The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
COMMERCIAL DIVORCE

"OUR respective territories are in vicinity, and, therefore, we must be inseparable. Great Britain, with the British power in America, is the only nation with whom, by absolute necessity, you must have the most intimate concerns, either of friendship or hostility. All other nations are three thousand miles distant from you. You may have political connexions with any of these distant nations, but with regard to Great Britain it must be so. Political intercourse and interests will obtrude themselves between our two countries, because they are the two great powers dividing the continent of North America."1

Thus spoke David Hartley to the American peace commissioners in the summer of 1783. His prophetic words expressed what he rightly called "an awful and important truth," and they did not deny it. They heartily agreed with him and with every other Briton who had a share in framing the treaty that whatever seeds of discord might lie in it should be smothered by a most generous application of reciprocity. But the commercial agreement which they envisaged as the vitalizing supplement of the peace treaty was never reached. Already a storm was gathering in England to blow it away.

On January 27, 1783, the government laid the preliminaries of November 30 before Parliament. Great uneasiness at once arose because, though the preamble talked of establishing reciprocity, the rest of the document contained no provision for reopening trade with the lost colonies. Prohibitory legislation, passed on the outbreak of the war, was still in the statute book. Would not other countries, led by France, seize the opportunity to capture the American trade? Even if it were repealed, the navigation laws would raise a formidable barrier. Mercantile voices, particularly in London and Glasgow, cried out for action, and members of Parliament expressed their impatience. To allay the widespread fears, Shelburne's Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Thomas Townshend, moved on February 21 for leave to introduce a bill to make provisional regulations for the resumption of the trade so that it would not have to wait upon the preparation of a permanent system. He excused himself from entering into details lest they stir discussion which might interfere with the important business of the day, and the motion was straightway carried. Then followed the memorable debate upon the preliminaries which lasted until after three o'clock on the following morning, when the

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1
R.D.CU.S., VI,483-484.

-55-

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