The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 10, 1737-1739. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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The Commitment moved for by Mr Pulteney. ; Mr Winnington opposes it.
Friday May 12. About 12 o'Clock Mr. Pulteney moved for the Order of the Day, and was seconded by Mr. Sandys: But the Bill to empower the Lord-Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London to set the Price upon all Coals commonly called Sea-Coals, imported into the Port of London from Newcastle and the Ports adjacent thereunto, for one Year, having taken up a great deal of the House's Time that Session, Mr. Winnington, who was Chairman of the Committee, to which it was committed, opposed the same; upon which the Speaker said:
Debate upon Order The Chair.
'A Motion so unexpected as the present makes it difficult for me to determine in what Manner to behave: It has never been the Custom in this House to call for the Order of the Day till two o'Clock at soonest, because by that Hour Gentlemen are all present in the House, and thereby have the fairer Opportunity of knowing the Sense of the House upon the Business of the Day: But as this Motion has been made by an honourable Gentleman, and regularly seconded by another, it is my Duty, if the Motion is not retracted, to take the Sense of the House upon it. And Gentlemen I hope won't be offended, if previous thereto I acquaint them with my Thoughts of the Matter It is always my Custom, Gentlemen, before I take the Chair, to digest in my own Mind the Manner in which the Affairs of the Day may be best carried on, both for the Ease of Gentlemen, and the Dispatch of Business. Gentlemen know very well that this Day they are to have a Conference with the Lords about some Amendments to the Bill for the more effectual securing the Payment of Rents to Landlords, and preventing Frauds in Tenants. As I believe the Conference will not continue very long, perhaps not half an Hour, and very little of our Time will be spent in the reporting it, I thought the most proper Way of proceeding on the Business of the Day, was first to consider the Amendments of the Coal-Bill, then go to the Conference, and when Gentlemen are returned from the Conference, which may be about half an Hour after two o'Clock, to call in the Order of the Day, for which the present Motion is made. This, Gentlemen, is the Scheme which I had digested with myself, and I wish it may be agreeable to the House.'
'When I made the Motion, it was not with a Design to put the House to any Inconveniences, or to interrupt the other Business of the Day. But since the Session of the Parliament is now so far advanced, that, if I am rightly informed, it will continue but three Days longer; and since this Bill is of the greatest Consequence to the Trade and Welfare of the Nation; and if we do not go through it to-day in the Committee, it is in Danger of being dropped intirely, I thought it necessary to press the Consideration of it. The Coal Bill, I know, though of less Importance, will, when we enter upon it, engross much of our Time, of which Part may be saved, by putting off the Report for a Day, because Gentlemen will have Leisure to concert the Amendments among themselves, and the House will perhaps escape the Trouble of a Debate. But the Bill in my Hands is of a different Nature; it is a Bill in which we are all equally concerned, a Bill for which the Publick is anxious, and which claims all the Attention we can give: Gentlemen can never be more usefully employed than in seriously examining how it may be amended or altered, so an best to answer the Ends for which it is calculated. For these Reasons, Sir, I shall beg Leave to insist upon my Motion.
Thomas Winnington, Esq;
'I do not believe that there is a Gentleman in this House who remembers a single Instance of the Order of the Day being called for before two o'Clock. It has always been the Method of this House to receive Reports before any other Business was engaged in; and I have now, Sir, in my Hand; the Report of a Committee upon the Amendments to a Bill, on which this House has bestowed more Time and Consideration than upon any Bill that has been before it this Session. I shall not dispute the Importance of the Bill which the honourable Gentleman has in his Hand; but surely, Sir, Gentlemen have no Reason to complain of the Reception it hath yet met with from the House. It has been twice read, and ordered to be committed in as short a Time as any Bill could be, at the End of a Session, and amidst such a Multiplicity of Business: it is therefore, Sir, I think, but reasonable, that the Report I have in my Hand be now received, and that the Bill for which the honourable Gentleman interests himself, take its Turn in a regular Way.'
'Tho' I might very well be excused from retracting the Motion I have made, yet your Judgment, Sir, shall always have great Influence with me. If therefore Gentlemen will be pleased to agree to your Proposal, I am content that the Report which the honourable Gentleman has to make be now received.
No Reply being made to this, Mr. Winnington read the Report from the Committee on the Coal Bill, and the House went thro' the first Amendment; which occasioning some Debate, employed them till two o'Clock, the Hour appointed for the Conference. In the mean Time, Sir Robert Walpole and many other Members coming into the House, Mr. Winnington moved that the farther Consideration of the Amendments should be resumed when the Conference was over. Upon this Mr. Pulteney rose, up and spoke in Substance as follows:
'If there is either Faith, Honour, or common Justice amongst Gentlemen, this Motion ought not be agreed to. I appeal, Sir, to every Gentleman who was in the House, when I moved for the Order of the Day; if I did not retract my Motion, from a Deference to your Judgment, which influenced me to agree to what was contrary to my own. You was pleased, Sir, to inform us how you had digested the Business of the Day in your own Mind; and in consequence of your Proposal, we were, immediately after the Conference, to enter upon the Order of the Day. This Sir, I agreed to, and not one Gentleman expressed his Dissent. With what Face then can Gentlemen make a Motion so contrary to what they agreed to scarce an Hour ago! This, Sir, is, I must own, a very extraordinary Manner of proceeding amongst Gentlemen; and for that Reason, Sir, were it for no other, I hope this House will never agree to so pernicious a Precedent.'
'I do not know how just a Construction the honourable Gentleman who spoke last has put upon your Words, but I am sure I understood them in a Manner quite different from what he seems to have done. It never enter'd, Sir, into my Head, to think that we were to leave the Coal Bill abruptly; and not proceed again in it, when the House comes from the Conference. I could wish indeed that Gentlemen had met with no Difficulties in the Amendments, that we might have gone into a Committee upon the honourable Gentleman's Motion, when we returned from the Conference. But, Sir, as this is a Bill of very great Consequence to the Cities of London and Westminster, I hope Gentlemen will be pleased to consider, that if they should postpone it now, it perhaps may not be ready for the Royal Assent this Session; and that before the next, Extortion may proceed to greater Enormities, and the Grievance become too heavy to be borne. A Man, Sir, must always be the best Judge of his own Intentions, and I declare I never had Intention of leaving this Bill unfinish'd, in order to proceed upon another, which, however fond some Gentlemen are of it, may perhaps, when carefully examined, not be found of such Importance as they imagine.'
Several Gentlemen then declared that they apprehended the House was to proceed upon the Coal Bill till the Time appointed for the Conference, and that when the Conference was over, they were immediately to resolve into a Committee upon the Bill mov'd to be considered. At the same Time they called loudly upon the Chair to inform the House, if that was not his Meaning? if he did not understand that it was upon that Assurance that the Motion made by Mr. Pulteney was retracted?
Mr Robert Walpole.
'I own myself a little unfit to speak in this Debate, because I was not present when the honourable Gentleman made the Motion that gave Rise to it. But, I think, Sir, neither the honourable Gentleman himself who made the Motion nor any of his Friends who have since given the House their Sense of the Matter, have affirmed, that the honourable Gentleman who opposed the Motion dropt one Word, from which it could be inferred that he should be willing that the House should leave the Bill upon which we now are, without compleating it, in order to examine another Bill, only because it is so much a Favourite of the honourable Gentleman who made the Motion, that rather than omit any Thing that could tend to promote it, he chose to act in a Way somewhat dark, artful, and suspicious, by moving for the Order of the Day at a very unusual Time, when by the well-known Form of the House, the Preference was to be given to other Business.
'If, Sir, one Gentleman has a Fondness for a Bill which has, perhaps, cost him some Trouble in preparing and bringing into the House, sure it is very reasonable to indulge another Gentleman in the same Partiality for one that has cost the House so much Time and Trouble in examing, canvassing, and amending, as the Bill now under our Consideration has done.
'For this Reason, Sir, I am for resuming the Consideration of this Bill, and when we have gone thro' it, I shall, with all my Heart, agree to our examining the other Bill, if the House shall think proper. In the mean Time, Sir, I cannot see with what Reason the honourable Gentleman who made the Motion should accuse Gentlemen of Breach of Faith, Honour, and common Justice, for not understanding your Words in the very same Manner with himself: Nor indeed do I think a Matter of this Importance ought to have taken up so much of our Time: Nobody opposes our going into a Committee upon this Bill; only let us do it at a convenient Time, without postponing other Business that ought to have the Preference. Therefore, Sir, I am entirely of Opinion, that we ought to resume the further Consideration of the Bill now before us.'
'From what was last spoken, I can easily foresee the Fate of the Bill I have now in my Hand: I can discern thro' all these thin Disguises, that some Gentlemen have Recourse to a mean Expedient to hinder us from considering a Bill against which no Shew of Reason or Argument can be advanc'd. I hate, Sir, all Expedients, and I disdain all Ministers who use them. Some Ministers, Sir, there are, who live upon Expedients, and who cannot do their dirty Work without them. Expedients, Sir, in the Hands of weak Ministers, are the Instruments of defeating the most beneficial and of promoting the most destructive Measures. Some Ministers know, Sir, that the Bill for which I now stand up, is a Bill that leaves no room for cobweb Negociations, inconsistent Treaties, or mock Expeditions for the future; and that, Sir, is the Reason why this Method is made use of to undermine it. If I had been capable of acting as the honourable Gentleman who spoke last has suggested, I might have had many Opportunities of taking the Advantage of a thin House, either to bring in or throw out Bills of the greatest Consequence. I appeal to every Gentleman who hears me, if it has not been many times in my Power to have dropt in, even upon a Land-Tax Bill, with half a Dozen of my Friends, and to have thrown it out. But, Sir, I have always disdained these Arts. The Bill, Sir, for which I have laboured, will I hope, recommend itself to every Gentleman who has a just Sense of his Country's Honour; and if it is decreed that it must fall to the Ground, I shall at least have the Satisfaction of doing my Duty honestly as an Englishman and a Member of this House. One good Consequence I am persuaded will attend it: My Countrymen will learn, by the Fate of it, what they are to expect; they will learn, Sir, whether we are tamely to submit to Insolence and Oppressions, or to seize the Means of redressing them.'
Sir Robert Walpole.
'Tho' the Manner in which the honourable Gentleman who spoke last delivered himself — may well excuse me from saying any Thing in answer to a Speech so very unparliamentary, and so very inconsistent with all the Rules of common Decency; yet I think I ought to shew so much Regard to the House as to declare, that I abhor dirty Expedients as much as the honourable Gentleman would be thought to do. As for his common-place Railing against Ministers, it gives me very little Trouble, so long as I am conscious I do not deserve to have it apply'd to me. Were I ambitious of shewing my Wit, I might have a fair Opportunity of doing it by raising against Mock-Patriots as much as the honourable Gentleman has been pleased to do against corrupt Ministers, and both perhaps might be equally instructive to the House. But, Railing of all Kinds, Sir, has always been look'd upon as the last Expedient of disappointed Ambition, and a poor Expedient it is. Were I one who for many Years had unsuccessfully endeavoured, by all the Arts that Malice and Falshood could suggest, to work myself into those Posts and Dignities that I outwardly affected to despise; I know not how far, Sir, my Temper might be sowered, as to make Use of such an Expedient; but really, Sir, if I did, I should make but a very poor Figure in the World. Why the honourable Gentleman should suppose there was any premeditated Design in the Ministry to throw out his favourite Bill, I cannot comprehend. I believe every Gentleman here will in his own Mind acquit the Ministry of any such Design, when he reflects upon the Circumstance that gave Rise to this Debate. For my Part, Sir, I doubt not but I shall be able, without having Recourse to any other Expedient than Reason and Argument, to shew that the Bill for which the honourable Gentleman so earnestly pleads is a very bad Bill; that it is a Bill with a specious Title, but of a destructive Tendency. But, Sir, as it depends principally upon you to clear up the Facts that gave Rise to this Debate, I shall take the Liberty to beg that you would inform the House how the Matter stands, and for my own Part I shall very chearfully acquiesce in your Decision.
