Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
NAVIGATION LAWS. From a very early period in the history of Europe, or from the time when the domestic and foreign trade of its different states attained to any considerable development, it was regarded as sound commercial policy, and indeed as an essential function of government, to attempt to regulate by statute every species of production and exchange: domestic, with a view of preventing any class, guild, town, city or province from obtaining any industrial or commercial advantage over some other; and foreign or international, for the purpose of preventing any undue drain or export of money or the precious metals (which alone were regarded as wealth), as well as for securing to the people of every state a monopoly of the business or profits arising from its exports and imports, and for debarring from participation in the same, to the greatest extent possible, the people of all other nations. As the regulation of trade and commerce involved, furthermore and of necessity, the regulating of the machinery by which trade and commerce are conducted, all the states of Europe accordingly, whose trade and commerce were to any extent maritime, or across the sea and through their ports, from time to time enacted special codes or statutes known as "navigation laws," the object of which was to regulate, on the basis of the above assumptions, the use of ships, and of all business and commerce of which ships were an essential adjunct and instrumentality.
—The first British navigation law of which a record has been preserved, was enacted in 1381, in the fifth year of Richard II., and provided "that none of the King's liege people should from henceforth ship any merchandise, in going out or coming within the realm of England, but only in ships of the king's liegance on penalty of forfeiture of vessel and cargo." This law was modified the subsequent year, when it was found impossible of execution, by adding a clause that if British ships could not be had, foreign ships might be used. Subsequently another act was passed, providing that British ships should carry goods at reasonable rates, and in default thereof, foreign ships might be employed. This was followed by another act, about the time of Henry VII., fixing the rates which were to be charged by British ships. "In the reign of Elizabeth all restrictions on importing in foreign ships were abolished; and any goods could be imported or exported in any ship whatever, with a proviso that, if in alien ships, they should pay alien duties." The object of the change, as stated in the preamble of the act, was, that the laws in force were injurious to commerce, and provoked retaliation on the part of foreign states.
—Following the discovery by Vasco de Gama of the new route to India by way of the cape of Good Hope, and of America by Columbus, and the subsequent establishment of colonies by the various maritime nations of Europe in the eastern and western hemispheres, the importance of navigation laws as a feature of state policy was greatly magnified, while at the same time the sphere of the influence of such laws was greatly extended. The various trans-oceanic colonies of the European states above referred to, were not in a single instance established or fostered by the mother country with the least reference to the pecuniary or political benefit of the colonists themselves; and, with such views, it was not to be expected that other nations would be allowed to participate in the benefits accruing from any trade or commerce with any colonies which were not of their own planting and under their own government. England, France, Spain, Portugal and Holland accordingly, through their navigation laws, prohibited all commercial intercourse on the part of other nations with their colonies, and enforced prohibition with great severity; Spain especially regarding, and sometimes treating, as pirates, even the crews of such vessels as through stress of weather or shipwreck were constrained to visit any of her colonial ports or territory. Foreign ships were first excluded from the English colonies in 1650; while other enactments in 1651 and 1660 (which constituted the foundation of the British navigation laws for the next 200 years), prohibited importation into England of the products of foreign countries, except in British ships, or in ships of the country of which the goods were the produce.
—One of the agencies which powerfully contributed at this time to a change from the liberal commercial policy of England adopted under Elizabeth, was alarm at the continued maritime enterprise and ascendency of the Dutch: which nation, even as early as 1603, according to a pamphlet ascribed to Sir Walter Raleigh, "everywhere surpassed us" and "had as many ships and vessels as eleven kingdoms of christendom, let England be one." How great the hostility engendered in England by this competition is well illustrated by the fact, that the earl of Shaftesbury, as lord chancellor, officially announced, in 1672, that the time had come when England must go to war with the Dutch; for that it was "impossible both should stand upon a balance; and that if we do not master their trade, they will ours. They or we must truckle." One of the first governmental measures also after the restoration of Charles II. was to re-enact the laws of the commonwealth touching the colonial system, and the use of ships as commercial agencies, and combine them all in one act, which has since been known in British jurisprudence as the "first navigation act." The preamble of this act assigns, as a reason for its creation, "the encouragement of British shipping." In the navigation laws enacted under Cromwell there was no discrimination as to the build of ships; but in 1662, under Charles II, it was enacted, "that no foreign built ship shall enjoy the privilege of English or Irish built ships, even though the owners be Englishmen; prize ships only exempted." (see
—Recurring again to the influence of the transoceanic colonies of the European maritime states upon their navigation codes, it is to be observed, that as whatever did not enhance the trade and commerce of the mother country was deemed unfit to be a part of its colonial policy, the industry and trade of the colonies was in consequence subjected to the most stringent and unnatural regulations and restrictions. Thus, by a statute enacted by the Parliament of Great Britain in 1663, it was ordered, that "none of the products of the English plantations or factories," "in Asia, Africa or America," "shall be carried anywhere (except to other plantations) till they be first landed in England, under the forfeiture of ships and cargoes." Scotland was not admitted to the trade of the British plantations until the union in 1706, and Ireland not until 1780. Other laws provided that the colonies should not be allowed to purchase, in any but British markets, any manufactured article which England had to sell. The effect of these skillfully devised instruments for the torture of industry and commerce was, that whatever of raw material the British colonies produced, and which the English manufacturer needed, could be sold to the latter alone and at his own price; on the other hand, whatever of wares the British manufacturer offered in the colonial market, the colonists were obliged to buy on the manufacturer's terms, or not purchase at all. And whether in the case of purchase or sale, the product could be transported only in British vessels, and at the carriers' own price: and to all this was added the further provision of a revenue tax of 5 per cent, upon all colonial exports and imports. By the act of 1699, in the tenth year of William and Mary, it was forbidden to ship colonial wool, or any woolen manufacture, from one colony to another; and British sailors were forbidden to purchase, for their own use, more than forty shillings' worth of woolen goods in any American port. By subsequent enactments, in the reign of George I., the transportation of hats, the product of colonial industry, was also forbidden; as well as the cutting, without a license, of any pine tree, two feet in diameter and not within any inclosure. between the Delaware and St. Lawrence rivers; the object of this latter statute being to maintain an ample supply of masts for the English navy. When Bishop Berkeley proposed to establish a great American university, he was answered by Walpole, that from the labor and luxury of the "plantations great advantages may ensue to the mother country; yet the advancement of literature and the improvement in arts and sciences in our American colonies can never be of any service to the British state." A colonial commissioner who was sent to ask of the royal (English) attorney general an increased allowance for the churches in Virginia concluded his earnest appeal in these words. "Consider, sir, that the people of Virginia have souls to save." "Damn your souls! make tobacco," was the immediate reply. Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia, writing, in 1671, upon the feelings of the colonists in respect to these navigation laws, says: "Mighty and destructive have been the obstructions to our trade and navigation by that severe act of parliament which excludes us from having any commerce with any nation of Europe but in our own ships; we can not add to our plantations any commodity that grows out of it, as olive trees, or cotton, or vines. Besides this, we can not procure any skillful men for our hopeful commodity of silk, and it is not lawful for us to carry pipe-stems or a bushel of corn to any place in Europe out of the king's dominions. If this were for his majesty's service, or the good of the subject, we should not repine, whatever be our suffering; but, on my soul, it is contrary to both, and this is the cause why no small or great vessels are built here. For all are most obedient to the laws, while the New England men break through them, and trade to any place where their interests lead them to."
