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SPEECH OF JOHN NICHOLAS,
MR. MADISON'S RESOLUTIONS,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED
STATES, JANUARY 16, 1794.
In the committee of the whole, Mr. Nicholas spoke as follows:
MR. CHAIRMAN, I FEEL a great embarrassment, in speaking on this subject, from a distrust of my ability to treat properly its acknowledged importance, and from the apparent expectation of the audience. I feel too, as the member from Maryland who spoke yesterday did, from the imputation of motives, well knowing that the Representatives of my country are industriously reported to be enemies of the government, and promoters of anarchy, and that the present measure is imputed to these principles. It is somewhat remarkable, that farther North we are charged with selfishness and want of attachment to the general welfare, for a supposed opposition to measures of the import of the present. I mention this contradictory inference, to show that the shameful designs, charged upon us, are not proved by the fact, and to place the guilt where it only exists, in the malignity of the accuser.
It is a commonly received opinion, that trade should be entrusted to the direction of those immediately interested in it, and that the actual course of it, is the best which it could take; this principle is by no means
a safe one, and as applied to the trade of America, is extremely fallacious. It can never be just, where the beginning and growth of commerce have not been free from all possible constraint as to its direction, as that can never be called a business of election, which has been created under foreign influence. The manner in which America was first peopled, and the nurture she received from Great Britain, afford the most striking contrast to the requisite beforementioned. The first inhabitants of America were educated in Great Britain, and brought with them all the wants of their own country; to be gratified chiefly by the productions of that country, aided by British capital in the settlement of the wilderness; and depending on the same means for the conveyance of its produce to a place of consumption, it was inevitable that the demand for British commodities should keep pace with the improvement of the country. In the commencement of American population and during its early stages, there does not appear to have been a chance of comparing the advantages of commercial connexion with different countries, and it will be found, that in its progress it was still more restrained. In the last years of the dependence of America on Great Britain, the principal part of America was occupied by large trading companies, composed of people in Great Britain, and conducted by factors, who sunk large sums in the hands of the farmers to attach them to their respective stores, by which means, competition was precluded, and a dependence on the supplies of those stores completely established. Since the revolution, the business has been conducted by persons in the habit of dependence on Great Britain, and who had no other capital than the manufactures of that country, furnished on credit. The business is still almost wholly conducted by the
In no stage of its growth then, does there appear to have been a power in the consumer to have compared the productions of Great Britain, with those of any other country, as to their quality or
price, and therefore there is no propriety in calling the course of trade, the course of its choice.
The subject before the committee, naturally divides itself into navigation and manufactures, in speaking of which, I shall offer some other considerations, to show that the same effects are by no means to be expected from the greatest commercial wisdom in individuals, which are in the power of the general concert of the community; the one having in view profit on each separate transaction, the other promoting an advantageous result to the whole commerce of the country.
In considering the importance of navigation to all countries, but especially to such as have so extensive a production of bulky articles, as America, I think I shall show that the last observation is accurately right, and that the interest of the whole community, not those only who are the carriers, but those also who furnish the object of carriage, positively demands a domestic marine, equal to its whole business, and that, even if it is to exist under rates higher than those of foreign navigation, it is to be preferred. In circumstances of tolerable equality, that can never however entirely be the case; for in the carriage of the produce of one country, by the shipping of another, to any other place than the country to which the shipping belongs, there is considerably more labor employed, than would have been by domestic shipping, as the return to their own country, is to be included.
On this ground, it may be confidently asserted, that where the materials of navigation are equally attainable, they will always be more advantageously employed by the country for whose use they are intended, and that if under such circumstances, another country is employed as the carrier, it must be under the influence of some other cause than interest, as it respects that particular business. A dependence on the shipping of another country, tends to establish a place of deposit in that country, of those exports which are for the use of others, if it is at a convenient distance from them. The super
intendence of property, makes short voyages desirable for the owner, and the connexion, that soon takes place, between the money capital of a country and its shipping interests, greatly strengthens the vortex. The attainment of wealth beyond the demands of navigation, leads to an interest in the cargo itself, and then the agency in selling to the consumer, becomes important. It is apparent, that as the final sale depends on the wants of the purchaser, all intermediate expenses of care and agency, must be taken from the price to which the maker would be entitled. Our own commerce has involved this loss in a remarkable degree, and it has gone to an enormous extent, from a necessity of submitting to the perfidy of agents, arising from a dependence established by means of the so much boasted credit.
That there is this tendency in the employment of foreign shipping, is not only proved by the commercial importance of Holland, which became thus from her naval resources, the store-house of Europe, without furnishing any thing from her own productions, but also from the varied experience of America. Before the revolution, every thing for European consumption was carried to Great Britain; but since America has possessed shipping of her own, and in the northern states, there has been an accession of capital, the export to England is reduced one half. It is true indeed, that there is still nearly one half of what she receives, that is re-exported; but it will be found, that she stili retains a proportionate share of those influences, which formerly carried the whole. Great Britain, under all the discouragements of our laws, which we are told by the mercantile members of the committee, amount to a prohibition where they have any rivals, did, until the European war, possess one third of the foreign tonnage employed in America. This has been supported by the dependence into which the southern states were placed by credit, and here, as in every other step of the connexion, this engine extorts ad
vantages from us, beyond the compensation which is always secured in the first advance. If there is wanted other proof of the British interest in the American navigation, being supported in direct opposition to our interests, it may be found in the comparative state of the tonnage employed, where it appears that, after the protecting duties once had their effect, the additional tonnage, to a considerable amount, has been entirely American, and that the British tonnage has remained very nearly stationary, and in proportion to their undue influence.
In time of war, in addition to the inconveniences before stated, which are enhanced by throwing the trade from its accustomed channel, there are great and important losses brought on a country by this kind of dependence. If your carriers are parties to the war, you are subjected to war freight and war insurance on your cargo, and you are cut off from all the markets to which they are hostile; and indeed, from our experience in the present war, I may say you are cut off from the market of your carriers themselves, as it would have been impossible for British vessels to have escaped in our seas last summer. To what extent this loss goes, may be seen from a calculation in the secretary of state's report on the fisheries, making the proportion of war to that of peace in the last one hundred years, as forty-two to one hundred; and on that calculation there can be no hesitation in determining that the interest of the farmers requires that this foreign dependence should end here. But the European war, by making a temporary exclusion of British shipping, has already brought on us the greatest mischief of such a regulation, and by the encouragement it has afforded to our shipping, almost completed the remedy; so that we have reason to consider this as a fortunate period. But it is not merely the advancement of our marine that is contemplated by the present resolutions; the security of that which we have, is also dependent on them. The danger