'I am extremely sorry that any Thing which fell from me should have given Occasion to a Debate of this Kind, and it is a very disagreeable Business to be obliged to declare my Opinion in the present Case: However, Gentlemen, as you call upon me so loudly, and so unanimously to do it, I will, without Regard to any Persons, or to any Distinctions, inform the House of my real Sentiments. When I made this controverted Proposal, I thought there was but very little to do in the Coal Bill, and that it might have been easily over before the Hour appointed for the Conference; and indeed I must, in justice to the honourable Gentleman who made the first Motion, declare, that as I understood it, he retracted his Motion upon the Supposition that the House complied with the Terms which I proposed. These Terms were, that we should, after the Conference was over, immediately go into a Committee upon the hon. Gentleman's Bill. As no Objection was made to what I suggested, either by the hon. Gentleman who made the last Motion, or any of his Friends, I did, indeed, take it for granted that the Terms of my Proposal were actually agreed to. However, I shall be very proud, if what I am now going to suggest can contribute to make up this Breach. The Conference will probably be over in half an Hour, during which Time all Proceedings on Business in this House are at a Stand, and Gentlemen may thereby have an Opportunity of preparing Matters so as to render it easy for the House to dispatch the Coal Bill in a very short Time. I shall therefore take the Liberty to propose, that after Gentlemen are returned from the Conference, the House shall proceed for half an Hour upon the Coal-Bill, and then resolve into a Committee on the other. If the Coal-Bill cannot be dispatched in half an Hour, I hope Gentlemen will be pleased to agree with our meeting To-morrow; and if they will come early, I believe we shall have Time enough for going through the Coal-Bill, and receiving the Report of the other Bill.
'I own the Warmth of my Temper transported me, when I spoke last, into some Expressions, for which I am now very sorry. But what Man, treated as I was, could have avoided some Excess. As you, Sir, have been so candid as to inform the House of the Truth of the Matter, and so kind as to propose the Method of our Proceeding, I entirely agree with your Proposal. I hope it is fully understood by Gentlemen, and that there will be no Mistakes about it when the proper Time comes.'
There being no Objection made to this Proposal, the Names of the Gentlemen appointed to manage the Conference were called over, and after they had been gone about half an Hour, they returned; upon which every Thing was carried on according to what Mr. Speaker had said.
Sir Robert Walpole.
'I don't rise up now to give my Negative to the Bill before us; I only intend at present to throw out a few Inconveniencies that to me appear to lie against it, which, upon our farther Progress, may be worthy Consideration. At the same Time I own myself to be under great Difficulties. On the one Hand, should I vote for Measures, that must either inevitably plunge us into an expensive and an uncertain War, or make the Conclusion of a safe and honourable Peace more difficult, I shall act contrary to my own private Opinion, contrary to the Duty I owe to his Majesty from the Station I have the Honour to possess in his Councils, and contrary to what I owe my Country from the Seat I have in this House. On the other Hand, I am too sensible of the many Violences committed, and Seizures made by the Spaniards, to oppose any Thing that carries a Probability of contributing to the Satisfaction which is due to our injured Merchants, to the Honour of the Nation, and the Dignity of the Crown of Britain. I shall therefore take the Liberty to state some Difficulties that it my Apprehension lie against passing the Bill now before us. And that I may do it the more distinctly, I shall consider this Bill as consisting of three different Parts, and give the House my Thoughts, such as they are, with regard to each of them.
'The Bill, Sir, has, I must acknowledge, a very popular Title: It is called, A Bill for the more effectual securing the Trade of his Majesty's Subjects in America; but to me it seems to have a direct Tendency to destroy it. By the first Clause, Sir, the Property of all Captures made when we come to an open Rupture with Spain, is to be vested in the Persons of the Captors. The second Clause gives five Pounds to every Sailor in his Majesty's Navy, who shall be on Board a Ship of ours, that shall take an Enemy's Ship on the open Seas: And by a third Clause his Majesty is to be impowered to grant his Letters Patent, for incorporating Societies for making Conquests of any City, Town, Fort, Lands, Settlements, Factories, &c. of the Spanish Dominions, and for assuring the Property of any Place taken to the Societies that may be concerned therein.
'By the first Clause I have mentioned, if all the Spanish Plate-Ships should be taken by our Fleet on their Return from, or in the Harbours of America, that immense Treasure becomes the Property of our Officers and Seamen. I believe, Gentlemen need not to be told that the Spaniards have not the Property of one fifth Part of the Riches which are yearly brought home in their Plate-Ships; the far greatest Part of the Cargo belongs to other Nations, who are in Friendship and Alliance with us. These Riches, Sir, were put on Board the Spanish Ships, in full Faith and Confidence of our Friendship. The Owners of them are no ways engaged in our Quarrel, nor have we ever received from them any Provocation. Now, Sir, I shall be glad to know how it would found, if upon a Rupture with Spain, the Fleet of Britain should seize upon the Wealth of her Friends and Allies, who had shipped it on Board the Spanish Ships in the full Faith and Assurance of Friendship; and what must be the Consequence of such Seizure, should it, by our passing this Bill, be put out of our Power to make them any Restitution.
'Sir, when I have said all this, I am far from thinking that we are not a sufficient Match for the Spaniards, or if the present Differences should come to an open Rupture, that we should not be able to force them soon to do us Justice. But give me leave, Sir, to say, that I think we are not a Match for the Spaniards and French too. Every Body knows that the Share which the French have in the Spanish Plate Ships is very considerable, and this being so, there is no Room to doubt but as soon as it is known at the Court of France, that we have a pass'd a Bill to give to our Officers and Seamen, that Treasure which she thought so well secured by her Friendship with us, she will immediately determine herself with regard to the Part she is to take in this Quarrel; but it is presumed, that the Determination will not be in our Favour. The Manner in which she will naturally reason on our passing this Bill, will be thus: 'I had resolv'd to stand Neuter in this Quarrel betwixt Spain and Britain, as their Differences did not affect my Interest. But now the Case is altered. I have a very great Property at Stake, and I must take effectual Care to secure it. This I can only do, either by infesting the Coast of Britain, and thereby forcing her to accept of what Terms I shall please to impose, or by sending out a Squadron of Men of War to protect the Spanish Plate Ships.' In this Manner, Sir, we may be assured, the Court of France will reason; in one or both of these Ways will she naturally act, if we should pass the present Bill into a Law; and in that Case I should not at all be surprized to see the next Spanish Plate Fleet come Home under a French Convoy. This, Sir, I think, is a prudential Consideration, why we ought not, but after maturely weighing the Consequences, to agree to the passing this Bill. But there are other Reasons of a different and a more domestick Nature, that ought to make us still more cautious in every Step we take in this Affair. As the Law already stands, Sir, his Majesty may dispose of Captures made in the Time of War in what manner he thinks fit; and there are many Instances of this House addressing the Prince on the Throne to grant them to the Officers and Seamen concerned in the Captures. Such Grants, Sir, have never been refused, when so apply'd for, and Captures were scarce ever otherwise disposed of. An honourable Gentleman in this House, I believe, if he pleases, can inform you that while he commanded a Squadron of our Ships during the last War with Spain, a Letter came from a Duke, the then Secretary of State, by which Letter his Majesty gave up all his Right to several Spanish Ships taken as Prizes in the Mediterranean, in favour of the Officers and Sailors who took them. And, Sir, we have not the least Reason to suspect that our Seamen would meet with less Encouragement under his present Majesty, than they have done under his Royal Predecessors. I think therefore it would be very unadvisable to engage in such Measures, as would, perhaps, put it out of his Majesty's Power to obtain Reparation of our past Injuries, or Security for our future Commerce. Nor can I see, Sir, the least Reason why you should put that in your Statute Book, which you before had upon your Journals.
'I shall proceed, Sir, to the second Consideration, and I hope I may, without Offence, be allowed to become an Advocate for our injured Merchants. I repeat it, Sir, — an Advocate for the Merchants! of whose Interest, however, I have been misrepresented, I am as tender as the warmest Friend they have. My Concern for them, Sir, is lest they should suffer more from us, if we pass this Bill, than they have suffered from the Spanish Guarda Costa's. I dare say the Honourable Gentleman who brought in the Bill, did not consider the Loss our Merchants may sustain by the Share they have in the Assurance made on the Cargoes of these Plate Ships. There is scarce any Nation in Europe whose Merchants have not Effects on board the Plate Ships, and which they do not take care to insure either with our Merchants or the Dutch. Hence it is, Sir, that they become accountable for the Damages these Ships shall receive by Storms, by Enemies, or by other Accidents.
'I will suppose, Sir, all Commerce to be already broken off with the French, by the Measures I have demonstrated they must naturally take on our passing this Bill: But will our Insurers be thereby free from indemnifying their Losses on our taking the Spanish Plate Ships? I believe not Sir; but if they were, I may venture to say, that the Merchants of other neighbouring Nations, will have a Claim upon our Insurers for greater Sums, than Their Losses by the Spanish Depredations can amount to. Besides, Sir, can we suppose the States General will be well pleased to find such large Demands made on their Insurers? The Dutch have certainly suffered much by the Spaniards, tho' perhaps they have not had so many Ships seized as we have; they can claim the same Right to Redress as we do, and if they please may pursue the same Measures for obtaining it; but, we find, they wait the Result of our Councils. If the Measures we shall take carry a Probability of procuring Satisfaction for the past, and Security for the future, we need not doubt of their Concurrence and Assistance; but if we pursue Measures which may render the Remedy worse than the Disease, we must never imagine that any Nation will determine themselves against their own Interest.
'I shall next proceed to another Argument, drawn, Sir, from a Consideration of the Treatment which our Merchants now residing in Spain, and other Places under that Crown, may receive, and of what will be the Fate of all our Ships which shall be found in any of its Ports, when it comes to be known that this Parliament has passed the Bill now before us. What may be the Value of our Merchants or Ships in their Ports, I do not pretend to know; but I believe I may safely say, that the trading Part of this Nation would have Reason to regret our taking a Step, that would be no sooner known at the Court of Spain (who would no doubt have more early Information of it than the Merchants themselves) than every Shilling of their Effects would be sequester'd, and every Ship they have in those Parts seized on. I know, Sir, it may and probably will be objected by some Gentlemen, that as this Affair has been long in Agitation, the Merchants by this Time are prepared for the worst, and have found means to secure their Effects so well in those Parts, as to render it impossible for the Government to discover them. But, Sir, though this might be done in a free Country like ours, where the Laws admit of no Racks or Wheels to extort a Discovery of that Kind, yet who can tell what Methods may be used in a Country where Liberty is not so well understood, and whose Prince is absolute? There is no Gentleman more zealous for the Honour of this Nation than I am, or more ready to concur with every Measure for asserting it: But, Sir, we are to reflect, that other Nations may be as tender in that Point as we are. Those who have Occasion to be much about the Persons of Princes know very well how jealous they are on this Head, and apt to take Fire at every Thing that seems to affect their Honour; should we, at the very Time when his Majesty has renew'd his pressing Instances with the Court of Spain, pass this Bill into a Law, before we can have any Answer from that Court, there is great Reason to believe, that his Catholic Majesty will look upon it as the highest Indignity that can be offered him, and may proceed to such Extremities as must render it impossible for us to obtain Satisfaction for our injured Merchants any otherwise than by War, the Event of which is always doubtful. We have already strengthened the Hands of his Majesty by promising to stand by him in every Measure he shall take for obtaining a full Satisfaction for the Losses of our Merchants His Majesty, in Consequence of that Address, has given Orders to his Ministers at the Court of Madrid, to make the strongest Instances for obtaining that Satisfaction; and there are very good Grounds to believe, that when his Catholic Majesty sees with how much Zeal and Unanimity we have already acted in this Affair, it will be the strongest Motive to him for granting it. On the contrary, should we pass the present Bill into a Law, we must make one half of Europe either open Enemies or but very cold Friends. What will be the Consequence of this, but playing the Court of Spain's Game? This is the Thing in the World she most wants; and though she were otherwise disposed to give us the desired Satisfaction, she will at least insist upon her Right of searching our Ships in those Seas; she will insist upon a fuller or clearer Proof of the Justice of our Merchants Complaints than she can have from this Place: After they are proved sufficiently to satisfy all the rest of the World, she will insist upon our Ships being lawful Prizes, by having on board contraband Goods. This, Sir, no doubt will be her Language, when she finds that she is to be supported by other Powers. And then what Prospect can we have of being redress'd? But now, Sir, she stands by her self, she finds that we are in earnest, that we are no longer to be trifled with, and that we are prepared to use other Arguments besides Remonstrances. In this Situation, Sir, she will be glad to trent on reasonable Terms; but in the other she will pretend to dictate.
'I know very well, Sir, that Bills have passed with Clauses of this Nature. One, I think, passed in the sixth of Queen Anne, and I believe that I myself voted for it. But, Sir, that Bill was brought in after the War was begun, when it was impossible that any of our Friends or Allies should suffer by its passing, and when no Treaty of Accommodation was on Foot: But, Sir, the very Reverse happens to be the Case at present.