—It is by means of these, and many other like historical citations which might be given (and which the reader desirous of further information can readily find in all standard histories of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), that it is alone possible to clearly comprehend the curious economic ideas which prompted the enactment of navigation laws in the first instance, and for more than six centuries have prompted rulers and statesmen to defend their policy and expediency and struggle for their continued maintenance. Absurd, tyrannical and even cruel, furthermore, as have been many of these provisions, it would be a mistake to regard them as the work of either heartless or corrupt men; on the contrary, they were rather the result of a false and vicious theory of wealth and trade—once universally and even still accepted in at least a degree in many countries—which ignored the beneficent and immutable laws of value and exchange, and undertook, by capricious and arbitrary rules, not only to regulate the great social forces which bind men to each other and to nature, but, in defiance of these, to torture industry in every conceivable way, in a vain attempt to force it into those artificial channels which they had marked out for it." They were also, it is to be remembered, but the part of a general economic system, which in all its features was consistent and harmonious. If England forbade her colonists to transport wool from one plantation to another, she also, at the same time, had a law upon her statute book which made it felony for any Englishman to export sheep. If the colonists were not permitted to carry any article of their produce upon the seas except in British ships, there was no different law for the Scotch, or Irish, or any other subjects of the crown; and the laws of trade, furthermore, which England adopted, were the same in all essential particulars which were adopted by all the other maritime nations of Europe during the periods under consideration. In evidence also that the laws regulating the early commerce and the carrying trade of the ocean were not exceptionally absurd, and in further illustration of the former continued interference of government with individual pursuits and personal freedom, it may be also mentioned, that the people of England at one period, subsequent to the reformation, were forbidden by statute from eating meat during Lent, in order "that the fisheries of the kingdom might be encouraged, and the number of seamen employed therein be increased": while in 1630, the crown issued a proclamation against erecting houses on new foundations in London, Westminster, or within three miles of any of the gates of London, or of the palace of Westminster; also against entertaining inmates in houses, which would multiply the inhabitants to such an excessive number that they could neither be governed nor fed. It is also desirable at this point to call attention to the circumstance that, apart from the immediate and direct influence of the early navigation laws upon industry and trade, their political and moral effect, or rather, of the spirit that led to their enactment, was also of the most momentous character. It was for the enforcement of these laws, or for the maintenance of the principles upon which they were founded, that more than half the battles of the eighteenth century were fought: and, as has already been shown, they were the prime cause of the revolt of the British-American colonies, and their separation from the mother country. (See
—The fact that the restrictive laws passed by England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to hinder the growth of the shipping and carrying trade of the Dutch failed to accomplish the result expected, has already been pointed out; but no better success attended the efforts in the same direction in respect to the British North American colonies. On the contrary, the shipping interests of the Americans continued to so prosper and increase, that in 1725 the shipwrights of the river Thames complained to the crown that their business declined, and that their workmen emigrated, because of the number of ships that the plantations built and furnished to England; and for the year 1775 the register of Lloyds returned, as the aggregate of new tonnage for the three years next preceding, 3,908 British vessels of 605,545 tons, and 2,311 of American build, with an aggregate tonnage of 373,318.
—The principal features of the British navigation code, as it existed in 1849 (the time of its repeal), and which did not differ in any essential particulars from the provisions of the codes adopted by the other maritime state of Europe, were as follows: No foreigner could own, either wholly or in part, a British ship, and the captain and at least three-fourths of the crew of such vessels were compelled to be British subjects. Certain enumerated articles of European produce could only be imported into the United Kingdom for consumption, in British ships, or in ships of the country of which the goods were the produce. No produce of Asia, Africa or America could be imported for consumption into the United kingdom, from any European port, in any ships whatever; and such produce could only be imported from any other places in British ships, or in ships of the country of which the goods were the produce. No goods could be carried coastwise from one part of the United Kingdom to another, except in British ships. No goods could be carried from any one British possession in Asia, Africa or America to another, in any but British ships. No foreign ships were allowed to trade with any of the British possessions, unless they had been specially authorized to do so by order in council. No goods could be exported from the United kingdom to any of the British possessions in Asia, Africa or America (with some exceptions with regard to India), in any but British ships. The following details of the experience of British trade and commerce under these laws will also to some extent illustrate their absurdity and injurious influence. For example: "An American vessel might carry American cotton to England direct; but if such cotton was landed at a continental port, no ship of any nationality could afterward land it for consumption in England. The grain of Russia, if once landed in Prussia, or in the ports of any other nation, was absolutely shut out from England, no matter if a deficiency of food in that country was threatening starvation to its people. In 1839 the price of coffee was especially high in the London market. Large quantities of Java and Dutch colonial coffee were in store in Amsterdam, but it could not be brought into England because it had been landed at a continental port. Under these circumstances it is said that a British ship was chartered, sent to Amsterdam, and dispatched to the cape of Good Hope, where the cargo was landed, actually or constructively, and by some process recognized by the law so became the naturalized produce of that colony. It was then carried to England, and coming direct from a British colony in a British ship was admitted for home consumption. It is said that many thousand tons of merchandise were thus sent cruising half round the globe, involving an enormous waste of capital, in order that the letter of the law might be fulfilled, although its spirit was nullified." (Lindsay's "History of Merchant Shipping," Hamilton Hill, American Social Science Association, 1878.)
—Navigation Laws of the United States. Up to the time of the American revolution, treaties of commerce between nations had been little other than agreements to secure special and exclusive privileges to the contracting parties, and to antagonize. as far as possible, the commercial interests of all other countries. But in the treaty of commerce entered into between France and the revolted colonies in 1778, the commissioners of the two nations—Franklin, Deane, Lee and Gerard—evidently determined to attempt to inaugurate a more generous policy, and to establish a precedent for freer and better commercial relations between different countries than had hitherto prevailed. It was accordingly agreed in the treaty in question to avoid "all those burdensome prejudices which are usually sources of debate. embarrassment and discontent," and to take as the "basis of their agreement the most perfect equality and reciprocity." And they further stated the principle which they had adopted as a guide in their negotiations to be that of "founding the advantages of commerce solely upon reciprocal utility and the just rules of free intercourse." The commissioners were, however, ahead of their times, as they even yet would be, if still alive and participating in the public policy of the United States. The traditions and habits of Europe were too strong to be at once broken down. No Adam Smith had then arisen to combat the then prevailing idea, that whatever of advantage one nation or country gained in trade and commerce necessarily entailed an equal and corresponding loss upon some other nation or country; and in the end the Americans succumbed, and within a comparatively few years their own country, falling into the rut of old prejudice, enacted (as will be hereafter shown) a commercial code as illiberal and narrow in most respects as any that had preceded it. and which still stands as the most striking and, in fact, the only relic of the unchristian and barbarous commercial legislation which everywhere characterized the eighteenth century.
—When the convention that framed the federal constitution came together in 1789, there were two sectional questions of importance that came before it, and two only: the question of slavery, and the regulation of commerce. The extreme southern states wanted slavery and the slave trade legalized and protected. The south, as a whole, also favored free trade. New England, on the other hand, largely interested in shipping, a not insignificant proportion of which, either directly or indirectly, was engaged in the slave trade (her people. Massachusetts men especially, importing molasses from the West Indies, distilling it into rum, using the rum to buy slaves at the south,) desired, through a system of navigation laws, to hold a monopoly of the commerce of the new nation, while the middle states generally wanted neither slavery nor navigation laws. The sentiment of the country as a whole at this period was averse to slavery, and the cultivation of cotton not having then been introduced to any considerable extent into the southern states or made the source of profit that it subsequently became through the invention of the cotton gin, the anti-slavery feeling had developed itself much more strongly in some parts of the south than it had in New England. *69 So that if New England had been as true to the great principles of liberty as her people were always professing, it seems probable that, aided by the middle states, and in part by the south, she might have brought about an arrangement under the federal constitution, at the time of its formation, for the gradual but no very remote extinction of American slavery and an avoidance of the expenditure of blood and treasure which has since been entailed by its continuance. Selfishness and the love of the dollar, however, proved as omnipotent then as they ever have, and the result was a compromise of iniquity; the power to regulate commerce being inserted in the constitution, together with and as a consideration for the extension, by New England votes, of the slave trade until 1808 and the prohibition of export duties.
