PEACE AND THE NEWFOUNDLAND FISHERIES
From the “Pennsylvania Gazette,” July 21, 1779.
The importance of the fisheries, Americanus has kept almost totally out of sight. Why he has done so, his readers will contrive to guess at, or himself may explain. A bare confession, loosely scattered here and there, and marked with the countenance of reluctance, is all he gives on the subject. Surely, the public might have expected more from a man, who declares “he can, without vanity say, that very few, are better acquainted with the nature and extent of the American fisheries than himself.”
If he really possesses the knowledge he affirms, he ought to have been as prolific on the subject as the fish he was treating of: And as he has not, I am obliged to suspect either the reality of his knowledge, or the sincerity of his intentions. If the declaration be not true, there are enough to fix his title; and if true, it shows that a man may keep company all his life-time with cod, and be little wiser. But to the point -
There are but two natural sources of wealth and strength - the earth and the ocean - and to lose the right to either is, in our situation, to put up the other to sale. Without the fisheries, independence would be a bubble, It would not deserve the name; and however we might, in such a condition, please ourselves with the jingle of a word, the consequences that would follow would soon deprive us even of the title and the music.
I shall arrange the fisheries under the three following heads:
First. As an employment.
Secondly. As producing national supply and commerce, and a means of national wealth.
Thirdly. As a nursery for seamen. As an employment, by which a living is procured, it more immediately concerns those who make it their business; and in this view, which is the feast of the three, such of the states, or parts thereof, which do not follow fishing, are not so directly interested as those which do. I call it the least of the three, because as no man needs want employment in America, so the change from one employment to another, if that I all, is but little to him, and less to anybody else. And this is the narrow impolitic light in which some persons have understood the fisheries.
But when we view them as producing nationalsupply and commerce, and a means of national wealth, we then consider the fish, not the fishermen, and regard the consequences of the employment more than the employment itself; in the same manner that I distinguish the coat that clothes me, from the man that made it. In this view, we neither inquire (unless for curiosity) who catch the fish, or whether they catched themselves - how they were catched, or where? The same supply would be produced, the same commerce occasioned, and the' same wealth created, were they, by a natural impulse, to throw themselves annually on the shore, or be driven there by a periodical current or storm. And taking it in this point, it is no more to us, than it was to the Israelites whether the manna that fed them was brought there by an angel or an insect, an eastern or a western breeze, or whether it was congealed dew, or a concretion of vegetable juices. It is sufficient that they had manna, and we have fish.
I imagine myself within compass, when I suppose the fisheries to constitute a fourth part of the staple commerce of the United States, and that with this extraordinary advantage, it is a commerce which interferes with none, and promotes others. Take away a fourth from any partand the whole United States suffers, in the same manner that the blood taken from the arm is drained from the whole man; and if, by the unskilfullness of the operation, the wounded arm should lose its use, the whole body would want its service. It is to no purpose for a man to say, I am not a fisherman, an indigo planter, a rice planter a tobacco planter, or a corn planter, any more than for the leg to say, I am not an arm; for as, in the latter instance the same blood invigorates both and all by circulation, so, in the former, each is enriched by the wealth which the other creates, and fed by the supply the other raises.
Were it proposed that no town should have a market, are none concerned therein but butchers?
And in like manner it may be asked, that if we lose the market for fish, are none affected thereby but those who catch them? He who digs the mine, or tills the earth, or fishes in the ocean, digs, tills and fishes for the world. The employment and the pittance it procures him are his; but the produce itself creates a traffic for thousands, a supply for millions. The Eastern States by quitting agriculture for fishing become customers to the rest, partly by exchange and partly by the wealth they import. Of the Middle States, they purchase grain and flour; of Maryland and Virginia, tobacco, the food and pastime of the fisherman; of North and South Carolina, and Georgia, rice and indigo. They may not happen to become the client of a lawyer in either of these states, but is it any reason that we are to be deprived of fish, one of the instruments of commerce, because it comes to him without a case?