'By this Bill, Sir, all Prizes taken from the Spaniards after the Declaration of War, are to be given to the Officers and Seamen present in the Action. Now, Sir, I think it will be proper to observe, that of late most Wars have been declar'd from the Mouths of Cannons, before any formal Declaration; and, Sir, it is very probable, that if we are obliged to come to an open Rupture with Spain, the first Declaration of War made on our Parts will be from the Mouth of our Cannon. In this Event, Sir, I should be glad to know of any Gentleman, what Time our Allies can have to withdraw their Effects? or where the Justice will be of our seizing them, and putting it out of our own Power when seized, to make any Restitution? while at the same Time they depend on the Friendship and Alliance subsisting between them and us. By the Bill in its present Shape, Sir, only fourteen Days are allowed, and if our Ships should after that Time meet with a Spanish Ship it is Prize. For this Reason, Sir, I think, in common Justice, we ought at least to give our Allies fair Warning. This Bill, therefore should not take Effect till areasonable Time after an open Rupture betwixt us and Spain, that our Allies may know what to expect, in case any of their Goods are found on Spanish Bottoms. For, Sir, there is no Doubt, when we enter into an actual War with Spain, the French and all other Nations will be very cautious in what Manner they trust their Effects on board the Plate Ships. Besides, Sir, there is another very material Difference betwixt this Juncture, and those wherein Bills have passed with Clauses of the like Nature with that under our Consideration. When the Bill I have last mentioned was brought in, both the Dutch and we were in actual War with France, and with the present King of Spain, in whose Hands the Spanish America then was; so that we made no more Enemies than before, nor had we any fewer Friends. The Wealth of the Spanish West-Indies was at that Time the Sinews of the French Power: We knew, if we could once cut off that Communication, we should disable him from carrying on the War. It was therefore a prudent and necessary Step in us to animate our Seamen by all the Encouragement we could possibly give them. But I believe, Sir, no Gentleman will affirm that Juncture and the present to be parallel.
'As to the Clause for granting Head Money to our Sailors, I look upon it in a very different Light from the former. I think it is extremely proper and reasonable, that our Sailors, in case of a War, should have such an Encouragement, and shall be very glad to concur with any Motion for that Purpose. It cannot be expected, Sir, that Men should encounter Danger without a Prospect of Reward, or so boldly face Death for common Wages. I think Frugality in this Case is very improper, and am in this Point intirely of the Opinion with the honourable Gentleman who brought in the Bill.
'I shall proceed therefore to the third and last Head I propose to speak to; namely, the vesting the Property of the Places which shall be taken from the Spaniards, in the Persons of those who shall take them. To this Clause, Sir, I cannot assent, because I am equally against whatever may obstruct the Conclusion of a safe and an honourable Peace, as against what may plunge us into an unequal War. I believe, Sir, there are very few Instances of any Peace being concluded of late between the Powers of Europe, by which all Conquests of the Territories of either Party made during the Time of the War, were not mutually given up. Should we enact such a Clause in favour of private Persons, and if in Consequence of that Clause any Conquests were made, we must be reduced, when a Treaty is set on Foot, to the Dilemma either of throwing in an insuperable Obstacle to the Conclusion of a Peace, or of committing an Injustice to private Persons by depriving them of their Property.— 'Tis true,—it is possible that these Persons may be satisfied with an Equivalent, and it is as true that possibly they may not: But suppose they should be satisfied, it is to be presumed they will make the best Bargain for themselves they can, and insist upon Terms which may greatly disconcert the Measures that the treating Powers might otherwise concur in. This, I say, must very much perplex, if not utterly break off, any Negociation. It is not to be expected that those Proprietors are to be indemnified by the King of Spain; that Prince's Ministers will insist upon a Restitution, without having any Regard to the Right of Conquest, which our Subjects may plead, or the Difficulties our Crown will have to recover these Conquests to herself before she can restore them. So that, Sir, should we enact this Clause, we do a Thing that must at least very much embarrass all future Negociations for Peace, or put the Crown to a very great Expence. The Difficulties Sir, that lie against this Clause, are greater, with regard to Spain, than any other Country in Europe; since it is provided by several solemn Treaties, that no Part of the Spanish Dominions, as then possessed by that Crown, shall be alienated or dismembered from her Monarchy; and we know what Uneasiness she has given us in our Possession of what we paid so dearly for, and which has been so often confirmed to us. For these Reasons, Sir, I think that our passing this Clause would be putting his Majesty to a future Inconvenience, and in some Measure bind up his Hands from making that safe and honourable Peace which we all so much desire. The Crown of Britain has an indisputable Right to make Peace and War, and in my Opinion it is a just Right, and advantageous to the Subject. But, Sir, we ought to throw no Obstacles nor Difficulties in the Way, that may distress the Crown in the Execution of this Right, or prevent the Conclusion of a Peace consistent with the Safety of the Subject and the Honour of his Majesty.
'I have now, Sir, gone thro' a few of the many Objections to this Bill: I have stated my Difficulties, and shall be glad to have them removed. I know, Sir, under what Disadvantages I speak, and how ready some are, in the present Case, to interpret the least Caution, however reasonable, as Coldness and Indifference.
'I know how unpopular every Argument is on the Side of Peace; and I likewise know, that every thing that comes from a Minister that has a Tendency that Way, is looked upon as proceeding from his Fear of a War. I have been long used to bear these Reflections; but I have always disregarded a Popularity that was not acquired by a hearty Zeal for the publick Interest; and I have been long enough in this House to see that the most steady Opposers of Popularity, founded upon any other Views, have lived to receive the Thanks of their Country for that Opposition. The Experience, Sir, of this, has often encouraged me to oppose popular Measures when they were wrong, and sometimes to promote unpopular ones, if they were right. The Experience of this, Sir, has made me lay before you my Objections with regard to the passing the present Bill. But at the same Time, Sir, I am as much against throwing cold Water upon the Zeal which this House has shewn with regard to the Insults offered to our Country, as any Gentleman here: Nay, Sir, give me leave to say, that my own Interest is concerned, and, had I no other, is a strong Motive for our doing every Thing that can procure us just Satisfaction. I know, Sir, how far Ministers are accountable for the Counsels they give their Sovereigns, and how far this House in former Times looked upon them as answerable for the Conduct of the Sovereign, and I think, Sir, they should be answerable.—'Tis but a mean Excuse for a Minister, when any wrong Step is made in Government, that he is not accountable for the Events of Measures that never were advised by him, and in which he was over-ruled by his Superiors. I have always disdained these mean Subterfuges; and with what Face can I again appear in this House, if full and ample Satisfaction is not made us, or at least, if we don't do our utmost to obtain it; either by fair and peaceable Means, or by exerting all our Strength in case a War becomes necessary. If my Country should call me to an Account, I would very willingly take upon me the Blame of every Step that has been made by the Government, since I had the Honour to enter into the Administration. As to the common Notion of a Minister's being afraid to enter into a War, I do not understand upon what it can be grounded. For my Part, I never could see any Cause, either from Reason or my own Experience, to imagine that a Minister is not as safe in Time of War, as in Time of Peace. Nay, Sir, if we are to judge by Reason alone, it is the Interest of a Minister, conscious of any Mismanagement, that there should be a War; because by a War the Eyes of the publick are diverted from examining into his Conduct; nor is he accountable for the bad Success of a War, as he is for that of an Administration.
'I remember, Sir, when I was a young Man, nothing gave me a greater Pleasure than voting for a War with France; I thought that it founded well, that it was heroic, and for the Glory of my Country. But, Sir, how fatal in some Respects have the Consequences of that War, just and necessary as it was, been to Britain? I little dreamt that at this Day we should by Means of that War be groaning under such a Load of Debts. I little dreamt, Sir, that the noble Resolution the Parliament then made was to cost us so dear, or that we were to purchase our Glory at an Expence, which after so many Years, would render it extremely inconvenient for us to enter into any, even the most necessary, War. For which Reason, Sir, tho' I am as absolutely bent upon a War as any Gentleman, if Satisfaction cannot be obtained by other Means; yet I think it would be very imprudent for this House to take any Steps that may prevent the Conclusion of a safe and honourable Peace. This Bill, in the Views I now have of it, must be attended with that Effect; and tho', as I said before, I shall not give it my absolute Negative, yet Gentlemen must excuse me, if it does not meet with my Concurrence till I hear the Reasons answered which I have advanced against it.'
Several other Speeches were made on this Occasion, particularly one by Sir Robert Walpole: But as we have already given the Substance of it (see Page 283) we shall proceed to that delivered by Mr. Pulteney.
'This Bill is in every Part so evidently calculated for the Ends proposed by it, that I am greatly surprized that the honourable Gentleman who first spoke against it, and who, by his single Disapprobation, has raised all the Opposition it has met with, can see the Clauses he objects to in so disadvantageous a Light. I am persuaded, if Gentlemen had seriously reflected on the Design and natural Consequences of such a Bill, they would have spared their Objections. The principal End, Sir, proposed by it, is to prevent a War; and the Way to obtain this End, is by a public Act of the Legislature to make it known to all the World, that we have raised the Ardour, and encouraged the Hopes of our Seamen; that we have animated all our Fellow-Subjects (in case a Peace is refused). to diftress the Enemy by seising their Wealth and Possessions, and consequently diminishing their Power. All the Arguments therefore brought against the Bill, on the Supposition that it will tend to plunge us into a War, are drawn from wrong Conclusions. Instead Sir, of precipitating us into a War, this Bill must hasten on a Peace. By it we are assisting the Ministry; we are strengthening their Hands; we are giving Weight to their Negociations; we are letting Spain see that we are in earnest to secure our Rights by a safe and an honourable Peace, or to vindicate them by a vigorous War. In a Word, Sir, if the warmest Friend of the Ministry, — if the honourable Gentleman who sits near me, had himself been forming Measures to procure a Peace, they could not have thought on a more ready and a more effectual Expedient than this Bill.'
When the Bill was committed, they received a few Alterations, particularly the 14 Days, the Time limited for the Committment of the Bill from the Declaration of War, was prolonged for two Months after such a Declaration, if any should happen: This being the only material Objection in the Committee to the Bill, the Question was put upon the Bill, as it stood amended, and was carried in the Affirmative, with only one Negative, which was that of Sir Robert Walpole. The Bill being engrossed, it was read for a third Time, on the 15th of May: The Question being put, a long Debate arose; in which the principal Speakers, and their Arguments, were as follow.
Henry Fox Esq;
The Bill now under our Consideration, is in my Opinion of the greatest Importance; greater perhaps than Gentlemen commonly apprehend. The Question with me, is not whether such or such Clauses of the Bill are proper for our Assent; but, whether this is a proper Time for passing such a Bill. Were we in an actual War with Spain, I don't deny but that there are several Clauses in this Bill, which might very much conduce towards rendering it successful on our Parts. But, Sir, as his Majesty has not thought fit to declare that Matters are come to such an Extremity, as to render it impossible to make up Matters without our entering into a War, I should think it extremely imprudent in us, to usurp that Part of the Royal Prerogative, which in Effect we do, should we pass this Bill into a Law. An honourable Gentleman near me the other Day, I think, prov'd to Demonstration, that the passing of this Bill in any Shape, at this Juncture, must greatly alarm, not only the Spaniards and the French, but even our most favoured Allies. Nay, more than that, Sir, our own Merchants, I am afraid, would in Case of an immediate Rupture with Spain be the greatest Sufferers. This, Sir, must happen, not only by the great Insurance, which has in this Country been made upon those Effects, which possibly may fall into the Hands of our Privateers and Ships of War; but by the Concerns they have with the Dutch, the French, and all other European Nations. Commerce is of a very delicate Nature, and whatever affects too sensibly one part of the trading Interest, must necessarily affect the whole. Therefore, Sir, I think it would be highly improper for us to pass a Bill, that must give such a Shock, as our passing this Bill at this Juncture must certainly do. If the Instances of his Majesty for a fair and honourable Peace should be ineffectual, it is very probable that such a Bill will be then thought of. But we ought by no means to anticipate the Rupture, by doing any Thing that may render it unavoidable. I shall not trouble the House farther at present; other Gentlemen, I dare say, will speak more fully upon the Question; but, I thought my bare Negative was not sufficient upon this Occasion, without my shewing publickly how heartily I am against our passing this Bill.'