—This curious chapter in our national history, although familiar to historical students, has been all but unknown to the mass of the American people. The evidence of its truth is, however, complete. The fourth section of the seventh article of the constitution of the United States, as originally reported by the committee of detail, provided that "no tax or duty shall be laid by the legislature on articles exported from any state, nor on the migration or importation of such persons as the several states shall think proper to admit; nor shall such migration or importation be prohibited." When the convention came to the consideration of this section they amended it by making the prohibition of the imposition of duties on exports general, or applicable to the federal government as well as to the states, although Mr. Madison tried to have the power to do so allowed to congress when two-thirds of each house should vote its expediency. The question next occurred on the residue of the section, which Mr. Luther Martin, of Maryland, moved to amend so as to authorize congress to lay a tax or prohibition at its discretion upon the importation of slaves. The provision as it stood in the report of the committee would, he said, give encouragement to the slave trade; and he held it "inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to American character to have such a feature in the constitution." Messrs. Rutledge and Pinckney, the South Carolina delegates, and Mr. Baldwin, of Georgia, warmly protested against Mr. Martin's proposition as an uncalled for interference with the slave trade. Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, were both for leaving the clause as reported. "Let every state, "they said, "import what they please." Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, "acquiesced, with some reserve, "in the complying policy of the delegates of Connecticut, while his colleague, Rufus King, "made a measured resistance" merely on the grounds of state expediency. George Mason, of Virginia, expressed himself with great energy in opposition to the views of the delegates from Connecticut. "This infernal traffic," he said, "originated in the avarice of British merchants"; and he "lamented that some of our eastern brethren had, from just of gain, embarked in this nefarious traffic." In this state of things Gouverneur Morris arose, and, after adverting to the circumstance that the sixth section of the same article of the constitution under consideration contained a provision that no navigation laws should be enacted without the consent of two-thirds of each branch of congress, and that this provision particularly concerned the interests of the New England states, proposed that this section, together with the fourth section (relating to the slave trade) and the fifth section (relating to the assessment of a capitation tax on slaves) be referred to a special committee, remarking, at the same time, (see
—The hint thus given was not thrown away. All these matters were referred to a committee, and what this committee did is thus told by Luther Martin, one of its members, in a letter to the speaker of the Maryland house of delegates: "I found the eastern states, notwithstanding their aversion to slavery, were very willing to indulge the southern states at least with a temporary liberty to prosecute the slave trade, provided the southern states would in turn gratify them by laying no restriction on [the enactment of] navigation acts; and after a little time the committee agreed on a report, by which the general government was to be prohibited from preventing the importation of slaves for a limited time, and the restrictive clause relative to navigation acts was to be omitted." (Elliott's "Debates, "2d ed., vol. i., p. 373.)
—The limit of time for the extension of the slave trade agreed to by the committee in making the bargain, was 1800; but when the report came before the convention, Mr. Pinckney, of South Carolina, moved to amend by substituting 1808 in lieu of 1800, as the term of the permitted traffic, and this motion was seconded by Mr. Gorham, of Massachusetts. Mr. Madison and others earnestly opposed this amendment, "but the coalition that had taken place rendered all remonstrance vain and Gen Pinckney's motion was carried in the affirmative; all of the three New England states, with South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and North Carolina, voting for it, and Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware voting against it. "Four days later the residue of the report, recommending that the sixth section, which imposed restrictions against the passage by congress of a navigation act, was taken up and earnestly debated, and opposed by George Mason, Gov. Randolph and others, but as earnestly advocated by Pinckney and Butler, of South Carolina, "who earnestly invoked a spirit of conciliation toward the eastern states on account of the liberality they had shown to the wishes of the two southernmost states with regard to the importation of slaves," and, finally, "the bargain that had been entered into, in which the legalization of the slave trade for twenty years on the one side was the price of the abandonment of restrictions on the passage by congress of a navigation act" on the other, received its final ratification. (Rives' "Life and Times of Madison.") We quote also from Hildreth the following to the same effect: "Thus by an understanding, or, as Gouverneur Morris called it, 'a bargain,' between the commercial representatives of the northern states and the delegates of South Carolina and Georgia, and in spite of the opposition of Maryland and Virginia, the unrestricted power of congress to enact navigation laws was conceded to the northern merchants, and to the Carolina rice planters, as an equivalent, twenty years' continuance of the African slave trade." (Hildreth's "United States," vol. iii., p. 520.) "This transaction," continues Mr. Rives, "undoubtedly made a most disagreeable impression on the minds of many members of the convention, and seemed at once to convert the feeling of partial dissatisfaction that had already been excited in certain quarters, by one or two votes of the convention, into a sentiment of incurable alienation and disgust. Gov. Randolph, a few days after the first part of the bargain had been ratified, and while the latter part was pending, declared that 'there were features so odious in the constitution, as it now stands, that he doubted whether he should be able to agree to it.' Col. Mason, two days later, declared that 'he would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the constitution as it now stands.'" And the names of neither of these delegates appear on the roll of delegates to the national convention who subsequently signed the constitution,—When the federal congress assembled for the first time under the constitution, New England was not dilatory in demanding the fulfillment of her part of this disreputable compact; and in 1789 and 1792 the foundation of our present navigation laws was laid, in acts levying tonnage dues and impost taxes which discriminated to such an extent against foreign shipping as to practically give to American ship owners a nearly complete monopoly of all American commerce.
—By the act of 1789 a tonnage tax of six cents per ton was levied on all American vessels and fifty cents per ton on all vessels built and owned in foreign countries and entering American ports. Dec. 31, 1792, the registration act, in substance as it stands to-day, was enacted. In 1793 the coasting trade was wholly closed to foreign vessels. Discriminating duties on articles, the products of countries east of the cape of Good Hope, imported indirectly into the United States, were imposed, July, 1789. Subsequent to the war of 1812-14, the president was empowered to enter into more liberal arrangements with foreign nations in respect to shipping, but no disposition having been manifested by Great Britain and other nations to enact reciprocal legislation, nothing resulted; but on the contrary, in 1816, 1817 and 1820 congress enacted a system of navigation laws which were avowedly modeled on the very statutes of Great Britain which the Americans, as colonists, had found so oppressive that they constituted one prime cause of their rebellion against the mother country, the main features of difference between the two systems being that wherever it was possible to make the American laws more rigorous and arbitrary than the British model the opportunity was not neglected.
—As an essential part of the history of this legislation, and as some extenuation of the illiberality of the first congress, it should be here stated that public sentiment in the United States in respect to the policy of the enactment of navigation laws, and of making them harshly discriminative against the shipping of foreign nations, experienced a marked change between the time when the power to regulate commerce was made in convention part of the federal constitution, and the time when the enactment of discriminating tonnage dues and tariff taxes came up for consideration in 1790 and 1792 in the federal congress. This was due entirely to the utter failure on the part of the American government (confederative and constitutional) to induce Great Britain to recede in any degree from the extremely illiberal commercial policy which she had adopted toward her former colonies since the attainment of their independence. Previously they could trade freely with other British colonies in America and the West Indies, exchanging lumber, corn, fish and other provisions, together with horses and cattle, for sugar, molasses, coffee and rum: but immediately after the conclusion of the war the people of the new nation were put on the same footing as those of other foreign countries; and, under the operation of the British navigation laws, were, in common with them, excluded from nearly all participation in an extensive and flourishing part of their former maritime trade. As illustrating the then temper of the times and the illiberal spirit that then pervaded the counsels of the nations, it may be mentioned that this policy was persevered in by Great Britain, even after it was proved in repeated instances to work most injuriously to her own home interests and to have inflicted great suffering upon her West Indian colonies. Thus, between 1780 and 1787, no less than 13,000 slaves were known to have perished from starvation in the British West Indies, by reason of inability, through the operation of the British navigation laws, to obtain the requisite supply of food from the North Americans, at a period when the home-grown portion of their subsistence had been destroyed by successive hurricanes. William Pitt, however, was a man capable of rising above the ordinary level of his times, and his political surroundings, and foreseeing the serious difficulties of the situation, desired as chancellor of the exchequer, immediately after the close of the war, to deal liberally with the new nation; and accordingly, as early as 1783, introduced into parliament a bill, allowing comparatively free commerce between the United States and the British West Indies. But the measure, owing primarily to the resignation of the ministry, and the strong opposition of the British shipping interests, aided by the efforts of the loyalists of the remaining British North American colonies, was not only defeated, but in 1788 an act was passed absolutely forbidding the importation of any American produce into any British colony, except in British bottoms. These restrictions on the participation of the United States in British colonial trade very singularly remained unrepealed until 1830, in which year a British order in council was adopted authorizing vessels of the United States to import into the British possessions abroad any produce of the United States from these states, and to export goods from the British possessions abroad to any foreign countries whatever.
