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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

And by resorting to smuggling prosper as before


1765--Trade restrictions upon the colonies]

Many of the grievances of the colonies were grave enough. If some of the injuries that England inflicted upon her great dependency seem petty in the enumeration, a number of small causes of irritation are no less dangerous to peace between nations than some great injustice. But lest the small stings should not be enough, the Government was resolved that the great injustice should not be wanting. The colonists resented the intermittent tyranny and the persistent truculence of the most part of the royal governors. The colonists resented the enforced transportation of criminals. The colonists resented the action of Great Britain in annulling the colonial laws made to keep out slaves. It is melancholy to reflect that the curse of slavery, for which Englishmen of later days often so bitterly and so rightly reproached America, was unhappily enforced upon a country struggling to be rid of it by Englishmen who called themselves English statesmen. The colonists resented the astonishing restrictions which it pleased the mother country to place, in what she believed to be her own interest, upon colonial trade. These laws commanded that all trade between the colonies should be carried on in ships built in England or the colonies. This barred out all foreigners, especially the Dutch, then the chief carriers for Europe. They compelled the American farmer to send his products across the ocean to England.

They forbade the exportation of sugar, tobacco, cotton, wool, indigo, ginger, dyeing-woods to any part of the world except to England or some English colony. They only allowed exportation of fish, fur, oil, ashes, and lumber in ships built in England or the colonies. They forced the colonists to buy all their European goods in England and bring them over to America in English vessels. They prohibited the colonial manufacture of any article that could be manufactured in England. They harassed and minimized the trade between one colony and another. No {83} province was permitted to send woollen goods, hats, or ironware to another province. Some of the regulations read more like the rules of some Turkish pashalik than the laws framed by one set of Englishmen for another set of Englishmen. In the Maine woods, for instance, no tree that had a diameter greater than two feet at a foot above the ground could be cut down, except to make a mast for some ship of the Royal Navy.

Bad and bitter as these laws were in theory, they did not for long enough prove to be so bad in practice, for the simple reason that they were very easy to evade and not very easy to enforce. The colonists met what many of them regarded as an elaborate system for the restriction of colonial trade by a no less elaborate system of smuggling. Smuggling was easy because of the long extent of sea-coast. Smuggling was lucrative, as few considered it an offence to evade laws that were generally resented as unfair. When the Sugar Act of 1733 prohibited the importation of sugar and molasses from the French West Indies except on payment of a prohibitory duty, the New England colonists, who did a thriving trade in the offspring of the union of sugar and molasses, rum, found themselves faced by a serious problem. Should they accept the Act and its consequential ruin of their trade or ignore it, and by resorting to smuggling prosper as before? Without hesitation they decided that their rights as Englishmen were assailed by the obnoxious imposition, and they turned to smuggling with the light heart that is conscious of a heavy purse. The contraband trade was brisk, the contrabandists cheerful, and so long as England made no serious attempt to put into operation laws that the genial and business-like smugglers of the Atlantic sea-coast regarded as preposterous nobody complained, and international relations were cordial. But the situation was not seen with so bright an eye by the British merchant. He witnessed with indignation the failure of the attempt to monopolize the commerce of the colonies to his own advantage, and he clamored for the restoration of his fat monopoly. His clamor was unheeded while the great war {84} was running its course. But with the end of the war and the new conditions consequent upon the advent of a new King with a brand-new theory of kingship and prerogative, the situation began to change.

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