George Wright Esq;
George Wright Esq; Member for Leicester, took notice among several other Things, that Gentlemen were very apt to attribute the Spanish Depredations in America, to the whole Nation of Spain; that they talk'd as if these Depredations had been authorized, or at least approv'd of by the Government of that Kingdom. Whereas, it did not yet appear, that the Government had so much as conniv'd at any of them. Nor had the Court of Spain, as yet, refused to order Restitution in any one Case, where the Seizure had been made appear to be unjust. That there was therefore Room still left for Negotiation; and that if we could obtain by peaceable Means, the utmost we could expect by Force of Arms, he was sure no Man of common Prudence, unless he had some other View than that of the Good of his Country, would advise us to provoke the Kingdom of Spain to a War. He said, he hoped he had always shewn himself as jealous for the Honour of his Country, and as zealous for asserting it upon all Occasions, as any Man ought to be; but that, on the present Occasion, he must needs think, that the House had already sufficiently testified its Zeal for the Honour of the Nation, and our Concern for the Sufferings of our Merchants and Seamen. That they had already addressed his Majesty, to use his utmost Endeavours for obtaining Reparation to our Merchants, and Satisfaction to the Nation. That they had promised to support his Majesty, in whatever Measures he should find necessary for that Purpose. That they had even made some Provision for a War, in Case it should be found necessary: And that, in Consequence of what they had done, they could make no Doubt, but that his Majesty had sent Orders to his Minister at the Court of Spain, to insist upon a full and speedy Satisfaction. That their Zeal and Unanimity in the Resolutions they had already come to, would probably open the Eyes of the Court of Spain, and produce a lasting and firm Peace.
(fn. 1) John Talbot Esq; Member for Brecon, said,
'That, supposing neither the French nor Dutch had any Share in the Spanish Plate-Fleets; yet it was certain, that our own Subjects had always a very considerable Share, and that he believed the English Merchants trading to Spain, did return yearly large Sums in Bullion and Spanish Coin to their Native Country.
'That as the Law now stood, if any other Ships in which they had a Concern, should be taken after the Declaration of War, his Majesty could separate their Share from the Rest, and return it to them. But that, if that Bill should pass into a Law they must be ruin'd: And for what? For being concern'd in a Trade, by which they acquired great Riches to their Country, as well as themselves; which he thought would be a most extraordinary Piece of Injustice, as well as bad Policy; unless we had given them timely Warning not to be any farther concerned in that Trade.'
Thomas Coster Esq;
'When Gentlemen speak of a War between Spain and Great-Britain, they are apt to imagine that we shall do great Damage to our Allies, and our Merchants, and violate the Treaties betwixt the two Crowns, in case we should pass this Bill into a Law. As I have had some Opportunities, Sir, of knowing a little of the Trade between Spain and us; I cannot help observing, that Gentlemen are mistaken, if they imagine that it would do either the one or the other. Our Merchants, it is true, generally had some Share in the PlateFleets; but I believe at present they have very little. This is owing to the long Dependance of the Negociations betwixt us and Spain, and the Backwardness of the Court of Madrid to give us the least Satisfaction. This Backwardness, Sir, notwithstanding all that has been said in Favour of that Court, was no Secret among our Merchants; and I will venture to say, Sir, that there is not a Man among them who knows what he is doing, who has not foreseen a Rupture, these two or three Years back, and taken Care to provide for the worst. As to our Merchants residing in Spain, Sir, can any Gentleman imagine that when they saw how our Merchants and Sailors, who in Consequence of the Treaty of Seville apply'd to the Court of Madrid for Redress, were treated at that Court, they would have exposed their Effects upon Presumption that no Rupture would ensue? It is now, Sir, some Time since we entered upon the Affairs betwixt Spain and us; and I dare say, as soon as it was but whisper'd in Spain, that the Parliament of England had resolved to look into the Complaints of our Merchants, there is not a Man there, who had any Effects that were not secured before, who has not taken Care to secure them since. If any neglected to do this, we may conclude that they are Spaniards, that is, they are naturalized there, and don't intend to return.
'The other Objection that Gentlemen seem to have to this Bill, is, that if we should, after a Declaration of War, attack any of the Spanish Ships which have the Treasures on board, we shall violate the Treaties subsisting betwixt us and our Allies. It is very true, Sir, that the French, the Dutch, and several Nations in Europe, have a good deal of Property on board the Spanish Plate-Fleet; and perhaps, if we should take it, it might do them a good deal of Damage. But then, Sir, it is as true that if we did take it, there is no Nation in Europe that could say, 'You have injur'd us.' There is no Nation I say in Europe which could complain that we had broken our Faith, or our Treaties with them. The Reason of this, Sir, is very plain: All the Trade we, or any other Nation carry on with the Spanish Settlements in America, is entirely collusive: It is no less certain, that all the Property which we have in the Plate-Fleet, is registered in Spanish Names; and therefore, no other Nation besides the Spaniards themselves, can claim a Shilling's Worth of it. This is positively stipulated by Treaties; so that, if in case of a War, the Spanish-Plate Fleet were to fall into our Hands, neither the French nor the Dutch could come to us, and say; 'These Goods, or that Money, is ours; and you break the Law of Nations, you break your Treaties with us, if you shall pretend to detain them.' Should any Nation, Sir, talk to us in that Manner, we might fairly put them to Defiance to prove their Property: I am sure they could not do it by any Thing, that should appear in the Hands of the Masters or Sailors, or Owners of the Ships taken; because, it is Death, by the Laws of Spain, for them to take a Shilling's Worth of Effects on board, belonging to the Subjects of any other Crown, or State besides Spain. Therefore, Sir, no Nation could prove their Property in the Plate Fleet; and tho' they could, yet we could have no Reason to regard their Claim, since it must be founded upon a Breach of Treaties, among almost all the Powers in Europe.
'There is no Manner of Doubt, but that every Thing, which the Honourable Gentleman who spoke last said, is true: But yet, it is a Matter highly worthy of this House to consider, whether we ought at present, by obstinately adhering to the Words of Treaties, which I will venture to say no Nation has ever yet done in this Case, to make all the Rest of Europe our Enemies. The Benefits which this Nation, in particular, receives from that collusive Trade mentioned by the honourable Gentleman, is so great, that the Parliament of Great-Britain has always very cautiously avoided doing any Thing, that might in the least affect it The Spaniards, on the other Hand, for very good Reasons, have always wink'd at our carrying on that Commerce: They find that they are obliged to have recourse to the European Nations, for many Commodities, without which they cannot subsist. Thus a mutual Conveniency begets a mutual Connivance, and this House was so sensible of the great Advantages which arose to the Nation in the last War, from the Commerce with the Spanish Settlements in America, that in that very Act which has been so often mentioned by Gentlemen, there is an express Clause, by which certain Limits, near the Mouth of the Rio de la Hacha, are excepted, by declaring, that no Ships of the Enemy taken within these Limits ought to be looked upon as lawful Prize. What was the Reason, Sir, of this Exception, but because the Government was very sensible of the Sweets of such a Commerce? For that Reason, they thought it improper to discourage it even in Time of War: And in order to encourage it they inserted that Clause. The Reason, Sir, why the Rio de la Hacha is more particularly excepted, is because of the great Trade which we carried on there; and the Frauds practised by our Merchants and Seamen in that Trade. When an English Ship came upon the Coast, the Spaniards immediately put off their Boats to enquire, what Commodities she had on board: As soon as they learned, they returned to bring Money or Effects to purchase our Commodities: In the mean Time the English gave the Watchword to some other of their own Ships lying on, the same Coast, or perhaps mann'd out their own Boat, and ordered it to lie at some Distance, when the Spaniards should return. Some Time after the Spaniards return'd, and commonly bought what they wanted at a very dear Rate, paying down ready Money, or Effects which would bring Money: But they no sooner put off from our Ships, than our People, who were ready waiting, immediately clapp'd on board them, and stripp'd them of every Thing. Thus one Cargoe was sold perhaps half a Dozen Times over: These Practices gave the Spaniards such Disgust, that they refused upon any Terms to deal with us; and the Parliament was so very sensible of the Damage, which this Shyness and Distrust did to the Trade of the Nation, that the Clause I mentioned was inserted.
'I have been the more full upon this Particular, Sir, because Gentlemen, perhaps, are not sufficiently aware of the great Consequence, which this Trade is of to this Nation. At the same Time, Sir, I own that as the honourable Gentleman who spoke last said, the Trade is collusive, i. e. it is against the Letter of the Treaties subsisting betwixt us and Spain. But then, it is such a Collusion, as this House has thought to be highly in our Favour. Therefore, Sir, I think Gentlemen ought upon this Occasion to consider how proper it is to pass a Bill, that may alarm the Spaniards so much, even tho' no Rupture should ensue, that it may put an End to all Manner of Commerce. But there is, Sir, another Part of the Bill, which greatly deserves the Attention of this House, and that is with regard to the Clause in this Bill, by which his Majesty may grant Commissions or Charters to any Persons or Societies, to seize upon, take, and enjoy as their own Property any Lands, Fortifications, or Harbours belonging to the Enemy. This, Sir, is a Clause that all the Nations in Europe, should it be pass'd in this House, may think themselves bound to oppose.
'I know, Sir, it will be said that such a Clause passed in the Act of the 6th of Queen Anne; but give me Leave to observe, that there is a very great Alteration with regard to the Footing we are now upon with Spain, from what we were upon at the Time when that Law passed. This Clause at that Time was liable to no Exceptions from any preceding Treaties. The only two Treaties we then had with Spain, which a Clause of this Kind could any way affect, were those in the Years 1667 and 1670, and there is no Provision in any of these Treaties, that could make the Parliament of England afraid of passing an Act with such a Clause in it. Nay, Sir, this Clause was no new Thing at that Time; for a Foundation had been laid for it by one of the Articles of the last grand Alliance, which was entered into by King William; by which all the Places, which this Nation could conquer from the Crown of Spain in the WestIndies, were to be annex'd to the Crown of England. This Article was a proper Foundation for this Clause in the Act of the 6th of Queen Anne, for encouraging our Trade to America; but, give me Leave, Sir, to remark that at that Time, all the Spanish West-Indies was in the Hands of the French, and this Nation understood, that the French King never would have been able to hold out as he did, in the long War betwixt the Confederates and him, if it had not been for the Treasures he brought from thence. Therefore, neither the Dutch, the Emperor, nor any of our Allies, were jealous of our doing a Thing that might distress the common Enemy in so tender a Point.
'But how does the Case now stand? Why, Sir, by the Treaty of Utrecht, particular Care is taken that no Part of the Spanish Dominions shall be alienated; and all the contracting Powers in the Grand-Alliance are Guarantees for the Observance of this Article. Give me leave, for the more full Conviction of Gentlemen upon this Head, to read the Articles of the Treaty of Utrecht betwixt us and Spain, which regard this Stipulation.
'By the 8th Article it is expresly stipulated, — 'That neither the Catholick King, nor any of his Heirs or Successors whatsoever, shall sell, yield, pawn, transfer, or by any Means, or under any Name, alienate from them, and the Crown of Spain, to the French, or to any other Nation whatever, any Lands, Dominions, or Territories, or any Part thereof, belonging to Spain, in America. On the contrary, that the Spanish Dominions in the West-Indies may be preserved whole and entire the Queen of Great-Britain engages, that she will endeavour, and give Assistance to the Spaniards, that the antient Limits of their Dominions in the West Indies be restored, and settled as they stood in the Time of the above said Catholick King, Charles II; if it shall appear that they have in any Manner, or under any Pretence, been broken into, or lessened in any Part, since the Death of the aforesaid King Charles II.' Which Article is confirmed and enforced, by the first separate Article of the same Treaty in these Words. 'It is further agreed by this separate Article, which shall be of the same Force, as if it was inserted Word for Word in the Treaty, this Day concluded between their Royal Majesties, that since his Royal Catholick Majesty is steadfastly resolved, and does solemnly promise by these Presents, that he will not consent to any further Alienation of Countries, Provinces, or Lands of any Sort, or wherever situated belonging to the Crown of Spain; her Royal Majesty of Great-Britain does likewise reciprocally promise, that she will persist in those Measures and Councils, by which she has provided and taken care, that none of the Parties in War shall require or obtain of his Catholick Majesty, that any further Part of the Spanish Monarchy be torn from it; but that any new Demand of that Kind being made, and the same refused by his Catholick Majesty, her Royal Majesty of Great-Britain will use her Endeavours, that such Demands shall be receded from.'