—As some further evidence of the British jealousy of the commercial competition of the United States in the decade between 1783 and 1793 it may be also mentioned that Lord Sheffield, who headed the opposition to Mr. Pitt's bill (above noticed), published in 1783 a book, in which he advised the British government not to interfere too extensively with the Barbary pirates, on the ground that through lack of any sufficient naval force on the part of the United States to restrain and punish—but which force Great Britain was known to possess—the operations of the corsairs would be confined mainly to the destruction of American commerce and of the little states of Italy, whereby British commerce would be benefited.
—Under such circumstances, it was but natural that the representatives of the nation came together in Congress in 1791-2 with very different sentiments in respect to the policy of navigation laws from those entertained by the members of the federal convention in 1787. It was felt by the former and by the whole nation that the legislation of Great Britain—especially that part of it which broke up the then important trade of the United States with the British West Indies—was designedly hostile legislation, which could only be properly met and its continuance prevented by retaliatory legislation, and congress in 1790-92 accordingly did retaliate, and a quarter of a century later (1816-20), after another war, when Great Britain refused to accept the offer on the part of the United States of a more liberal reciprocal commercial policy, it enacted navigation laws even more stringent than any which had before found a place upon our statute books. To further complete this record it should be also here noted, that in connection with the restriction of commerce by the enactment of navigation laws in the first congress, the first selfish and sectional antagonism of the states in respect to the adjustment of duties on foreign imports also occurred. "The south" (we quote from Professor Summer's "History of Protection in the United States") "wanted a protective duty on hemp, claiming that rice and indigo were unprofitable. Pennsylvania opposed any tax on hemp as a raw material of cordage, but wanted a tax on that. New England opposed the tax on cordage as a raw material of ships, but wanted protection on the latter." The most strenuous contention was, however, in respect to rum and molasses. "The south, except Georgia, wanted a high tariff on rum for revenue. The middle states wanted it in the interests of temperance; the eastern states for protection to their rum distilleries. Georgia opposed this tax because she used a great deal of rum and bought it in the West Indies with her lumber. The southern and middle states wanted a tax also on molasses, but this the easern states vigorously opposed. Molasses was the raw material of rum." It was bought with salt fish, number and staves sent to the West Indies, distilled into rum in New England, sent as export to Africa to buy slaves, which in turn were sold to the south. After having bartered their souls by extending the horrors of the slave trade for twenty long years in consideration of a monopoly of shipping, was New England to permit the most profitable element of that monopoly to be at once taken away from her? Not if their representatives could prevent it! We are accustomed to look back upon the representatives that sat in the first congress, especially those sent from New England, as men infinitely removed from base and sordid motives, whose like it is never to be vouchsafed to us to see again in public office. But when one comes to look over the debates that took place in the first congress on the rum and molasses question, he can not help fancying that he is in the house of representatives at the present day and that a debate on the tariff is in progress.
—The duty proposed to be assessed on molasses was six cents a gallon—a fourth of a cent less than molasses pays under the existing tariff of 1881; and the delegation from Massachusetts, it is recorded, "occupied the time of the house for several days with vehement remonstrances against it." One member, Mr. Thurber, went so far as to intimate that the people of his state "will hardly bear a tax which they can not but look upon as odious and oppressive." Mr. Fisher Ames, in a highly colored fancy speech on the woeful effects likely to follow the enactment of the proposed duty on molasses, used the following language: "Mothers will tell their children, when they solicit their daily and accustomed nutriment, that the new law forbids them the use of it, and they will grow up in detestation of the hand which proscribes their innocent food and the occupation of their fathers." And yet all the while none knew better than Fisher Ames that the "mothers" likely to be most distressed were the owners of distilleries, and that the occupation of the fathers that the children were to be debarred from following was sending this rum to Africa to be used to buy slaves. New England selfishness again triumphed. The proposed duty on molasses was reduced from six cents to two and a half cents a gallon, and rum was assessed at ten cents per proof gallon, while all other spirits were to pay but eight cents.
—Such, then, is a brief history of the inception and growth of out present navigation laws. Conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity, they seemed to have entailed a curse (not yet fully worked out, but in the process of completion) general for the whole country, but more especially on that section whose fathers sold their honor to accomplish the result, and who thereby merited execration, for having entailed for eighteen long years the horrors of the African slave trade. And when one journeys through New England and sees how thick are the graves of her sons slain in a war which slavery originated, the question might suggest itself: Would these graves exist had the ancestors of those who fill them not consented to strengthen and perpetuate domestic slavery as a consideration for the privilege of doing another wrong—namely, that of restricting their fellow-citizens from freely exchanging the products of their labor?
—Having traced the inception and growth of the navigation laws of the United States, let us next inquire into their provisions. They may be in the main stated and illustrated as follows: 1. No American citizen is allowed to import a foreign-built vessel, in the sense of purchasing, acquiring a registry or title to, or of using her as his own property; the only other absolute prohibitions of imports being in respect to counterfeit money and obscene objects. (U.S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4132.) Furthermore, while we are the only people in the world who are forbidden to purchase foreign-built vessels, we freely permit all the world to enter our ports with vessels purchased in any market. Precluded, therefore, by the first provisions of our navigation laws, from engaging on equal terms in the carrying trade with foreigners, we wonder and complain that the carrying trade of even our own products has passed from our control.
—2. An American vessel ceases to be such if owned in the smallest degree by any person naturalized in the United States who may, after acquiring such ownership, reside "for more than one year in the country in which he originated, or more than two years in any foreign country, unless such person be a consul, or other public agent of the United States." (U. S Rev. Stat., sec. 4134.)
—3. If a native-born American citizen, for health, pleasure or any other purpose, except as a consul of the United States, or as a partner or agent in an exclusively American mercantile house, decides to reside ("usually") in some foreign country, any American vessel of which he may be in all or any part owner at once loses its register and ceases to be entitled to the protection of the flag of the United Stats, even though the vessel may have been of American construction and have regularly paid taxes in the United States, and the owner himself has no thought of finally relinquishing his American citizenship. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4133) To illustrate this provision of our navigation laws, let us suppose Capt. John Smith, not a naturalized citizen, but a native American, is an owner, in all or part, of an American vessel. He becomes afflicted with a disease of the lungs, and, for his health, goes to live in the south of France, on account of the balmy atmosphere that prevails there. The moment that Capt. John thus, under the law, begins to "usually reside" in a foreign country, his vessel is liable to lose its register and the protection of the flag of his country.
—4. Every citizen of the United States obtaining a register for an American vessel must make oath "that there is no subject or citizen of any foreign power or state, directly or indirectly, by war of trust or confidence or otherwise, interested in such vessel or in the profits thereof" (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4142.) We invite foreign capital to come to us and help build our railroads, work our mines, insure our property, and even buy and carry our government bonds as investments, but if a single dollar of such capital is used to build an American ship and thereby represents an ownership to any extent of the value received, we declare the ship to be thereby so tainted as to be unworthy of the benefit of American laws.
—5. A foreigner may superintend an American factory, run an American railroad, be present of an American college, or hold a commission in the American army, but he can not command or be an officer of a registered American vessel. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4131.) Notwithstanding this express provision of law, it is an indisputable fact that there is hardly an American vessel engaged in foreign trade that has not one or more foreigners employed as officers, and instances, it is said, are not rare of American vessels which have no citizens of the United States on board except the master. If Capt. John Smith, being a foreigner, took command of an American vessel, and falsely swore that he was an American citizen, he would "forfeit and pay the sum of one thousand dollars." If one of the owners should take such oath, Capt Smith not being in the district, the vessel would be subject to forfeiture; but no such case of forfeiture has ever occurred. She would, however, not be subject to forfeiture if Capt. Smith "had been appointed the lowest officer on the vessel." To be sure, the law requires that "officers of vessels of the United States shall in all cases be citizens of the United States": but there is no penalty whatever imposed on the vessel if they are not. Many American citizens, on the other hand, undoubtedly own vessels under foreign flags. Some of them transferred their vessels to English colors during the war to escape capture by confederate war vessels, but there are many who adopt this expedient to obtain cheap ships. They engage a trustworthy English clerk, for instance, and buy the vessel in his name, holding a mortgage for her full value as security. Some years ago the American consul general to China (Mr. Seward), in a report to the state department, stated, as within his personal experience from 1862 to 1875, "that the rigid enforcement of this law would often have forced the owners or agents of those vessels engaged in that part of the world to lay up their ships or transfer them to other flags."
