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Wherever there is monopoly in any form the patriotic citizen sets to work to evade it, whether it takes the shape, as in the East, of monopoly of a great chartered Company to be fought by the interloper and by private trade on the part of the Company's servants, or of monopoly guarded by Navigation Acts and customs tariffs designed to limit the course of trade to one channel for the benefit of the nation, as in Europe and the Western world. A bad law, as we can see of prohibition in America to-day, leads to an extreme and violent resistance to the evil law, and very shortly to a contempt for all law.
Smuggling of goods was the certain result of the enforcement of commercial monopoly, and it dates back in English history to very early days. Wool was the great article for evasion of monopoly in medieval times, an enormous traffic in smuggled wool going on between the English woolgrower and the foreign manufacturer of cloth. It continued, in spite of death penalties, to disturb the course of Edward's subsidies in Flanders, the woolsack representing quite as much the extent of the illicit traffic as the majesty of the law. This went on continuously during the centuries, the smuggled wool carried from the south coast of England and from Ireland causing, it is said, in the early eighteenth century, a great decay in the clothing industry on the estimate that some 150,000 packs of smuggled wool were shipped across yearly.
About the middle of the eighteenth century this lucrative traffic was beginning to be overshadowed by the more profitable trade in tea, silk, spirits and tobacco.
The growth of customs duties dates from the Revolution, William III. requiring an increased revenue for his foreign wars and alliances, for which, after the abolition of the feudal dues, the land tax and other normal sources did not provide. From that time customs duties grew steadily, so that by 1787 (The Smugglers, by Charles G. Harper, 1909) there were 1,425 articles liable to duty, very many of them taxed at several times their market value.
As trade increased, so smuggling grew until it nearly equalled the legitimate commerce. It is very difficult to speak with accuracy at any time of this underground trade. It is one of the misfortunes of the historian that those agencies of human action which have the most devastating effect on events leave, from their very nature, few records for his guidance. The smuggler has never written his story. We have to extract it with difficulty and in pieces,“ like a cork picked from a long-necked bottle with a fork.” But his deeds and the acts of the rulers which called them forth have had an influence on social and political progress out of all proportion to their place in written story.
In spite of stringent Acts of Parliament, bloody penalties and increased urgency of land and sea patrol, the governments of Europe made little way in checking the evil. It is not possible to enforce bad laws resting on artificial conditions when the sympathy of the entire people are with those who evade them. In combating smuggling against monopoly everyone remotely concerned, from the distiller or manufacturer on the Continent to the minister or magistrate who found a friendly keg of brandy at his door, was interested in the success of the smugglers, and such people comprised a great number of every class of the community. Where interest was absent, widely organized terrorism prevented the informer from giving evidence. Laws were passed regulating the size of boats, so as to prevent the smugglers from taking advantage of small creeks and rivers, and cutters were specially built for swift pursuit, and privateers commissioned for the service. With the increase of trade the smuggling business developed from small private ventures to a big organized business, carried on by men with large means acting in combination from many quarters, a situation far more dangerous and difficult to deal with. George I. attempted to check this trade, but the Act was not executed, says the Report of the Commissioners of Customs in Scotland, from “ the impossibility of the cruisers to keep the seas in the season which the smugglers choose for their illicit practices.” They assert collusion between the Isle of Man, Solway Firth, Cumberland and Lancashire. “The smuggler embarks in storms and winter and outsails the cutter” (P.H., XVI., 130–2).
After the accession of George III. a renewed effort was made to check this concentration. The Isle of Man, which lay between the coasts as a central warehouse and rallying-point for smugglers, was purchased in February, 1765, by the crown from the Duke and Duchess of Atholl, the payment, as usual, being made by a pension on Ireland. But this, though it may have made the combined smuggling in the Irish Channel more difficult, could hardly have affected the south coast of England, the part in which the trade was strongest and best equipped. Here the smuggler for a long time openly terrorized all decent people. A report of the customs in 1733 says of this part that the seizures had amounted to 54,000 lbs. of tea and 123,000 gallons of brandy, but that "it had had no effect on the trade, they increasing in boldness.” It was in vain that dragoons scoured the country and the preventive cruisers watched the rivers and the bays.