'Having read these Articles, Sir, I shall submit it to the House, how proper it would be for this House to pass a Bill, before any War is declared betwixt us and Spain, for destroying the whole Intention of these Articles, especially before we know how the other Powers of Europe are affected. Gentlemen ought to consider, how those Powers we expect to be our Allies, should we go into a War with Spain, will look upon a Step which has a direct Tendency to destroy one of the principal Articles of the Treaty of Utrecth. Therefore, Sir, however necessary this Bill may be after a War is declared with Spain, I cannot think that at present it would be either wise, or expedient for this House to pass it at present.'
'I am as sensible as any Gentleman in this House can be of the great Advantage, that our Trade with the Spaniards in America has brought to this Nation: But, I can by no Manner of Means see how the honourable Gentleman who spoke last, can apply it to this Bill. We are now deliberating whether this Bill ought to be passed, in order to convince the Spaniards, and all Europe that we are resolved no longer to bear their Insults and Injuries. Upon what Pretence, Sir, were these Insults and Injuries committed? Why upon that very Fact which the honourable Gentleman has mentioned, as a great Advantage to this Nation; I mean our Merchants carrying on an illicit Trade with the Spaniards in America. Yet, Sir, I see some Gentlemen here who have justified the Spaniards, in all their Cruelties, in all their Insolence, upon this very Principle, that the Subjects of Great-Britain deserved such Usage, because they were concerned in that Trade. I shall however leave these Points to be reconciled among the honourable Gentlemen's Friends; but beg Leave to take Notice of one or two Things that were thrown out.
'The honourable Gentleman who spoke last, said that in our Trade upon the Coast of New Spain mutual Conveniency had begot a mutual Connivance; and, Sir, will it not always do so, whether we are at War with Spain or not? The Trade betwixt us and New Spain, is just as much prohibited by Treaties in Time of Peace, as in Time of War; so that our passing this Bill, won't make the Spaniards a Bit more shy in trading with us than they were before. For if no War follows, upon our passing it, then the Bill has no Effect; and if a War should follow, then they are in the very same Danger as if this Bill had not pass'd. For their Ships and all their Effects become lawful Prize to his Majesty and the Captors; so that it can be of no Manner of Consequence to Spain, whether we pass this Bill or not. All the Conseqences regard our own Seamen; and the Consideration that ought to determine this House, is that it will encourage our Seamen to enter immediately into his Majesty's Service; and it will likewise encourage private Adventurers to send out Privateers as soon as War is declared or Hostilities begun. Both which must be a greater Advantage at the Commencement of a War, than they can be after the War has been for some Time carried on, because our Enemies will then be more upon their Guard, and better able to repel an Attack, than they can be supposed to be at the Beginning of a Rupture. By encouraging our Seamen to enter voluntarily into his Majesty's Service, we shall not only put it into the Power of our Government, to fit out a powerful Squadron in a few Weeks, perhaps in a few Days after they have resolved to begin Hostilities, or to declare War; but we shall also in a great Measure prevent our being obliged to have Recourse to that destructive Method of Pressing, which is so inconsistent with our Constitution, so hurtful to our Trade, and so oppressive upon our Seamen, who are, I may say, the most useful Part of our People.
'This Bill, Sir, is in every Part so evidently calculated for the Ends proposed by it, that I am greatly surprized that the honourable Gentleman who first spoke against it, and who, by his single Disapprobation, has raised all the Opposition it has met with, can see the Clauses he objects to in so disadvantageous a Light. I am persuaded, if Gentlemen had seriously reflected on the Design and natural Consequences of such a Bill, they would have spared their Objections. The principal End, Sir, proposed by it, is to prevent a War, and the Way to obtain this End, is by a publick Act of the Legislature to make it known to all the World, that we have raised the Ardour, and encouraged the Hopes of our Seamen; that we have animated all our Fellow Subjects (in case a Peace is refused) to distress the Enemy by seizing their Wealth and Possessions, and consequently diminishing their Power. All the Arguments therefore brought against the Bill on the Supposition that it will tend to plunge us into a War, are drawn from wrong Conclusions. Instead, Sir, of precipitating us into a War, this Bill must hasten on a Peace. By it we are assisting the Ministry; we are strengthening their Hands; we are giving Weight to their Negociations; we are letting Spain see that we are in earnest to secure our Rights by a safe and honourable Peace, or to vindicate them by a vigorous War. In a World, Sir, if the warmest Friend of the Ministry, — if the honourable Gentleman himself, had been forming Measures to procure a Peace, they could not have thought on a more ready and a more effectual Expedient than this Bill.
'But, Sir, before I proceed to answer the Objections that have been thrown out on this Occasion, I must beg Leave to remark, that ever since I had the Honour to sit in this House, I never saw Gentlemen so negligent of Parliamentary Duty, as I have observed with regard to their Proceding upon this Bill. It is always the Custom to consider a Bill when it comes into a Committee, and if the Objections that lie against it, are too weighty to be got over, the Bill is then thrown out, and the House has no further Trouble; but if the Objections are of such a Nature, as to be remov'd by making Amendments to the Bill, it is our Duty, Sir, to lay these Objections before the House in the Committee, that the proper Alterations may be made. If no further Objections are made when the Bill and Amendments are reported, it has always been look'd upon as having the Sense of the House for it, and receiving a tacit Approbation. The chief Objection, Sir, made to this Bill, (and indeed it is the only Objection of any Weight I have yet heard against it) was, that as at first intended, it (fn. 2) did not give our Allies a sufficient Time for withdrawing their Effects out of the Spanish Ships: But so unwilling, Sir, were the Friends of this Bill to leave the least Obstacle to a Measure, which in their Apprehension was not only proper but necessary, that in the Committee they remov'd that Objection, (tho' I do think it was very ill founded,) by making the Term from which this Bill is to take place, to be two Months after the commencemencement of Hostilities, or the Declaration of War. This being done, it might be presumed, to the Satisfaction of the Objectors, only one slight Negative being given to the Report from the Committee, the strenuous Opposition still made, is the more unexpected in this House, because the Bill now can neither wound the Honour, nor affect the Interest, of our Allies, those favourite Topics so warmly insisted on and espoused by the honourable Gentleman.
'Having said this by the way, Sir, I shall now beg Leave to consider the Weight of those Objections, which, in the honourable Gentleman's Opinion, and that of the Gentlemen who have spoke on his Side, lie against the Bill; and when I have answered these, as I hope I shall be fully able to do, I make no doubt but the honourable Gentleman will keep his Word, and be open to Conviction. I hope I may be indulg'd if I shall repeat some Part of what has been already taken notice of; especially since I see many Gentlemen here who were absent when the Bill was in the Committee, and who possibly may not be fully inform'd of what then passed. It is natural, Sir, for every Man to wish another of the same Sentiments with himself, and as I cannot concur with the honourable Gentlemen in their Opinion, I shall endeavour to convince them of the Reasonableness of mine.
'I beg Leave to observe in the first Place, that the honourable Gentleman, in this whole Affair, has shewn a great Jealousy for the Honour of Spain: But, in the mean time, has he not been too forgetful of the Honour of Britain? He has taken it for granted that we are now at Peace with Spain: He and his Friends have all along reasoned upon this Supposition; they have drawn Consequences from it, and upon this Supposition, they have grounded their Negatives to the Bill. But, Sir, give me Leave to say, that the War has been long begun; that many Blows have been received, which it is now Time to return. We have, Sir, to a melancholy Degree of Certainty, heard how the most useful Body in the Nation has not only been insulted, plundered, and imprisoned, but tortured and maimed in cold Blood. Outrages! not to be justified in the Heat of War, and which the Law of Nations will not allow Enemies to practise on one another. But, Sir, we have not heard of any Satisfaction offered on the Part of Spain; we have not heard of that Court's disowning the Proceedings of any one of their Governors; we have not heard of their altering that unjust, partial, and barbarous Method of Tryal in Spain, by which our Countrymen, who fall into their Hands, are deprived of all Means of making their Defence. We have not yet heard of any of these Governors being called to Account for those oppressive and cruel Measures; but, on the contrary, we have seen their Cruelties recommend them to Favour, and their Insolence incouraged by Rewards. This, Sir, give me Leave to say, is a direct Proof of the Approbation of the Spanish Court. The Practice is consistent enough with her present Maxims, with her Claim of searching our Ships, and her usurp'd Authority in the American Seas. The Manner, Sir, in which they treat the British Subjects, who have been reduced to the Necessity of waiting their Decisions, is as barbarous as their Pretexts are unjust. The first Thing that is done after their Persons are imprisoned, is to sequester their Effects, and destroy their Papers. Thus they are at once depriv'd of all Possibility of making any Defence, even suppose they were to plead before an indifferent Judge: But it is not hard to guess what must be their Fate in a Question of Property, where the Judge is a Party. I have but slightly, Sir, touch'd upon these Matters of Fact: The House has already heard, from the Mouths of the unhappy Sufferers themselves, the melancholy Accounts of their Treatment. These Accounts made, Sir, (I was pleased to see it) a suitable Impression upon the Mind of every Gentleman who heard them; and I dare say, are still so fresh in his imagination, that the Idea need not be revived. The Reason, Sir, why I have touched upon them at all, is, to prove what I have already advanced; that Spain has long been in a State of a War with us; though Gentlemen have chiefly insisted upon the Injustice of attacking her in the Time of Peace. But, Sir, if this be Peace, I would giadly know what is Hostility? Have we not lived, Sir, to see the Spaniards insult us in the very Seas of which we call ourselves Masters? Have we not lived to see the Subjects of Britain made Sleven by a People of whom they were once the Terror? Have we not liv'd to see the British Flag once a Protection to our Merchants, become to Foreigners an Object of Scorn, and to our Fellow-Subjects Destruction? As these are Facts but too certain, can any one doubt but that Spain considers us as Enemies? Or can we deliberate a Moment what Measures we are to take? The hon. Gentleman was pleased to express some Resentment against falling in with popular Measures. For my Share, I think popular Measures are probably right Measures, because their being popular proves them to be agreeable to the general Sense of Mankind. This, Sir, I think, is a just Way of forming a Judgment in Cases so plain as the present: For there is no Occasion, Sir, for a Man to be acquainted with Mysteries of State, or the Secrets of Government, in order to know that Injustice is to be redressed, and the Freedom of Commerce to be secured.
'I come now to examine that Argument upon which the honourable Gentleman lays so much Stress; I mean, Sir, the Manner in which France would determine herself, should the present Bill pass into a Law. The honourable Gentleman has been pleased to tell us how, in his Opinion, France would reason upon such a Step. But, Sir, the Affair appears to me with a quite different Face. It appears to me, that the Court of France would be far from hazarding the great Share of that Property she has in the Plate Ships, by taking the Part of Spain in this Quarrel. She knows, or we ought to let her know, Sir, that we have been barbarously and injuriously used by the Spaniards. She is too well informed of what passes here, not to know that there is without Doors an unanimous Spirit of Resentment and Revenge. The present Bill, Sir, will let her see that this House is in the same Disposition. She knows what Resolutions both the Houses have already come to on this Head; and as she knows all this, Sir, can it ever be supposed that she will act so inconsistently with her usual Politicks, as to leave to War what she may obtain by Negociation? She knows, Sir, that her naval Force, even when joined with that of Spain, will still be inferior to ours, provided that we exert our Force; and this Bill shews her that we shall exert it. What then will be her next Step? Not a Declaration of War with this Nation; such a Proceedure would neither be just nor prudent. The wisest and most obvious Step she can take is to apply to the Court of Spain. —'You have wrong'd the British Subjects, says she, you have insulted and plunder'd their Merchants, till the national Resentment is now awakened; all Parties and all Degrees of Men in that Country concur in the Resolution of taking a severe Revenge, or obtaining an ample Satisfaction. You are singly no Match for Britain, nor is my Fleet in a Condition to assist you. But though it were otherwise there is no Reason that I should put myself to Expences to support your Injustice, or to fight your Quarrels. My Property on board your Plate-Ships is very large; it runs a great Hazard, if once we suffer a War to break out. I have no room to hope that after the War is over I shall recover my Losses, as usual, by Negociation. You know the Parliament of Britain has pass'd a Bill, that puts it out of their own Power to restore Part of the Wealth that shall be taken by their Fleets. Nothing therefore remains, but that you give the Satisfaction so justly required, and that Security for their future Commerce to which you are obliged by so many Treaties.'— This, Sir, I think, and not what Gentlemen have suggested, will be the Language of France, if we pass this Bill. And, Sir, as I observ'd before, it is impossible to contrive any Bill that can strengthen the Hands of our Ministers more, or give a greater Weight to their Negociations. Kings, Sir, I believe, when they are rightly informed, are as honest as other Men, and can make as true a Judgment of their own Interest. France will find it for her Advantage to lay before the Court of Spain the true State of the Differences betwixt us. She will tell him plainly, how we have been wronged; she will tell him, that our Demands of Satisfaction are supported by Justice; and that his own Interest requires a Compliance; since a Refusal must involve him in a War, to which he is not equal, and for which he is unprepared. Can we imagine that the Court of Madrid would be deaf to such Arguments as these? Or can we suggest to ourselves any one Advantage that Ministry can expect to obtain, by exposing their Country to a War in defence of unjustifiable Measures? Thus, Sir, France will indeed become a Party in this Quarrel; but if she regulates her Conduct by Justice, Policy, or common Sense, she will not declare for Spain; nor can the Passing this Bill have the Effect apprehended by the honourable Gentleman.