—6. No foreign-built vessel, or vessel in any part owned by a subject of a foreign power, can enter a port of the United States and then go to another domestic port with any new cargo or with any part of her original cargo that has been once unladen, without having previously voyaged to and touched at some other port of some foreign country, under penalty of confiscation. By the construction of this law all direct traffic by sea between the Atlantic and Pacific ports of the United States via Cape Horn or the cape of Good Hope, or across the isthmus of Panama, is held to be of the nature of a coasting trade or voyage in which foreign vessels can not participate. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4347.) In view of the fact that there has been no attempt in recent times, on the part of the English, French or Dutch governments, to interfere with the transport of merchandise by American ships by the common highway of the ocean, between the home ports of these countries and their colonial possessions, this construction of law, not contemplated at the period of its enactment, was regarded by Europe as a bit of very sharp and mean practice on the part of the United States, as it undoubtedly was.
—7. An American vessel once sold or transferred to a foreigner can never be bought back again and become American property, not even if the transfer has been the result of capture and condemnation by a foreign power in time of war. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4165.)—. A vessel under thirty tons can not be used to import anything at any seaboard port. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 3095)
—9. Previous to a repealing act, in June, 1882, all goods, wares and merchandise, the produce of countries east of the cape of Good Hope, when imported from countries west of the cape of Good Hope, were made subject to a duty of 10 per cent. in addition to the duties imposed on such articles when imported directly. This law was interpreted so stringently that old second-hand gunny-bags, nearly worn out, did not lose their distinctiveness to an extent sufficient to exempt them from additional duties if they finally came to the United States, in the process of using, from a place west of the cape of Good Hope. In one instance a vessel from China, destined to Montreal, Canada, was sent, on arriving, to New York without breaking bulk. It was held that the voyage ceased in Canada, and that the new voyage to New York subjected the cargo to an additional 10 per cent. By the original navigation laws (act of 1790) it was provided that the tariff on all articles imported in American vessels shall be less than if imported in foreign vessels. On "hyson" tea the duty in American vessels was twenty cents per pound; in foreign vessels, forty-five cents. The discriminating duties (repealed in 1882) on products of countries east of the cape of Good Hope, imported indirectly, were a remnant and legacy of these old restrictions. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 2501.)
—10. If a vessel of the United States becomes damaged on a foreign voyage, and is repaired in a foreign port, her owner or master must make entry of such repairs at a custom house of the United States, an import, and pay a duty on the same equal to one-half the cost of the foreign work or material, or 50 per cent. ad valorem; and this law extends so far as to include boats that may be obtained at sea from a passing foreign vessel in order to assure the safety of the crew or passengers of the American vessel. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 3114.) To the credit of former days it should be said that this provision of law was not a part of the original navigation laws of the United States, but was incorporated into them by special statute passed July 18, 1866, entitled. "An act to prevent smuggling, and for other purposes." Under the treasury regulations it is held that, although no part of the proper equipment of a vessel arriving in the United States from a foreign country is liable to duty, such equipment, if considered by the United States revenue officers as redundant, is liable to the payment of duty as a foreign import, although there may be no intent of landing, disposing of or using such extra equipment except in connection with the vessel. Thus, for example, when two sets of chains were found on board of a foreign vessel, and one set was held to be all that was necessary, the other set was made chargeable with duty. In another case, where anchors and chains were bonded on importation and at the same time entered for exportation and placed on board the vessel as a part of her equipment, it was held by the treasury that the legal duties should be collected on the same.
—11. Foreign vessels losing a rudder or stern-post, or breaking a shaft, and arriving in the United States in distress, can not import others to replace these articles here without payment of the duty on the same. In one case of actual occurrence a foreign line of steamers left their mooring chains of foreign manufacture on an American wharf. Some over-vigilant revenue officer reported the occurrence to the treasury department, and it was decided that as the chains were landed, the legal duties should be collected from them as an importation. A foreign vessel can not even land copper sheathing for the sole purpose of being recoppered by American workman without paying duties on the old copper stripped off and the new copper put on as separate and distinct imports. During the year 1871 the owner of a Dutch vessel entered at Boston, ignorant of the peculiar features of the tariff of the United States in respect to the ocean carrying trade, put on board at the foreign port of clearance a quantity of sheet copper sufficient to sheath the bottom of his vessel, it being intended to have the work done in the United States upon her arrival, in order to save time and put-the vessel in good order for her return voyage. The agent, advised of this arrangement, referred the matter to the officials of the Boston custom house for instructions, only to learn that the new sheathing metal could not be used in the United States as proposed without paying a duty of 45 per cent., while the copper taken off the ship's bottom must also pay a duty of four cents per pound as old copper. The agent signified his willingness to pay the latter and sell the old metal for what it would bring, but requested to be allowed to land the new copper in bond for re-exportation, as it would be carried out by the same vessel that brought it in. He was informed, however, that the bond for exportation required for its cancellation a certificate of the landing of the bonded goods in the foreign port for which its export was declared, which could not be obtained if it was entered at the port of destination upon and not in the ship carrying it. The consequence was, that when the ship discharged her cargo at Boston she sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, carrying her sheathing copper with her, and, after having been there coppered by the shipwrights of the British provinces, returned in ballast to Boston for her return cargo, all this costly proceeding being cheaper than the payment of 45 per cent. duty for the privilege of employing American workmen to take off the old sheathing and put on the new.
—12. If a citizen of the United States buys a vessel of foreign build which has been wrecked on our coast, takes her into port, repairs and renders her again serviceable and seaworthy, he can not make her American property, unless it is proved to the satisfaction of the treasury department that the repairs put upon such vessel are equal to three fourths of the cost of the vessel then so repaired. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4136.) The following is an illustration of the working of this provision of our navigation laws: In 1871 a citizen of Baltimore purchased a foreign-built vessel wrecked on the American coast and abandoned to the underwriters, and, by spending a large sum in reconstruction, rendered her again seaworthy. He then, being desirous of employing his capital embodied in this instrumentality of trade in the most profitable manner, and assuming that the reconstructed wreck was his lawful property, arranged for an outward cargo under the flag of the United States; but when the vessel was ready to sail, registry was refused by the customs officials on the ground that the vessel was of foreign construction, the sum of the repairs put on the wreck being a little less than three-fourths of the original cost of the vessel; or, in other words, the substance of this decision, which was correct in law, was, that while the citizen, under the laws of the United States, might lawfully buy and acquire title to a wreck and use it for any purpose other than navigation, he could not acquire title to it and make it American property lawful to use as a vessel, even after he had paid duties on its old materials as imports, unless he could show that he had expended upon the abandoned construction for the purpose of restoring it to its original quality for service, a sum nearly equivalent to the cost of building an entirely new vessel. The owner by law, most mercifully, in such cases is not, however, deprived of the privilege of selling the property to a foreigner.