The loss of the fisheries being at this time blended with other losses, which all nations at war are more or less subject to, is not particularly felt or distinguished in the general suspension: And the men who were employed therein being now called off into other departments, and supported by other means, feel not the want of the employment. War, in this view, contains a temporary relief for its own misfortunes, by creating a trade in lieu of the suspended one. But when, with the restoration of peace, trade shall open, the case will be very and widely different, and the fisherman like the farmer will expect to return to his occupation in quietude.
As my limits will not allow me to range, neither have I time if I had room, I shall close this second head, and proceed to the third, andfinish with some remarks on the state the question is now said to stand in in Congress.
If as an employment one fourth of the United States are immediately affected, and if as a source of national supply and commerce and a means of national wealth all are deeply interested, what shall we say when we consider it as a nursery for seamen? Here the question seems to take almost a reversed turn, for the states which do not fish are herein more concerned than those which do. It happens, by some disposition of Providence or ourselves, that those particular states whose employment is to fish are thickly settled, and secured by their internal strength from any extensive ravages of an enemy. The states, all the way from thence to the southward, beginning at New York, are less populous, and have less of that ability in proportion to their extent. Their security, therefore, will hereafter be in a navy, and without a fishery there can be no navy worthy of the name.
Has nature given us timber and iron, pitch and tar, and cordage if we please, for nothing but to sell or burn? Has experience taught us the art of ship-building equal to any people on earth to become the workmen of other nations? Has she surrounded our coast with fisheries to createstrength to our enemies, and make us the purchasers of our own property? Has she brought those fisheries almost to our own doors, to insult us with the prospect, and at the same time that she bar us from the enjoyment to threaten us with the constant approach of an enemy? Or has she given these things for our use, and instructed us to combine them for our own protection? Who, I ask, will undertake to answer me, Americanus or myself?
What would we now give for thirteen ships of the line to guard and protect the remote or weaker parts? How would Carolina feel deliverance from danger, and Georgia from despair, and assisted by such a fleet become the prison of their invaders? How would the Whigs of New York look up and smile with inward' satisfaction at the display of an admiral’s command, opening, like a “key,” the door' of their confinement? How would France solace herself at such a union of force, and reciprocally assisting and assisted traverse the ocean in safety? Yet all these, or their similar consequences, are staked upon the fisheries.
Americanus may understand the “nature of fisheries,” as to season, catching and curing, or their “extent” as to latitude and longitude; but as a great political question, involving with it the means and channels of commerce, and the probability of empire, he is wholly unequal to the “subject, or he would not have, as he has done, limited their effects to “two or three states especially.” By a judgment acquired from long acquaintance, he may be able to know a cod when he sees it, or describe the inconveniences or pleasures of a fishing voyage. Or, “born and, educated” King of England’s first speech to the British parliament. among them, he may entertain us with the growling memories of a Newfoundland bear, or amuse us with the history of a foggy climate or a smoky hut, with all the winter chit-chat of fatigue and hardship; and this, in his idea, may be to “understand the fisheries.”
I will venture to predict that America, even with the assistance of all the fisheries, will never be a great, much less a dangerous naval power, and without them she will be scarcely any. I am established in this opinion from the known cast and order of things. No country of a large extent ever yet, I believe, was powerful at sea, or ever will be. The natural reason of this appears to be that men do not, in any great numbers, turn their thoughts to the ocean, till either the country gets filled, or some peculiar advantage ornecessity tempts them out. A maritime life a is a kind of partial emigration, produced from a portion of the same causes with emigrations in general. The ocean becomes covered and the supply kept up from the constant swarmings of the landed hive; and as we shall never be able to fill the whole dominion of the Thirteen States, and there will ever be new land to cultivate, the necessity can never take place in America, and of course the consequences can never happen.
Paradoxical as it may appear, greatness at sea is the effect of littleness by land. Want of room and want of employ are the generating causes. Holland has the most powerful navy in the world, compared with the small extent of her crowded country. France and Spain have too much room, and the soil too luxuriant and tempting, to be quitted for the ocean. Were not this the case, and did the abilities for a navy like those for land service rise in proportion to the number of inhabitants only, France would rival more than any two powers in Europe, which is not the case.