'But, Sir, setting aside all these Considerations, we shall suppose that France is absolutely resolved, at all Events, to support Spain. We shall suppose that Spain is obstinate in her Refusal to do us Justice; that she is determined to insist upon her Right to search our Ships, and to detain the Effects of our plundered Merchants: In short, Sir, we shall suppose that the Court of France sees this Affair in the very Light that the honourable Gentleman has mentioned. But is not this a fatal, is it not an eternal Argument against resenting any future Injuries from Spain, where the Court of France shall please to interpose? This Argument, Sir, will hold equally good at all Times; and I should be obliged to any Gentleman who could mention a Case, in which if any Power of Europe should differ with us, the Court of France might not equally oblige us to recede from our Rights. I shall readily grant, Sir, a Difference may possibly arise betwixt us and other Powers, and that it may be the Interest of France to stand neuter till we have sufficiently weaken'd one another. But give me Leave to say, Sir, that if we reason from the Topics the honourable Gentleman was pleased to make use of, this can never be the Case with respect to Spain, because there never can be a Time in which Spain will not have the same Property in the Plate-Ships as she has at present: And consequently their can be no Time in which we shall be able to redress ourselves without her Leave. I appeal to every Gentleman that hears me, if this be not the natural Consequence of this Argument. Had the honourable Gentleman carried it as far as it would go, he would have told us in direct Terms, 'Your Seamen are to be inslaved, your Merchants plundered, and your Trade ruined, because if you take one Step to prevent it, France will interpose. You have indeed fine Possessions in America; you have an extensive Commerce, and flourishing Colonies, which may contribute greatly to the Riches of this Country, if France pleases to permit it. You have received the most infamous Treatment, and the Honour of your Country has been wounded by a long Tract of Injuries and Insults; there is now a fair Opportunity put into your Hands of being revenged. Yes, you may, if France pleases: In short, if she please not to interpose in favour of Spain, you may be secure against all future Interruptions of your Commerce." This is a Doctrine, Sir, which I never hope to hear publickly avowed in this House; and what Influences it may have in other Places, I shall never wish to see it adopted here. I hope, Sir, it will always be our Maxim to command Justice where we are denied it: We have no Need of Allies to enable us to do this; the Story of Jenkins will raise Voluntiers. We have already enabled his Majesty, if War becomes necessary, to prosecute it with Vigour; and if Peace shall be more eligible, our passing the present Bill is the readiest Way for us to procure one that will be safe, lasting, and honourable.
'Give me Leave, Sir, to observe, besides the Consideration I have already mentioned, one Advantage that must accrue to the Nation by our passing the present Bill. Any Man who takes a View of our Conduct for some Years past, can never be at a Loss to discover by what Means our Neighbours have made such a Progress in the Art of Navigation. He will easily see that it was owing to the many Disappointments which our Sailors received by the Fluctuation of our Councils at Home. Fleets were equipp'd here at great Expences, a vast Parade was made, and our Sailors Hopes of enriching themselves, by what they should take from the Enemies of their Country, we wound up to the highest Pitch: There is no Wonder, Sir, if, when these Hopes were disappointed, they entered into the Service of other Countries, where the Encouragement that foreign Princes wisely give them still detains them. Our passing this Bill is, perhaps, the only Way of recovering them to our Service. They will now see that we design more than en empty Show, or mock Expedition, that our Resolutions of Vengeance are six'd, and that it is now out of the Power of any Minister to defeat their Expectations. This, Sir, will give them new Spirits, it will revive their Love for their Country; and they will say to one another, in their plain and honest Language, 'We now see that our great Men at Home are in earnest; they have passed a Bill that will give us an Opportunity to repay ourselves, with Advantage, for the many Losses and Insults we have received from the Spaniards, and for the many Disappointments we have met with at Home. Let us now return to the Service of our Country: Let us lay hold of this Opportunity of making ourselves rich at the Expence of the natural Enemies of us and our Nation. For my Part, says one, I never would have entered into any other Service, had I not met with so many Disappointments in Britain; and since Things are so and so, I shall chuse rather to serve there than any where else.'— Thus, Sir, our passing the present Bill is a necessary Step for us to take, in order to recover our industrious Seamen from foreign into his Majesty's Service. This seems the only Expedient by which this important End can probably be obtained. Thereby, Sir, we shall gain a double Advantage; we shall deprive our Neighbours of the Means that have enabled them so long to rival us in our Trade and Navigation; and we shall increase the naval, that is, the real Force of this Island: In short, Sir, were this Bill to answer no other End besides re-inspiring our brave Sailors with a Confidence in those who have the Direction of our Affairs, I think that single Consideration ought to outweigh any petty Objections; which however will vanish of themselves, because, Sir, while his Majesty is possessed of the Hearts of the Sailors, he will be able to maintain both the Dignity of his Crown, and Freedom of Commerce to his Subjects.
'The honourable Gentleman, Sir, who fits near me, has expressed himself with great Tenderness and Regard towards our Merchants: I wish, Sir, they may find him, and every Gentleman who has the Honour to act in the Administration, their Friends. I am sure they deserve all the Friendship the Ministry can shew, and all the Encouragement and Protection the Legislature can give. I beg leave to say, Sir, it is owing to the Commerce they carry on, that under a Load of unnumber'd Taxes, and amidst all the Discouragements of Industry, we are yet able to supply the Exigencies of Government, that we are yet able to preserve the Remains of that Influence which this Crown had once over the Councils of the rest of Europe, and that we can yet say that there is one Body of Men amongst us independant. But, Sir, how long can our Merchants preserve that Independency, if their Rights are not duly and vigorously maintained by that Government to the Support of which they so largely contribute? If they are left naked and defenceless by those who ought to be the Guardians of our Commerce, they must of Necessity become the Prey of every petty State. I need not call in distant Facts, or recur to History for this melancholy Truth. I am afraid all the late Insults offered them Abroad, are the Consequences of a visible Neglect of their Interest at Home. And from what has been, we may easily collect what will be the Consequence of this Conduct: We have already been insulted by our Enemies; we shall soon be despised by our Allies; we shall be considered as a Nation without Rights, or, what is the same, without Power to assert them. This, Sir, must be our Fate, unless we vigorously resent the Injuries of our Merchants, unless we require and command a Reparation for their past Sufferings, and a sufficient Security from future Insults; and unless, by a Conduct resolute, and worthy of the British Name, we restore our naval Flag to its antient Reputation.
'Having mentioned the British Flag, give me leave to say, Sir, that we ought not to suffer our Neighbours to dispute that Point, either from their own Constructions of Treaties, from any former Precedents, or from any late pacifick Forbearance. I believe, Sir, it is needless for me to explain in this Place my Thoughts more fully on this tender Point; every Gentleman who has heard of some late Transactions must know what I mean. All the Use I would make of it, is to put Gentlemen in Mind, that by giving up the Honour of the Flag, we give up the Safety of our Commerce; and, that by giving up our Commerce, we betray the Interest of our Country. If the Insolence of any of our Neighbours has encroahed upon the Honour of our Flag, either by calling it in Question, or by any actual Insults, it is our Duty to pass this Bill, that they may be convinced of our Resolution, not only to ascertain our Rights of Navigation in these Seas, but to vindicate the Honour of our Flag throughout the World.
'I shall now examine the Consequences of the Arguments produced in Opposition to this Bill. It is alledged, that if it passes, the Wealth of our Allies may be seized without a Possibily of making Restitution. Now, Sir, I shall suppose a Thing that I believe no Gentleman can deny to be very probable: If we resolve upon procuring to our, Merchants a Reparation of their past, and a Security against future Injuries, we shall be at last obliged to enter into a War. What Part are we then to act? Are we not to distress Spain in every Branch of her Commerce? And shall we not most distress her by intercepting her Plate Ships, and seizing that Treasure to which she owes all her Power and all her Influence? That Influence by which we are awed, and that Power by which we are oppressed? But, Sir, according to some Gentlemen's Way of reasoning, this cannot be done. For if we take the Spanish Plate-Fleet, we must refund to our Allies whatever belongs to them. Now, Sir, I appeal to every Gentleman who has been a Commander of a Ship, or is conversant in these Affairs, if he would not be very cautious how he attacks any Ship for whose Cargo he must be accountable? Do Gentlemen think it easy for an Admiral of a Fleet, or a Captain of a Ship, to repress the Ardour of their Men when flushed with Success, and perhaps irritated by Resistance? Will not Reason, even without Experience, inform us, that no Authority, no Exactness of Discipline, can hinder the Sailors from plundering or destroying? The next Step, Sir, to be taken, is not, as usual, to adjudge those Captures to be lawful Prizes, but only so much of the Cargo as belongs to our Enemies; for our Allies, it seems, are to bring in their Claim upon us for the Remainder; and they may perhaps be prevailed upon, without any great Difficulty, by Spain, to extend their Claim to the whole Ship, when perhaps Half is already disposed of by the Saflors amongst themselves, or to pay the Fees at a Prize Office.
'But, without supposing any indirect Confederacy between our Enemies and Allies, let us only remember that some Gentlemen have asserted, that not a Fifth, and others I believe more rightly, that not a tenth Part of the Cargo of the Plate Ships belongs to the Spaniards. Now I am informed, by Gentlemen that are no Strangers to these Affairs, that it is impossible for a Commander to prevent more than even a Fifth Part from being secreted by their Crews. I think the Gentleman appealed to by my honourable Friend who sits near me, has told us, that himself was brought in a Debtor, upon a Prize he took, and I am sure no Officer can pretend to more Authority and Wisdom than himself. Can we then soppose that an Officer will so far sacrifice his own Interest to publick Spirit, as to attack the Plate Ships of Spain? May we not more reasonably believe that he will avoid all Occasions of falling in with them, than that he will purchase a barren Reputation by the Ruin of his Family? Should we go to War upon these Maxims, we should at least set all Nations an un heard of Example of Temper and Forbearance; since, though we had the Wealth of Spain in our Power, the Seizure of which must render them Bankrupts, both amongst themselves and to their Neighbours, we shall regard it as a Treasure sacred and inviolable; while they are at full Liberty to ruin our Trade, to distress our Colonies, to insult our Flag, and to enslave our Fellow Subjects. Will not these be the Effects of rejecting this Bill upon the Grounds which the honourable Gentleman and his Friends have suggested? Have the hon. Gentleman and his Friends proposed any Means to prevent them? I am sure if they had, or if they yet shall propose any such Measures, I am as ready to concur with them as any Gentleman in this House.
'Hitherto, Sir, I have reasoned upon the Supposition of the French having a large Share and Property in these Plate Ships. And I shall readily agree that it is greatly the Interest of their Merchants that these Ships may be unmolested. But that they have a Property or a Share in them, though it may pass very well among private Traders, is not a Language to be either used or understood by treating Powers. We are, in a national Controversy, to allow of no Property or Shares but what are agreeable to the Treaties subsisting betwixt our Crown and the Crown of Spain, which has expresly precluded the French from trading to the Spanish WestIndies; the Treaties betwixt our Crown and the Crown of France have no less precluded any such Trade. The last Clause of the sixth Article of the Treaty of Utrecht binds up France from hereafter endeavouring to attain or to accept of any other Use of Navigation or Trade, upon any Account, to Spain, and the Spanish West-Indies, other than what was practised there in the Reign of Charles II. or than what shall likewise be fully given and granted at the same Time to other Nations and People concerned in Trade. And, Sir, the Words of the eighth Article of that Treaty, are so full and express, on this Head, that I shall make no Apology for reading them.