—13. Every vessel belonging to the mercantile marine of the United States engaged in foreign trade (vessels employed in the fisheries excepted) must pay annually into the federal treasury a tonnage tax at the rate of thirty cents per ton. (U. S. Rev. Stat., sec. 4219.) At the commencement of the war in 1861 there were no tonnage taxes; but by the act of July, 1862, a tonnage tax of ten cents per ton was imposed, which was afterward increased to thirty cents, the present rate. Although there was nothing specific in the recent enactments to warrant it, and American shipping engaged in foreign trade was in such a condition as to demand the kindliest consideration from government, the treasury officials, interpreting the statute according to the invariable rule for the benefit of the government and to the disadvantage of the citizen, were in the habit, up to 1867, of collecting this tax at every entry of a vessel from a foreign port; but by the act of March, 1867, tonnage taxes can now be levied but once a year. On a ship of 1,000 tons the present tax, amounting to $300 per annum, represents the profits or interest (reckoned at 6 per cent) on an invested capital of $3,000, and, on a ship of 2,000 tons, of $10,000. Mr. F. A. Pike, of Maine, in a speech in the United States house of representatives, May, 1868, stated that this tax was equivalent in many instances to 3 per cent on the market valuation of an inferior class of American vessels, employed only in the summer months and largely owned by his constituents. In 1789, when the first tonnage tax was imposed, and the treasury of the new nation was sorely in need of revenue, the maximum rate for American vessels was six cents per ton. Vessels belonging to foreign states, between whom and the United States ordinary commercial relations are established, pay the same tonnage taxes as American vessels. But if any person not a citizen of the United States becomes an owner to the extent of the merest fraction in a ship of American build, then such ship is not entitled to the privileges accorded to ships owned wholly by foreigners, but must pay, on entering a port of the United States, a tonnage tax of sixty cents, or double rate, and such vessel at once ceases to be entitled to registry or enrollment as a vessel of the United States. Here, then, we have piled up, as it were, on the top of all other provisions, another direct, odious and stupid discrimination against the employment of foreign capital, provided it should so incline, for the developing of the American shipping interest and the employment of labor even in our own dock-yards and harbors. Supposing a similar law to be proposed, discriminating in like manner against the investment of foreign capital in American railroads, mines, factories, and mercantile enterprises generally, does any one doubt that the proponent would be at once hooted into contempt? And yet the hypothetical law is no more absurd than the law that actually exists upon the statute book. Practically the law is a dead letter. In the case of ordinary vessels rigid inquiry as to ownership is rarely or never instituted, and the oath required is regarded and taken as a mere form. In case of incorporated American ocean navigation companies (if there are any such), the president of the company has only to swear to the ownership of any vessel by the company, and the federal officials will not care if the ownership of one or a majority of the shares of the corporation vest in citizens of foreign nationalities; the provision of the statute, as with a view of making the law of no effect, being that in this swearing to ownership by a company it shall not be necessary to designate the names of the persons comprising such company. The result of this is, that any foreigner can purchase shares in any American navigation company, and not a vessel of their fleet will thereby lose American registration and American protection; but if a foreigner became the owner of the smallest fraction of a hundred-ton steamboat, plying between Key West and Havana, the registration of such vessel would be instantly vitiated. If a Sunday-school or a picnic party, out on an excursion, happen to come into an American port on a foreign (Canadian) vessel (as was recently the case on one of our upper lakes) for mere temporary and pleasure purposes, the vessel is liable to a tonnage tax, and a libel against such vessel, instituted by an over-zealous official for its payment, has been decided by the treasury department (August, 1876) to be a proceeding which the government must enforce.
—14. By the act of June 6, 1872, all materials necessary for the construction of vessels built in the United States for the purpose of foreign trade, may be imported and used free of duty. But all American vessels receiving the benefit of this act can not engage in the American coasting trade for more than two months in any one year without payment of the duties on which a rebate has been allowed.
—15. The several ports of the United States are classified by districts; and in each district one port is designated as a "port of entry," and others as "ports of delivery." All vessels on arriving from a foreign country in any district, must first report at the established port of entry, and then conform to the details of the custom house service; after which, if the vessel is American, it can proceed to any port of delivery in the district for the purpose of unloading. But if the vessel be foreign, it can only discharge at the port of entry, even though its cargo be imported exclusively for the use of American citizens at a port of delivery. A ship, therefore, may pass almost within hail of the point of destination of its cargo, and yet be compelled to unload many miles away, thus necessitating reshipping and repeated rehandling, at much additional expense. Thus the customs districts of Boston and Charlestown, Massachusetts, comprise only one port of entry, Boston; while Cambridge, Medford, Hingham, Cohasset, and other places, are all ports of delivery only. If a foreign vessel arrives from abroad with a cargo of hemp for Hingham, instead of proceeding direct to the wharf in that port, she must first sail right by it, enter herself and cargo at Boston, and then unlade at a Boston wharf, and reship the goods, by coasting vessel or rail, to the owners at Hingham.
—The following will also illustrate in some degree the manner in which the navigation laws of the United States have been executed: All vessels of the United States engaged in the coasting trade are required to be enrolled and licensed, and vessels engaging in trade and transportation without previously procuring such enrollment or license are liable to seizure and heavy penalties. On the east bank of the Hudson, in the city of Troy, state of New York, there are extensive iron works, the coal and ore supplies for which are largely transported over the Erie and Champlain canals. Boats coming down these canals loaded with such supplies are locked into the Hudson at West Troy, a point on the west bank nearly opposite to the furnaces; then after crossing the river, delivering their freight and recrossing, re-enter the canal and return on their route for another similar cargo. Some years ago the officials of the United States treasury department decided that under our navigation laws this temporary entry of boats from the canals into the Hudson for the purpose of delivering cargo, and their subsequent return into the canal, constituted a coasting voyage, for the engaging in which it was obligatory on the owners of the canal boats to have previously taken out a license. Of course the owners, not anticipating any such official interpretation of the law, had not provided themselves with licenses, but this nevertheless did not prevent a large number of boats from being seized and libeled for violation of the navigation laws, from which they were only released after expensive and annoying litigation and the payment of considerable sums in the way of costs or penalties.
—Take another illustration of more recent date. It has of late years been customary for merchants and shippers on our northern lakes to buy and use for transporting grain large barges or hulks built in Canada, and as such constructions are not capable of moving or navigating except as they are towed, and are not provided with the usual appurtenances for navigation, they have not been regarded as subject to the provisions of our navigation laws relative to foreign vessels. During the summer of 1880, however, the collector of the port of Erie, Pa., on Lake Erie, called the attention of the treasury department to the circumstance that a certain barge, the William H. Vosburg, had been guilty of the heinous offense of hoisting a sail on its apology for a mast—whether for the sake of avoiding a dangerous rock or a lee shore was not stated—and asked for instructions. The department promptly replied "that the only condition upon which that barge could continue to navigate those waters was to hoist her sails temporarily; any attempt to keep her canvas by beyond that would get her into trouble. Being Canadian built, she could not be enrolled, and, by consequence, the permanent use of sail upon her would entail forfeiture of cargoes and the payment of double tonnage tax at every port of arrival." "The official correspondence does not inform us what the result was, but it is safe to presume the little barge had to take down her little sail, as otherwise she would have been simply taxed out of existence, in accordance with the statutes in such cases made and provided."
—In August, 1875, the Canadian yacht Oriole, of less than fifty tons burden, owned in Toronto, but belonging to the International yacht club and the yacht club of Detroit, arrived in Chicago from Toronto with a pleasure party of seven gentlemen for the purpose of participating, on invitation of the Chicago yacht club, in a regatta at the latter port, having previously made a tour of the lakes, stopping at various points of interest and taking on board, on several occasions, pleasure parties of ladies and gentlemen, who were entertained in part by transportation from port to port. On arrival at Chicago the Oriole was complained of to the treasury department as having violated the navigation laws of the United States, which forbid foreign vessels from participating in the coasting trade and from conveying passengers from one American port to another, and proceedings looking to seizure and confiscation were contemplated. This penalty the secretary of the treasury graciously remitted, inasmuch as there was evidently no intent on the part of the owner of the Oriole to violate the law; but owing to the absence of proper papers showing the nationality and occupation of the yacht, although these were well known, the privilege of exemption from tonnage taxes accorded by law to foreign pleasure yachts was not granted. The Chicago yacht club, therefore, paid on account of their guests, into the treasury of the United States, the sum of fifteen dollars, while the owners of the Oriole, not knowing what other legal difficulties they might encounter from a prolonged sojourn, slipped out of port in the early morning and returned home as soon as practicable.
