty-five millions of dollars incurred during the war, public credit gone, private credit impaired, its commerce and shipping nearly ruined, the dockets of the courts filled with the records of suits brought against those who before revelled in all the luxuries of life, and who had been the objects of forbearance while the war was pending, a dark cloud of com. mercial disaster thickened with a settled gloom over the wan and ghastly features of the nation; it was soon perceived that a systematic and effi. cient course of financial policy was necessary to rescue the country from the misfortune which had overcast its prospects. In consequence of this state of things, a proposition was made from Virginia for a convention ; and, in accordance with that proposition, commissioners from the states of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, met at Annapolis, in Maryland, in September of 1786, to take into consideration the trade and commerce of the United States, and to provide some uniform system for its regulation. These commissioners did not proceed upon the imme. diate object of their appointment, but drew up a report and address to their respective legislatures, in which they suggested the propriety of a
* Pitkin's Statistics, p. 30th ; a work to which we have been largely indebted for the materials of the present paper, having often used its own language.
meeting of commissioners from all the states, to be holden in Philadelphia upon the second Monday in May, 1787, in order to take into consideration the condition of the country, and to organize some effective system for the protection of the national interests. This report, and also the address, were forwarded to the assembly and the executive of the several states not represented in the convention. A resolution of congress was passed February 21st, 1787, to the same effect, which, together with the former recommendation, induced the successful action of the people upon the subject. A general convention was accordingly held in Philadelphia during the month of May, 1787, and during September of the following year; a new constitution was assented to by the members of the convention, with General Washington at its head, and being ratified by a majority of the states, went into operation in March of 1789. With the spirit infused through the whole circle of American enterprise by that instrument, which was invested with the power to levy and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, and to regulate commerce with foreign nations and
the ral states and with the Indian tribes, every branch of industry began to revive. The fields began to wave with harvests, manufactures began to attract the attention of the country, and the snowy wings of commerce were soon seen flying from our ports to every shore.
It would seem that before the adoption of the present constitution and the establishment of regular customhouses, no accurate data were furnished of the commerce of the United States; but
the return of peace, this commerce was revived, and we have by the English customhouse books the following account of the direct trade from England to the Uni. ted States, from 1784 to 1790, according to the valuation of the English currency. Years. Imports.
3,431,778 The first congress under the new government directed its powers to the regulation of the national commerce, foreign ships were excluded from the coasting trade, and discriminating duties on tonnage were established, which gave a preference to our own ships; no regular system having been established for this object under the old confederation. About the same time, also, our commercial intercourse with China was commenced; the first vessel for that country having sailed from the port of New York, in February of 1784, and a complete monopoly of the China trade was soon given to the American merchant, by the imposition of a duty of from four to ten cents per pound upon all teas imported in foreign vessels. The ships of the country now assumed a national flag. Aided by such legislative assistance, the American tonnage soon swelled to a great amount, when we consider the space of time, which has been gradually expanding to the present period. The obvious cause of the unwillingness on the part of Great Britain to establish a liberal commercial policy towards this country, was the fact that no power existed in the colonial government previous to the establishment of the constitution