'And whereas, among other Conditions of the general Peace, it is by common Consent established as a chief and fundamental Rule, that the Exercise of Navigation and Commerce to the Spanish West-Indies, should remain in the same State it was in the Time of the aforesaid Charles II. That therefore this Rule may hereafter be observed with inviolable Faith, and in a Manner never to be broken, and thereby all Causes of Distrust and Suspicion concerning that Matter may be prevented and removed, it is especially agreed and concluded, that no Licence, nor any Permission at all, shall at any Time be given, either to the French, or to any Nation whatever, in any Name, or under any Pretence, directly or indirectly, to fail to, traffick in, or introduce Slaves, Goods, Merchandizes, or any Thing whatsoever, into the Dominions subject to the Crown of Spain in America, except what may be agreed by the Treaty or Treaties of Commerce aforesaid, and the Rights and Privileges granted in certain Conventions, commonly called the Assiento for Negroes, whereof Mention is made in the 12th Article.'
'These are the Words of the Treaty; and Words more express there cannot be. Now, Sir, there never was a Treaty betwixt Spain and any other Nation, by which Spain gave them a Right to import a single Piece of Eight in their own Names; and to this Day every Piece that is imported in the Name of any other Merchants besides those of Spain, is by the Law of Spain confiscated to the King. This has been already very well spoke to by an honourable Gentleman in this Debate, who is himself engaged in Trade. But, Sir, as the Alteration that has been made in the present Bill by the Committee, makes it impossible for the French, or any Nation except Spain, to suffer by our Proceedings, because they will have Time to withdraw their Effects; I conceive the Force of the Argument against this Bill, that is built upon the Prejudice which it may do, with regard to our Allies, falls to the Ground. This Concession, this Regard which we have shewn for the Interest of our Allies, must, if they have either Candour or Gratitude, make them sensible how tender we are of their Interest, and how unwilling to give there any Provocation to become Parties in this Quarrel. It will shew them that we have no other Design in passing this Bill, or in entering into a War, than to assert our Rights, and secure our Commerce. At the same Time, it gives them, as the Gentleman expressed it, a fair Warning, and shews them that we are not to be intimidated from pursuing our just Resentment, even tho' they should obstinately neglect to withdraw their Effects, or to continue to embark them in Spanish Vesscls. These are some of the good Consequences that may perhaps attend the Amendment that has been made, tho' I think there was little Occasion for it; and I believe, I have now demonstrated that we were not obliged in Justice to make any such Amendment, or to regard the Riches on board these Ships as the Property of any People except Spaniards.
'I shall next, Sir, consider what was said by the honourable Gentleman with regard to the Loss that our Merchants must sustain by insuring these Effects. Every Gentleman, who is conversant in Trade, knows very well how great the Difference is betwixt insuring upon a Cargo, and insuring upon a Bottom. As the Insurance in these Cases with our Merchants, is upon Bottomry, and not upon Cargoes; if I am rightly informed, our Merchants Share; if the Plate Ships should be seized, would be very inconsiderable. As to the Difficulties in which our Merchants who trade to Spain might be involved by this Bill, they are now provided against by the Clause inserted by the Committee, which gives them an Opportunity of putting their Effects out of the Reach of the Spanish Government; tho' I believe, even this Alteration was hardly necessary, because they must, from the Conduct of the Court of Spain, have long seen this Cloud gathering, and we must suppose them lost in Stupidity, if they have not provided for the worst. Nor can I find the least Reason for imagining that a Discovery of their Effects will be acquired by Torture, because a Proceeding so entirely unheard-of, so horrid in its Nature, and so contrary to the Law of Nations and of Arms, will fill the whole World with Resentment and Detestation, and load the Authors with such a general and lasting Odium, as the Wealth they might hope to gain cannot countervail. But, Sir, because every Gentleman cannot be supposed to be a Judge of Commerce, or the particular Interests of Merchants, I will propose an Experiment, by which every one that pleases, may convince himself of the Fitness of this Bill. Let any Gentleman walk thro' Westminster and London, and ask every Trader he shall meet, his Opinion of a War with Spain, and of this Bill; he will not find six Men in the Number that will not declare in Favour of both the one and the other. This, Sir, I believe many Gentlemen in this House will admit to be Fact, and then what becomes of all the Arguments drawn from a Tenderness for the Interest of our Merchants? Can we suppose that if they have such immense Sums at Stake as has been suggested, they would declare for the present Bill, had they not other Advantages in View, that will overbalance all the Loss they can sustain by our seizing the Plate Ships? or must we not suppose, what is much more probable, that they have no such Sums at Stake, and that they therefore are pleased with the Prospect of a War that will repress the Insolence of their Oppressors?
'I cannot dismiss the Cause of the Traders to Spain, without mentioning a Story, which, though I will not affirm it to be true, seems too remarkable to be suppress'd. It is reported, Sir, that a Counter-Petition was set on Foot, and promoted by some in Power with their whole Interest, and utmost Diligence. This Counter-Petition, Sir, was to have been signed by the Merchants trading to Spain, in order to be presented to this House, setting forth the Hardships that the Petitioners must suffer by a War with Spain. To procure Hands to this Petition no Arts were untry'd, no Threatenings, no Promises were omitted; yet could they not get above five or six Merchants, and those I am informed were Roman Catholicks, to sign it; of no Figure in Trade Abroad, and of no Interest among our Merchants at Home. A Petition, Sir, sign'd by so few and so inconsiderable Persons, against Petitions from all Parts of the Nation, would only have drawn Contempt on those who promoted it, and was therefore with equal Modesty and Prudence laid aside. I will not be answerable for the Truth of my Information; and therefore if any Gentleman who hears me, thinks himself injured by such a Report, I hope I have obliged him by giving him an Opportunity of vindicating himself. But be that as it will, I may venture to affirm that a Counter-Petition was set on Foot, but miscarried for want of a Number of Hands to give it the Face of a Petition fit to be presented to this House. This is enough to prove that all our Merchants trading to Spain, except a very despicable Number, are for a War; so that the Tenderness of the honourable Gentleman, is a Tenderness by which they will not think themselves benefited, nor own themselves obliged.
'But, says the honourable Gentleman, the Power of making Peace or War lies in his Majesty's Breast. It is a Prerogative not to be wrested from him by Petitions, however universal, or by Arguments, however specious.
'Sir, I know very well how far this Prerogative of the Crown extends, at least how far it ought to extend, and how safe such a Prerogative is with his present Majesty: But hope it will not be imputed to Want of Confidence in his Majesty, if I affirm that even this favourite Prerogative, this darling Power, that is so warmly contended for, however reasonable it once was, may now be justly disputed. In former Times, Sir, when our Kings made War, they did it at their own Expence, they went to the Field at the Head of their own Tenants; if any Advantage was gained, it was enjoyed by the Nation; and if any Loss was sustained, it was sustained by the Sovereign. It was then but reasonable to indulge the Monarch in this Prerogative, because he could only exercise it at his own Expence. But our Sovereigns now make War at the Expence of the Nation, and hazard not their own Revenues, but the Fortunes, Interests, and Commerce of their Subjects; and therefore, Sir, it would seem but reasonable that the People should be allowed to judge a little for themselves; that our Kings hearken to their Voice, especialiy when it is universal; when they are not influenced by the Arts of designing Politicians, or heated by the Rage of Party. Never was Nation more unanimous than our People now are, in their Demands of Satisfaction for the Injuries they have so long borne from the Spaniards. There can be no Danger in complying with their Importunities, since there is no War, be it ever so unsuccessful, but is to be preferred to such a Peace, as can only flatter us with a false Security, and expose us more effectually to a faithless Plunderer.
'I shall, Sir, but just touch upon the second Article, by which Head-Money is granted to our Sailors; the Gentleman has owned, Sir, that this is a very proper Measure; that it is not enough for us to be barely just, but that we ought likewise to be generous, if we would encourage Men to endure Toils, and face Danger: He has indeed expressed himself, on that Head, with great Candour. All the Remark I beg Leave to make is, that the Gentleman is rather for encouraging our Sailors, at our own Expence, than that of our Enemies.
'As to the Objection against vesting the Properties of Places, taken from the Enemies, in the Persons of those who shall be incorporated by his Majesty for that Purpose; I believe, Sir, we are at present in Possession of several Places conquered from Spain, several Islands and Fortresses of great Consequence, which have not been restored, tho' some of them have been more than once demanded Sword in Hand. And I cannot see what should hinder us from securing our future Conquests, as well as our past. It is true, that if we go about to beg or buy a Peace, the Effects of Conquests in the Hands of private Persons will very much embarrass a Treaty: But if we intend to command a Peace, and insist on Justice, it can only be effected by shewing that we are determined not to lose any Advantage, that we shall gain by War.
'I hope, Sir, what I have now said is sufficient to evince the Necessity of this Bill. Former Parliaments, Sir, have thought it proper to pass such Bills; it was then proper; it is now necessary. I am far from thinking that this Nation ought to be the Drawcansir of Europe, to heap Debts upon Debts, and rush wantonly into War and Expences. But, Sir, I am afraid new Debts and new Wars will be the natural Consequence of such languid and spiritless Proceedings as some Gentlemen seem to favour. Every petty People, every Nest of Pirates, every Combination of encroaching Traders, will without Scruple plunder a Nation, that sits down tamely under the grossest Injuries, and, instead of punishing, caresses the Robber. If this Act should not have the expected Influence upon Spain, it will encourage our Seamen, and inspire our Fellow-Subjects with a just Confidence in his Majesty and his Administration, when they see nominal Distinctions and Party Quarrels lost in the noble Zeal for asserting the Rights of our Country, retrieving the Honour of our Naval Flag, and repairing the Losses of our injured Merchants. Therefore, Sir, I give my hearty Concurrence to this Bill.'
Sir Robert Walpole.
'I believe, it is owing to the Zeal the Gentleman who spoke last has for the Honour of Britain, and to his Indignation against the Insolence of the Spaniards, that he forgot some of his usual Candour in stating one or two Points. As they personally relate to myself, I shall beg Leave to trouble the House with a few Words on this Occasion.
'And first, Sir, I appeal to every Gentleman who has heard what I have said on this Subject from the first Day it was brought into this House, if I have dropp'd one Word that could be wrested to the Meaning imputed to me by the honourable Gentleman. Can any Gentleman collect from the Expressions I us'd, that I was jealous of the Spanish, but forgetful of the British Honour? I date appeal, Sir, to any Man who knows me in private Life, if he ever at any Time heard such an Insinuation fall from me. All I said on that Point was in order to prove, that it would be extremely improper for us to pass this Bill, till we see the Effect of his Majesty's late Instances at the Court of Spain.
'The next Part of the honourable Gentleman's Speech that personally relates to me, is what he added with regard to an abortive Petition. The Gentleman said, 'he was informed, it was reported, but that he would not be answerable for the Truth of his Information? But, Sir, is this a fair Way of reasoning in this House? To make Insinuations have any Weight, they must be founded on acknowledged Facts. But if these Facts are misrepresented, and aggravated with invidious Circumstances; if Suspicions are intangled with Certainties, and Conjectures work'd up into Invectives; may not the most innocent Behaviour countenance the most cruel and unjust Reflections? may not the clearest Integrity be impeached, and Reputations sported away? It is very true, that a certain Petition was designed, and that Design was afterwards dropt. So much, Sir, and not one Word more of what has been asserted on this Head, is Truth. But, Sir, as I have been personally pointed out, I must beg Leave to set this Affair in a just Light: It is against my Inclination that I touch upon it at all; but I am forced to it, by the Regard that every Man ought to have for Truth, and for his own Character.
'The Design of the Petition, which is invidiously called a Counter-Petition, I will take upon me to assert, was not set on Foot by any one concerned in the Administration, as the honourable Gentleman seems to infinuate. It was a Measure begun and promoted by some of the most considerable Merchants of the Kingdom, and, for aught I know, Men as well affected to our Constitution both in Church and State, as any Gentleman in this House. After they had concerted the Scheme amongst themselves, they came in a Body to desire my Advice; which was, Sir, that they should proceed no farther in it. I told them, that I would not be concerned in any thing that would give the Spaniards the least Reason to imagine that the trading Interest of Great Britain was divided in this Affair, or that this House would not be unanimous in its Zeal for procuring just and ample Satisfaction for the Injuries of our Countrymen, and the Obstructions of our Commerce. At the same Time I shewed them that they were acting contrary to their own Interests, and that they could hope for no other Favour from Spain than to be the last whom she would ruin. Upon this, Sir, the Design was dropped; and I believe this is known, by several present, to be the true State of the Fact, which the honourable Gentleman has been pleased to represent as a Piece of Ministerial Craft. How far the Arguments produced are conclusive, let the House judge: For my Part, I do not forget my Promise of being open to Conviction; but I must feel the Force of an Argument before I acknowledge it, and perceive my Objections invalidated before I recede from them. I do not perceive that the Gentleman has added any Weight to his own Reasons, or taken away any from mine, and therefore I am against the present Question.