—We are accustomed, as we read of the sumptuary laws and arbitrary restrictions on commercial and personal freedom in years long past, to congratulate ourselves, as it were involuntarily, that we live on a higher and different plane, and that among nations calling themselves civilized and enlightened such things are no longer possible. It would be difficult, however, to find in any record of past experience more absurdities and iniquities than are embodied in the so-called navigation laws of the United States at present existing, and in the details of their administration during the last quarter of a century. And yet it was in respect to these same laws that a convention of one of the great political parties, held in Maine in August, 1877, unanimously resolved that "enacted in the infancy of the republic, they have proved their wisdom by long and varied experience. They embody the matured judgment of three generations of commercial men. Any radical change in these laws would be detrimental to the highest interests of American commerce and a damaging blow to the national independence of the country." In answer to the questions which must naturally here suggest themselves to every thoughtful mind. How is it that such laws can at this period of the nineteenth century be maintained and defended? and how happened it that a convention of presumably more than average intelligence could make public declaration of such nonsense and untruth as was embodied in the resolutions of the Maine convention above quoted? it may be said that upon on one public matter have the American people, until within a very recent period, been so little acquainted as in respect to our commercial laws and regulations. Scattered through statute enactments for over ninety years, and with court and treasury interpretations for the same period forming a part of the law and all of its administration, though not embodied in the statute, it has not been an easy matter for even those engaged in the business of law and law-making to know what the navigation laws actually were: and it is exceedingly doubtful whether in the convention referred to there was one single man that had any clear and definite knowledge of how these laws originated, what they embody, and what is the sphere of their influence.
—Repeal of British Navigation Laws. It required a long time to induce even so much as a doubt in the minds of Englishmen, that such laws as her navigation code were not in every respect wise and expedient. Up to the year 1821, according to a report made to the British house of commons, "no fewer than two thousand laws" had been enacted at different periods for the protection, encouragement or regulation of British commerce, every one of which, according to the testimony of Buckle, "was an unmitigated evil."
—Again, during the whole of the period of the existence of the British navigation laws, the predominant idea among British statesmen was, that commerce could not take care of itself, that it would decay under the influence of foreign competition, and that legislation—protective and interfering—was the essential thing to make it prosperous. Indeed, it was considered necessary that no parliament should go out of existence until it had enacted something pertaining to the regulation and encouragement of trade and commerce. "I pray you," said Charles II. in one of his speeches to parliament, "Contrive any good short bills which may improve the industry of the nation: and so, God bless your councils." Mr. Ricardo, the celebrated economist and author, who wrote before the repeal of the navigation laws, in commenting on this state of things, used the following language, which equally well applies to the existing situation in the United States: "All increase of shipping." he says, "they attributed to acts of parliament; none to increase of population and industry and wealth: according to them, all good is the result of restriction and protection, and only evil springs from enterprise and competition. Experience has taught them nothing; the word 'protection' has so mystified and deluded them that they are martyrs to it, and let it bind them down to inferiority and decay." "No one," says Mr. W. S. Lindsay, author of a recent work on merchant shipping, "can rise from a study of these laws without a feeling of amazement at the trouble our ancestors gave themselves to 'beggar their neighbors' under the erroneous impression which too long prevailed, that by their ruin our own prosperity would be most effectively achieved. It is therefore not surprising, that, under such legislative measures, maritime commerce was for centuries slow in growth, and that British merchants and ship owners frequently suffered quite as much through the instrumentality of laws meant for their protection as their foreign competitors against whom these regulations were leveled."
—British legislators, in common with legislators of our own day and nation, were unwilling to learn, except by experience; but, after five centuries of experience in attempting to promote commerce and navigation by law, they began to realize that the general effect of such a polity was injurious, and not beneficial. This feeling first practically manifested itself in a motion in parliament, in 1847, by Mr. Ricardo, for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the operation and policy of the navigation laws; and, although strenuously opposed, the motion was adopted by a vote of 155 to 61. The committee thus created, owing to a termination of the session before they had concluded their labors, never reported; but the evidence taken by them, and placed on record, abundantly proved that these laws failed to secure superiority either in ships, officers or crews; that they failed to secure a supply of seamen for the navy; that they were prejudicial to both British foreign and colonial trade; that they caused the enactment by other countries of similar laws, framed, in part, for retaliation; and that they did not secure remunerative profits to the ship owner. One representative witness, deputed by an association of ship owners to appear before the committee, expressed the opinion that half the capital embarked in British shipping during the preceding twenty-five years had been entirely lost.
—There was, moreover, a special stimulus acting on the British mind, at the time the reform movement commenced in 1849, in favor of a more liberal maritime policy. Ships were then built almost exclusively of wood. The United States could build cheaper and better ships than England, because the advantage in the material and skill for building was with them. And England, recognizing this fact, felt that the repeal of all restrictions in the way of the purchase by her citizens of American ships, was one of the conditions essential to enable them to meet American competition on the ocean on anything like equal terms. By act of parliament, therefore, in 1849, all British navigation laws of a restrictive character, with the exception of such as pertained to the coasting trade, were repealed; and, in 1854, the British coasting trade also was thrown open, without restriction, to the participation of all nations. The reason why the British coasting trade was not also made free in 1849, the same as, and in connection with, British foreign trade, it is now well understood, was because of the unwillingness of the United States to make any reciprocal maritime concessions.
—Although long discussed, and the end, to some extent, anticipated, this actual abrogation of the British navigation laws finally encountered great opposition throughout the kingdom; and predictions were freely indulged in by such men as Disraeli, Lord Brougham, Lord George Bentinck, and others, that henceforth "free trade in shipping would destroy the ship-building trade of Great Britain, ruin British ship owners, and drive British sailors into foreign vessels." In Liverpool, petitions to parliament against the repeal received 27,000 signatures, while a counter-petition received only 1,400 signatures. In London, the petitions against repeal received 23,000 signatures. Thomas Baring and other equally influential persons heading the list. Some leading British ship owners, seeing nothing but ruin before them, sold out their whole tonnage at the best price attainable in a depressed market, the moment that it became evident to them that all attempts to further perpetuate the navigation laws would be useless. In the house of commons, Mr. Disraeli concluded a long attack upon the first bill repealing the British navigation laws, in the following words, which would seem to have served as a model for nearly all the statesmen of the restrictive school in the United States from that time onward: "Will you, by the recollections of your past prosperity, by the memory of your still existing power, for the sake of the most magnificent colonial empire in the world, now drifting away amid the breakers, for the sake of the starving mechanics of Birmingham and Sheffield, by all the wrongs of a betrayed agriculture, by all the hopes of Ireland, will you not rather, by the vote we are now coming to, arrive at a decision which may to-morrow smooth the careworn countenance of British toil, give growth and energy to national labor, and at least afford hope to the tortured industry of a suffering people?" And he closed by sarcastically observing that "he would not sing 'Rule Britannia' for fear of distressing Mr. Cobden, but he did not think the house would encore 'Yankee Doodle.' He could not share the responsibility of endangering that empire which extended beyond the Americas and the farthest Ind, which was foreshadowed by the genius of Blake and consecrated by the blood of a Nelson—the empire of the seas." Lord Stanley (afterward Earl Derby), in objecting to the proposal to admit a foreign-built ship to British registry, said, "It was essential to keep up the number and efficiency of our private building-yards, which would speedily decrease in number were such a proposal adopted." Admiral Martin testified before the select committee of the house of commons, "that if the abrogation of the navigation laws left the [British] ship owner at liberty to build his ships in foreign countries, and he availed himself of that license, it would inevitably diminish the shipwright class in this kingdom; yet on this class the safety of England greatly depended." Mr. Walpole, M. P., said that, "whatever gain might be reaped by individuals, the repeal of the navigation laws would imperil the safety of the country." Mr. Drummond, M. P., declared "the measure to be the last of a serious invented by the Manchester school, the end and intention of which were to discharge all British laborers, and to employ foreign laborers in lieu of them—foreign sawyers instead of English sawyers, foreign shipwrights instead of English shipwrights, and so on through the whole category of employments." He added, "that if there was a satanic school of politics this was certainly it." The ship owners' society of London, in one of these appeals to parliament, after expressing the opinion that the maritime greatness of England depended upon the maintenance of the navigations laws, said, "that if these laws were abolished, 'Rule Britannia' would forever be expunged from our national songs, the glories of Duncan and Nelson would wither like the aspen leaf and fade like the Tyrian dye, and none but Yankees, Swedes, Dances and Norwegians could be found in our ports. Who would there be to fight our battles, and defend our sea-girt shores?" Lord Brougham also spoke of the laws that it was proposed to repeal, as having long been considered "not only as the foundation of our glory and the bulwark of our strength, but the protection of our very existence as a nation." But all of these appeals proved powerless to prevent the progress of reform, and common sense in the end triumphed by a majority of fifty-six in the commons and ten in the house of lords. Sir Robert Peel, in closing the debate, met the predictions of disaster, so freely indulged in by the opponents of repeal, by showing that "the same outcry of ruin to the ship owner" had always been set up whenever any measure looking to the unshackling of ocean trade had previously been proposed; and adverted in particular to the circumstance that when in 1782, seventy years previous, it was proposed to admit Ireland to participation in the colonial trade, the ship owners of England prevented it on the ground that it threatened ruin to their interests, and that those of Liverpool, in a petition addressed to the house of commons, declared, "that if any such thing were permitted, Liverpool must be inevitably reduced to its original insignificance."
