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Great Britain, in which case we must inevitably sustain a defeat, if we cannot dispense both with her supplies and with her market for our supplies.
Will it be answered that her manufactures will find their way to us circuitously, and our supplies to her in like manner? If so, what are our regulations to produce but distress and loss to us? The manufactures of Great Britain will still be consumed, and our materials will still nourish those manufactures.
The manufactures we take from her being less bulky than the supplies we send her, the charges of a circuitous transportation would be less than those of a like transportation of our commodities. In all the cases therefore, in which those charges fall upon her, they would be lighter than in the cases in which the latter charges fell upon us. Moreover, as the articles of Great Britain would meet less competition in our markets than ours in hers, the increased charges on her manufactures would much oftener fall upon us than those upon our materials would fall upon her. So that both ways we should sustain loss.
But, it may be asked, what are the regulations Great Britain could adopt to counteract ours?
I answer, she could, (among other conceivable things,) prohibit or lay prohibitory duties on her commodities to this country, and on ours to her, in our bottoms; and she might in addition, temporarily grant the same privileges to Dutch or other friendly bottoms which are now granted to those of the United States in the trade between us and herself; or she might go no further in this particular than to permit the importation of our commodities in some of those bottoms. This, it is true, would be a departure from the system of her navigation act; but when the question was, whether she should surrender it permanently to us by extortion, or temporarily to a power more friendly to her, till the issue of the experiment could be decided, who can doubt what would be the course which interest and resentment would dictate?
But there are numerous other regulations which could be adopted, and which equally with the foregoing would have the effect of transferring the trade between the two countries to the management of some third party; for after all, it is not improbable this will be the result of the contest, that instead of the United States and Great Britain carrying on jointly as they now do the trade between the two countries, it will be carried on either directly or circuitously by some third power, more to our detriment than to that of Great Britain.
The manufactures of that country will get to us nearly in the same quantities they now do, with the disadvantage of additional charges; such of our commodities, as she cannot have of equal quality elsewhere, will get to her also: the rest will be supplanted by the like commodities of other nations, and we shall lose the best market we have for them.
Those who advocate the system of contention, should tell us where a substitute will be found. The merchants, who know that it is now difficult enough to find markets for our surplus commodities—that France, in ordinary times, affords a very contracted one, and that the French West Indies are not likely, in settled times, to be as good customers as they have been for some time past,
cannot desire to see the sphere abridged, and our landholders will quickly reprobate the plan.
Thus it appears, that the contest would be likely to issue against us, and to end in defeat and disgrace.
What would be our situation if we should make an attempt of the kind and fail in it? Our trade would then truly be in the power and at the disposal of Great Britain.
3. The third ingredient stated, as necessary to justify the proposed attempt, is this; that the prospect of advantages should be at least an equivalent for those in possession, which would be put in jeopardy by the experiment.
It has been shown, that in fact there is no real pros
pect of advantage, but a considerable one of inconvenience and loss. This puts an end to comparison. But it may be added, that our situation is precisely such an one as to forbid experiments. It is so, from the stage at which we are, as a people, too little advanced, too little matured for hazardous experiments of any sort.
This is not all: our general situation at this time is an eligible one; we are making as rapid a progress in most of the great branches of political prosperity as we can reasonably desire, and it would be imprudent to hazard such a situation, upon precarious speculations of greater advantage. The prosperity of a nation is not a plant to thrive in a hotbed; moderation in this respect is the truest wisdom; it is so plain a path, that it requires a peculiar sublimation of ideas to deviate from it.
It is agreed on all hands, that all our great national interests, our population, agriculture, manufactures, commerce and our navigation, are in a thriving and progressive state, advancing faster than was to have been expected, and as fast as can reasonably be desired.
Our navigation, in the short space of three years, ending the 31st of December, 1792, has increased in the ratio of nearly one fifth.
The proportions of our tonnage have been as follows: In 1790
501790 showing an increase of 89192 tons. 1792
568283 The proportion of foreign tonnage during the same years, has been In 1790
240799 showing a decrease of 14656 tons. 1792
244263 This proves that our present system is highly favorable to the increase of our navigation, and that we are gradually supplanting foreigners.
The truth is, that the difference in the tonnage duty, and the addition of one tenth upon the duties on goods imported in foreign bottoms, is a powerful encouragement to our shipping, and as it has not been of a magnitude to excite retaliation, it is much more likely to promote the interests of our navigation, than violent measures, which would compel to retaliation; prudence admonishes us to stop where we are, for the present, rather than risk the advantages we possess, in trials of strength, that never fail to injure more or less both parties.
If we turn from our shipping to our agriculture, we shall find no reason to be dissatisfied.
The amount of our exports for the year, ending 30th September, 1792, as appears by the last return of exports to this house, exceeded the two preceding years by five hundred eighty-nine thousand, six hundred and one dollars and sixteen cents. It exceeded the mean of the two preceding years, by one million, five hundred ninety-seven thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three dollars and thirty-six cents. Our revenues are unquestionably more productive than was looked for. Those from imports have exceeded, in a year, four millions, six hundred thousand dollars. Of the increase of our manufactures we have no precise standard, but those, who attend most to the subject, entertain no doubt that they are progressive.
This certainly is not a state of things that invites to hazardous experiments. These are perhaps never justifiable, but when the affairs of a nation are in an unprosperous train.
We experience, indeed, some embarrassments from the effects of the European war, but these are temporary, and will cease with that war, which of itself offers us some indemnifications, I mean a freer trade to the West Indies.
I am greatly mistaken if the considerations, which have been suggested, do not conclusively prove the impolicy of the plan which is now recommended for
our adoption. So strong and decided is my own conviction, that I cannot but persuade myself, that of the committee will lead to its rejection.
A few miscellaneous observations will conclude what I have to offer on this very interesting subject.
1. It has been made an objection to the present footing on which our trade is with Great Britain, that it is regulated by annual proclamation of the executive, instead of a permanent law. This was at first laid down by the secretary of state in terms so general as to include the West Indies; but he has since corrected the error, and told us that our trade with the British West Indies is regulated by a standing law. The fact itself, nevertheless, is of no real importance. The actual footing, on which we are placed, is the only material point; the mode of doing it is of little consequence. The annual proclamation of the British executive is equivalent to the decree, revocable at pleasure, of any single legislator, of the monarch of Spain or Portugal, and it may be added, of the French convention, which, though a numerous body, yet forming only one assembly, without checks, is as liable to fluctuation as a single legislator; and in fact, its resolutions have been found as fickle and variable, as it was possible for the resolutions of any single person to be. To prove this, if proof were required, it would be only necessary to refer to the frequent changes in the regulations they have made with regard to the trade of this countryto-day one thing, to-morrow another. Instability is more applicable to no political institution than to a legislature, consisting of
a single popular assembly. 2. The additional duties proposed, are objectionable, because the existing duties are already, generally speaking, high enough for the state of our mercantile capital and the safety of collection. They are near twenty per centum on an average, upon the value of the objects on which they are laid ; higher than the duties of several countries, and high enough for our present condition. To augment the rates materially will