Ireland was, as she always had been, even more illustrative of the hopeless task. When, in 1663 and 1666, the English Parliament prohibited the import of Irish cattle to England, thus destroying her cattle trade, and the export of Irish woollen manufactures to the colonies, the Irish, besides increasing the trade with foreign countries in woollen cloths, built up a great provision trade in beef and butter with the Continent, a change profitable to her, as the return cargoes came direct to Ireland. Then the English manufacturer, fearing Irish competition, though he was not suffering from it, set out utterly to destroy the Irish woollen trade, and succeeded when the industry was at its height, 10-11 William III., c. 10 prohibiting it absolutely, William, the great apostle of freedom, declaring, “I shall do all that in me lies to discourage the woollen trade of Ireland and to encourage the linen manufacture there.” This last be did not do. But if he had done so, this industry, already well established, nursed by Strafford and Ormond, and by the teaching of Continental workmen, would never have been a substitute for the destroyed staple of wool.
staple of wool. To help him, , the Privy Council prevented the Irish Parliament from taxing English wool and woollen goods in retaliation.
As a result of this folly it is estimated that 30,000 workers in woollen emigrated to other parts, gradually building up in foreign countries the woollen manufacture against England; while the immediate consequence was an enormous smuggling trade with France, Holland and Portugal, great prices being given for the necessity for the wool, the smugglers bringing in as return cargoes besides bullion, wine, brandy, silk and thé, which last we have vulgarized as tay. Ireland was especially suitable for the trade. Her nineteen sea-board counties and her network of lakes, rivers and creeks made detection almost impossible. By the folly of the successive British Parliaments the French, Dutch and Spanish wool was improved in quality at a cost which enabled it to undersell the English in the world's market; the English shipping lost business, and the Irish socially and politically were brought into dangerous amity with our ancient enemies the French. So evil were the consequences to the English woollen trade that in 1740, 13 George II., c. 3 took off to some extent the duties on woollen and bay yarn, but the mischief was already done.
The injury to the English woollen trade was only half the story. The supremacy of England rested on her capital and good credit. Even the Scotch wool was manufactured in England for want of capital in the northern island. As for Ireland, she and the American colonies in this respect stood on the same level. In both cases one-half of the trade, and in the colonies the greater part of the coasting and export business was in the hands of British merchants, and many of the stores and warehouses were owned by them; some of them also carried on the retail trade (Smith's Wealth of Nations, Vol. I., p. 446, quoted by Hely Hutchinson, p. 73). That the greater proportion of any profit made would go to Great Britain is an item to be kept in mind when we come to deal with the colonies.
Leaving foreign products to one side, I turn now to a British manufacture which, like the East India tea, connects us with the West, and which, in the tangled windings of its treatment, discloses the conflicting interests which at all times attend the regulation of international traffic, the wheels within wheels of compromise between different branches of trade which are affected by changes of tariff. This is the linen trade, common to all parts of the islands, to the Continent and to the American colonies. The difficulties of protecting it from foreign competition had been frequently acknowledged and combated, both by heavy tariffs, bounties and absolute prohibition. On a proposal in 1753 to repeal former bills prohibiting the wearing and importation of cambric and French lawns, it was argued that such prohibition defeated its own ends, as the French manufactures could only be distinguished from the British
and German by the difference in the way they were done up. The French, it was argued, imitated our way, so that, instead of paying a high duty as before, they avoided the duty either by importing them as German, or by smuggling them for sale as British. Then in 1772 over-production had led to a loss on sales of linen in America, and in April, 1774, a committee enquiring into the state of the trade (P.H., XVII., 1111 et seq.) proposed to raise the duty on foreign linen by ten per cent.
After evidence had been given of the great emigration from Ireland and Scotland to America by the workers in the linen trade, and of the state of trade in those countries, Mr. Glover, an expert, pointed to the effect of the duties on smuggling. He said that, under the old duties, foreign linen, and some of the bulkiest, was "run" by smugglers into several parts of England. When she cambrics (P.H., XVII., 1122, referring to the Statutes above mentioned) were put under prohibition, the legitimate traders lost the business“ because the smugglers supplied all the markets of England." "If,” says he, "you retain the new duty upon export to the colonies, the Scotch manufacturers, shipping large cargoes, would find the market possessed by the clandestine import of foreign linen. It is true, sir, that there have been well-disposed colonists who used considerable quantities of linen through the channel of the mother country, though they could have had them twenty per cent. at least cheaper directly from the foreigner; and now, sir, when there is scarce a well-disposed colonist left, when they have been exerting the most contumacious and ferocious disobedience on account of one tax, it is suggested to impose another; as if linen could not be run into America with the same facility as tea or as a pipe of wine into Great Britain. By this means you are really raising an encouragement to their smugglers from twenty to thirty per cent.
and on the head of emigration admitting all her weavers, you would be virtually giving a bounty to the diligence and skill of these new settlers to rival you there in the linen manufacture of this country.” He estimates the whole export to America as £400,000, of which the better half falls to the share of Scotland. “Would these people leave such a value at the mercy of American smugglers? If they do, I believe it will be lost; and thus
Parliament will run the risk of