—Experience of British Shipping subsequent to the Repeal of the Navigation Laws. Let us next inquire as to the results of the experience of this legislation, and how far the prophecies of doom indulged in by Disraeli. Brougham and Drummond were realized. From 1816 to 1840 the tonnage of the United Kingdom remained almost stationary, increasing during the period of twenty four years to the extent of only 80,118 tons. It began, however, to increase immediately and coincidently with the removal of British protective duties in 1842, and gained 444,436 tons between 1842 and 1849. After the repeal of the navigation laws it went up from 3,485,958 in 1849 to 3,662,344 in 1851; to 4,284,750 in 1834; to 4,806,826 in 1861; to 5,694,123 in 1871; and 6,574,513 in 1880.*70. But even this statement fails to convey a correct idea of the rapidity of growth which British commerce has experienced since the shackles for so many years imposed upon it by the navigation laws were removed; for, with the introduction of steam as a motive power for vessels, a very much larger amount of service is performed with a given amount of tonnage than formerly, thus continually diminishing the necessity for an absolutely large increase of tonnage. For a full understanding, therefore, of what has actually taken place, it is necessary to couple with the statement of the absolute increase of British tonnage a statement of the increase of tonnage entering or clearing the ports of the United Kingdom; which, comparing 1840 with 1880, has risen from 6,490,485 tons to 41,348,984 tons, an increase of over 500 per cent.
—The statistics of the entries and clearances in the British foreign trade showed an increase in 1860 of 10,000,000 tons over 1850; 12,000,000 in 1870 over 1860; and 22,000,000 in 1880 over 1870. British steam tonnage increased two and a half times during the decade of 1850-60, more than trebled between 1860-70, and increased two and a half times again between 1870-80. "I am not acquainted with any national industry," says Mr. John Glover, in a paper on "The Progress of Shipping," read before the statistical society of London, February, 1882, "of which such statements could be made on the authority of parliamentary returns." Wooden vessels, according to the same authority, are disappearing from the British register at the rate of about a thousand vessels each year. But, for every ton of effective carrying power thus lost, seven tons through replacement by steamers, it is estimated, are gained. Another curious fact showing the immense economy of steam, brought out by recent investigations, is, that the enormously increased work performed by the British commercial marine, in 1880, was performed by fewer hands than were employed in 1870. As has been already noted, the restrictions on the participation of foreign vessels in the coasting trade of Great Britain were not removed at the time of the repeal of the navigation laws in connection with foreign trade in 1849, but were continued until 1856. Much apprehension was even then felt at the possible effect of the removal of the last British barrier in the way of free ocean commerce; but experience soon showed that freedom was no less beneficial in the smaller sphere of its application than it had proved in the larger. The British coasting trade, as had been the case with the British foreign trade, immediately and largely increased under conditions of freedom; and while foreign vessels at once and for the first time came in and participated in it, the proportion of the total business transacted by British vessels eventually became greater than ever before, and the superiority once established has never been impaired.
—Since Great Britain repealed her navigation laws in 1849, all maritime nations, except the United States, have either greatly modified the old time restrictions which they once imposed on the building and use of vessels, or abolished them altogether, Chinese and Japanese commercial exclusiveness having even yielded to the liberal spirit of the age. In the United States, however, the old laws; without material change, continue (1882) to hold their place upon the national statute book. International trade since their enactment has come to be carried on by entirely different methods. Ships are different, voyages are different, crews are different, men's habits of thought and methods of doing business are different, but the old, mean, arbitrary enactments which the last century devised to shackle commerce remain unchanged in the United States alone of all the nations, and, what is most singular of all, it is claimed to be the part of wisdom and the evidence of patriotism to uphold and defend them.
—Those who oppose the repeal of the present navigation laws of the United States, on the ground (as they generally do) that it is necessary to maintain them in order to perfect American ship building, encourage commerce, promote national independence, and educate a large body of skillful seamen ready for any emergency, find themselves confronted with the disagreeable and undisputed facts, that under the influence of these very laws, our ship yards have become deserted, our ocean carrying trade has dwindled to insignificance, while an American sailor has come to be regarded almost in the light of a curiosity. In short, every end for which the navigation laws were originally instituted has been frustrated; and no result following their repeal could be any worse than what exists, or is certain to follow their continuance. Another result of the present state of things, which, if it has not already happened in a degree, is certainly to be apprehended, is the destruction, through the shutting out of free competition with foreign ship builders, of the inventive faculty of the nautical engineers and mechanics of the United States. American genius in days past has led the way in many great improvements in marine architecture; but with the decline of our ocean marine, the shutting up of our yards, and the continuance of antiquated, obstructive laws, we seem to offer no longer any incentive to either genius or enterprise in this direction. Bring back the ships, even by buying them abroad, and the repairs of a large merchant marine on this side of the Atlantic, which can not be avoided, will afford more employment to labor, and require the use of more capital, than ship building in the United States now does or ever can under the existing system. The Unite States must be a large ship-using, before it can be a large ship-building, nation.
DAVID A. WELLS.
Notes for this chapter
"The sentiment was common to Virginia. at least among the intelligent and educated, that slavery was cruel and unjust. The delegates from Virginia and Maryland, hostile to navigation laws, were still more warmly opposed to the African slave trade. Delaware by her constitution, and Virginia and Maryland by special laws, had prohibited the importation of slaves North Carolina had shown a disposition to conform to the policy of her northern sisters by an act which denounced the further introduction of slaves into the state as "highly impolitic." (Hildreth, vol iii., pp. 508-10) Pennsylvania founded a society for the abolition of slavery in 1733, with Franklin for its first president and Rush its first secretary. New York had a similar society in 1785, with Jay as its first president and Hamilton as his successor. On the other hand, as some illustration of the then current New England sentiment, attention is asked to the following extract from an oration by Mr David Daggett (afterward United States senator and chief justice of Connecticut) at New Haven, July 4, 1787—a mouth before the federal convention, then in session, took up the subject of slavery and the navigation laws. The orator, after speaking of the gratitude and generous reward the country owed to the officers and soldiers of the late army, and its immediate inability to discharge such obligations, continued: "If, however, there is not a sufficiency of property in the country, I would project a plan to acquire it.* * * Let us repeal all the laws against the African slave trade, and undertake the truly benevolent and humane merchandise of importing negroes to Christianize them. This has been practiced by individuals among us, and they have found it a lucrative branch of business. Let us then make a national matter of it. * * * We should have the sublime satisfaction of enriching ourselves, and at the same time rendering happy thousands of those blacks by instructing them in the ways of religion. * * * This would be no innovation. * * * This country permitted it for many years, among their other acts of justice, but their refusing to pay sacred and solemn obligations is not of so long standing."
End of Notes
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