'The present Bill I apprehend to be such, that we should, in passing it, neither observe our Treaties, nor consult our Interest. Our Provocations have indeed been great, and many; our Merchants have met with barbarous Treatment; and that too has been authorised, or at least connived at by some of the Spanish Governors; nor shall I pretend to say that these Governors have been hitherto punished by the Court of Spain. But, Sir, neither the Court of Spain, nor we, till of late, were certainly informed of the Truth of our Merchants Allegations; and while Facts are yet in Dispute, though Justice may be delayed, it is not properly denied.
'The convincing Proofs we have now received, are laid, by his Majesty's Order, before the Court of Spain; let us wait for the Event of these Remonstrances, which perhaps may procure us all the Advantages we can hope for from a War, without the Hazard, the Blood, and the Expence. If these Remonstrances are neglected, what have we lost? We have still our Swords in our Hands, to command Justice, if we are denied it. We may then declare War, and prosecute it with the utmost Vigour; the Delay will, I hope, give new Spirit to our Councils, because it will give Justice to our Cause.
'As the honourable Gentleman, Sir, has been pleased to quote an Article or two from the Treaty of Utrecht, I shall beg leave, to do the same. And first, I shall read the 17th and 18th Articles of that Treaty.
XVII. 'But if it happen through Inadvertency, Imprudence, or any other Cause, that any Subject of either of their aforesaid Royal Majesties, do or commit any thing, by Land, Sea, or on fresh Water, in any Part of the World, whereby this present Treaty be not observed, or whereby any particular Article of the same hath not its Effect, this Peace and good Correspondence, between the Queen of Britain and the Spanish King, shall not therefore be interrupted or broken, but shall remain in its former Strength, Force, and Vigour; and that Subject only shall be answerable for his own Fact, and suffer such Punishment as is inflicted by Law, and according to the Prescriptions of the Law of Nations.
'XVIII. But if (which God forbid) the Disputes which are composed should, at any Time, be renewed between their said Royal Majesties, and break out into open War, the Ships, Merchandize, and Goods, both moveable and immoveable, of the Subjects on both Sides, which shall be found to be, and remain in the Ports and Dominions of the adverse Party, shall not be confiscated, or suffer any Damage; but the Space of six Months, on the one Part and the other, shall be granted to the said Subjects of each of their said Royal Majesties, in order to their selling the aforesaid Things, or any other their Effects, or carrying away and transporting the same from thence, whithersoever they please, without any Molestation.'
'I believe, Sir, the Words of these two Articles need no Commentary, they being so full and express in themselves, and their Meaning so directly contrary to the Tenour of the present Bill. While War is yet not declared, and before the Court of Spain has avowedly refused to do us Justice, the Injuries and Violences complained of, are the Crimes of private Persons; not Hostilities, but Piracies; and so I shall stile them, till a Refusal of Justice makes them the Acts of the State. There are several Instances, Sir, and some mentioned in the Petition to this House, wherein our injured Merchants have been favourably heard by the Court of Spain. If her Intentions to grant them Relief were frustrated by the Villainy of her Governours in America, that is no more than I believe happens every Day, in Relation to other Courts, where their Dominions are so remote. Therefore, Sir, until we hear the Answer of the Court of Spain to our late Instances, we can never affirm that the Crown of Spain has, by any publick Act, authorized the Depredations complained of.
'The honourable Gentleman has been pleased to omit taking Notice of another material Objection to this Bill: This, Sir, regards the Obligations that our Crown is under, not to consent to any future Alienations of any Part of the Spanish Dominions in America; tho' he might have found the Words by which this is expresly stipulated in one of the Articles, which he himself was pleased to quote. It is in the latter Part of the eighth Article of the said Treaty, where we meet with this Clause; 'That the Spanish Dominions in America may be preserved whole and intire, the Queen of Great Britain engages, that she will endeavour, and give Assistance to the Spaniards, that the antient Limits of their Dominions in America be restored and settled as they stood in the Time of King Charles II. of Spain, if it shall appear that they have, in any Manner, or under any Pretence, been broken into, and lessened in any Part, since the Death of the King aforesaid.'
'This, Sir, was a Point of so great Consequence, that the first Article of the said Treaty confirms it in Terms still more full and express. 'Since his Royal Majesty of Spain is stedfastly resolved, and does solemnly promise by these Presents, that he will not consent to any further Alienation of Countries, Provinces or Lands, of any Sort, or wherever situate, belonging to Spain, her Royal Majesty of Great Britain does likewise reciprocally promise, that she will provide that no further Part of the Spanish Monarchy be torn from it.
'After such a Stipulation as this, what can our passing the present Bill be termed, but a manifest Violation of the publick Faith? But because Arguments founded upon Interest are too often of greater Weight than those drawn from mere speculative Justice, I shall beg leave to offer my Opinion of the Effect, which such a Procedure would have upon that Commerce, for the Preservation of which these Measures are proposed.
'I have, Sir, many Times heard it asserted, that we are Losers in every Branch of Trade, except to our Plantations, and to Portugal: If this is true, let us not, without the utmost Caution, give way to Counsels that may injure these two only valuable Branches of our Commerce. I believe, Sir, it will easily be granted me that the Spaniards are superiour to us in the American Seas. Their Ships are indeed very much inferiour to our Men of War, yet such as our trading Vessels cannot resist: These Ships, the vast Extent of their Coasts, and Commodiousness of their Harbours, give them an Opportunity of equipping in such Numbers, that the Men of War, which we shall be willing to dispatch thither, will not be able to protect above a fifth Part of our Merchants. Nor is this the only, or the greatest Danger, to which our Commerce will be exposed. The open Efforts of Spain may be guarded against and defeated, but the silent Encroachments of France we shall not have Leisure to observe, nor Opportunity to prevent; the first will cease with the War, but the other will still remain to upbraid us with our Rashness and Imprudence.
'As to the Hopes, which the honourable Gentleman seems to entertain, that France will interpose in our Favour, I cannot but think them perfectly chimerical. France has rarely sacrificed her Interest to her Generosity, or assisted her Neighbours to her own Prejudice. What Prospect of Advantage can induce her to represent the Justice of our Cause, to the King of Spain? Will not she grow rich by our Differences? will she not extend her Commerce undisturbed, and enlarge her Power without Opposition? Her Power in America is already formidable, and her Colonies flourishing, Shall we not by a War increase that Power, and add new Strength to our ancient and natural Enemy? Nor will France confine her Acquisitions to the West-Indies, but make the same, if not greater Advances in Europe; the Trade to Spain, a Trade more considerable and gainful than is commonly imagined, will fall at once into her Hands. She will then grosp at Portugal; and how easily she may insinuate herself into that Trade, will appear from the bare Inspection of a Map of Europe. Let it be remembered that the Sea will be open to her Vessels, while our Merchants will not dare sail without a Convoy; let it be considered how easily Spain may station her Fleet at the very Mouth of the Tagus, and the Dangers of a War will be easily comprehended.
'I shall beg Leave, Sir, only to offer one Word in answer to what the Gentleman advanced, with regard to the Royal Perogative of making Peace or War; and indeed, Sir, his Insinuation is so directly contrary to the known Maxims of our Government, that in some Measure it carries its own Answer along with it: Gentlemen need only look into the Address, we have presented to his Majesty, to be convinced what the Sense of the House is on this Head, and how consistent it would be in us, after such an Address, to pretend to wrest that Prerogative out of his Hands.
'The Advocates for the Bill have advanced one Assertion in Defence of it, which, in my Opinion, deserves particular Notice. This Bill, how threatening an Aspect soever it may bear, however it may swell with the tremendous Sounds of Head-money, Conquest, and Appropriation, is, it seems, only intended to procure a lasting and a speedy Peace. These Threats, it seems, are only to be thundered in the Ears of Spain, the Conquests are only to be talked of, and the Land we mark out for perpetual Settlements is never to be invaded. Are not these the Satirists, who have exhausted their Eloquence, and jaded their Imaginations, to ridicule military Shows, and mock Expeditions?
'But, not to give way to personal Reflection on this important Question, How can we guess the Event of this bold Experiment? Have they any Assurance that the Spaniards, so elevated as they represent them with our Cowardice, so daring, so haughty, and so insolent, will lose their Spirits, lower their Crests, quake with Terror, and sink into Despair, at the Resolution of this House? That they will immediately beg for Mercy as soon as we lay our Hands upon our Swords, without daring to hold out till they are drawn? Will mere Words and empty Sounds restore that Reputation which has been so long lost, and so pathetically lamented? Is there any Magic in an Act of Parliament, that gives it Power to freeze the Blood, and slacken the Nerves; to disarm Squadrons, and scatter Fleets? Their Reasonings seem to be founded in the full Confidence of Effects like these.— For they have not vouchsased to give us the least Information how the Expences of a War with a powerful Nation may be supported; while they have justify'd Measures of which, to vulgar Capacities, War appears the inevitable Consequence. The Tenour of their Reasoning is indeed not very uniform: They talk at one Time of nothing but, procuring a safe and honourable Peace; at another, they seem to suspect that the Bill may produce open Hostilities, and please themselves with transferring to the People a Branch of his Majesty's Prerogative, and giving them an Opportunity of declaring War for themselves. They assert, that the People are unanimous in their Ardour for Vengeance, and propose an infallible Experiment to prove that Unanimity. Suppose the Desire as general as is pretended, are all Desires proper to be gratified? Is an inflamed Populace to give Laws to the Legislature? The People, I know, in imitation of some of their Betters, have divided Prizes, counted on Head-money, and canton'd out the Provinces of America. Conquest, Triumph, and Possession, are pleasing Sounds, and Victory and War are now vulgarly taken for Terms of the same Signification. But Experiments are best confuted by Experiments, and therefore I shall take the Liberty of proposing a Method by which the Inclinations of our Countrymen may be discovered. Let any Gentleman of this House walk through the Streets of London, and ask every Man he meets, whether he is willing to abate his Expences, or to pay greater Taxes than he does at present. I believe I need not say what Answer he will receive, or how wonderful an Unanimity he will find in all Ages, Ranks, and Parties. He will see the Ardour raised by the Talk of Depredations, Injuries, Conquests, and Vengeance, very sensibly abated by the Mention of Taxes. The Story of Capt. Jenkins will then be told in vain, and though it has been affirm'd that it will raise us Voluntiers, it will raise, I fear, but little Money.
Upon the Whole, I believe, most Gentlemen that attentively reflect on all the Consequences of passing this Bill, will find the Disadvantages outweigh the Benefits, and with me determine in the Negative.'
'Sir, after all that Gentlemen have said against this Bill, I must insist upon it that the most material Part of my Argument for the Bill has not been so much as touch'd upon by them; and that is with regard to the Trade carried on by France in the Spanish Galleons, which is a notorious Breach of all Treaties.
The Bill dropt. Division Noes. 106, Yeas 75.
The King's Speech.
IT is with great Satisfaction I observe, that the Temper and Moderation, which I recommended to you at the Opening of this Session, have been so well preserved through the general Course of your Proceedings; and that from a due Regard to me, and my Honour, you have avoided all unnecessary Occasions of Heats, and Animosities, and made the Interest of your Country the principal Object of your Care and Consideration.
"I return you my Thanks for the Supplies which you have so chearfully and effectually raised for the Service of the current Year: The Provision you have made to answer all Emergencies, which may become necessary in Vindication of the Honour and Interest of my Crown and People, is a great Proof of your Zeal and Concern for the Welfare and Prosperity of the Nation; and shall be employed by me in such a Manner, as may best conduce to those Ends and Purposes, for which you have so readily consented to this extraordinary Expence.
"Agreably to what hath appeared to be concurrent the Opinion of both Houses of Parliament, I have given Orders to repeat, in the strongest and most pressing Manner, my Instances at the Court of Spain, for obtaining Satisfaction for the many Injuries and Losses sustained by my trading Subjects in America, as well as an effectual Security of their Rights for the future; and I hope, from the Justice and Equity of the Catholick King, to procure such Satisfaction and Security, as may preserve the Peace, and establish a free and uninterrupted Exercise of Navigation and Commerce, mutually between the Subjects of both Crowns, pursuant to our Treaties, and the Law of Nations.