Had not nature thrown the fisheries in our way and inflicted a degree of natural sterility on such parts of the continent as lie contiguous thereto, by way both of forcing and temptingtheir inhabitants to the ocean, America, considering the present cast of the world, would have wanted the means of defense, for the far greater part of our seamen, except those produced by the fisheries, are natives of other countries. And shall we unwisely trifle with what we ought to hug as a treasure, and nourish with the utmost care as a protector? And must the W. H. D. forever mean that We Have Dunces?
We seek not a fleet to insult the world, or range in foreign regions for conquests. We have more land than we can cultivate; more extent than we can fill. Our natural situation frees us from the distress of crowded countries, and from the thirst of ambitious ones. We covet not dominion, for we already possess a world; we want not to export our laboring poor, for where can they live better, or where can they be more useful? But we want just such a fleet as the fisheries will enable us to keep up, and without which we shall be for ever exposed, a burden to our allies, and incapable of the necessary defense. The strength of America, on account of her vast extent, cannot be collected by land; but since experience has taught us to sail, and nature has put the means in our power, we ought in time to make provision for a navy, as the cheapest, safest,best, and most effectual security we can hereafter depend on.
Having in my first and second publications endeavored to establish the right of America to the fisheries, and in this treated of their vast importance, I shall conclude with some remarks on the subject, as it is now said to stand in Congress, or rather the form in which it is thrown out to the public.
Americanus says (and I ask not how he came by his knowledge) that the question is, “Whether the insisting on an explicit acknowledgment of that right (meaning the right of fishing on the Banks of Newfoundland) is either safe, prudent or politic.”
Before I enter on the discussion of this point, it may not be improper to remark, that some intimations were made to Congress in February by the Minister of France, Mr. Gerard, respecting what the claims of America might be, in case any treaty of peace should be entered on with the enemy; And from this, with some account of the general disposition of the powers of Europe, the mighty buzz of peace took its rise, and several who ought to have known better, were whispering wonderful secrets at almost every tea table.
It was a matter very early supposed by those who had any clear judgment, that Spain would not immediately join in the war, but would lie by as a mediatorial power. If she succeeded therein, the consequence would be peace; if she failed, she would then be perfectly at liberty to fulfil her engagements with France, etc.
Now in order to enable Spain to act this part, it was necessary that the claims of Congress in behalf of America should be made known to their own Plenipotentiary at Paris, Dr. Franklin, with such instructions, public or private, as might be proper to give thereon. But I observe several members, either so little acquainted with political arrangements, or supposing their constituents to be so, that they treat with Mr. Gerard as if that gentleman was our Minister, instead of the Minister of his Most Christian Majesty, and his name is brought in to a variety of business to which it has no proper reference. This remark may to some appear rather severe, but it is a necessary one. It is not every member of Congress who acts as if he felt the true importance of his character, or the dignity of the country he acts for. And we seem in some instances to forget, that as France is the great ally of America, so America is the great ally of France.
It may now be necessary to mention, that noinstructions are yet gone to Dr. Franklin as a line for negotiation, and the reason is because none are agreed on. The reason why they are not agreed on is another point. But had the gentlemen who are for leaving the fisheries out agreed to have had them put in, instructions might have been sent more than four months ago; and if not exactly convenient, might by this time have been returned and reconsidered. On whose side then does the fault lie?
I profess myself an advocate, out of doors, for clearly, absolutely, and unequivocally ascertaining the right of the states to fish on the Banks of Newfoundland, as one of the first and most necessary articles. The right and title of the states thereto I have endeavored to show. The importance of these fisheries I have endeavored to prove. What reason then can be given why they should be omitted?
The seeds of almost every former war have been sown in the injudicious or defective terms of the preceding peace. Either the conqueror has insisted on too much, and thereby held the conquered, like an over-bent bow, in a continual struggle to snap the cord, or the latter has artfully introduced an equivocal article, to take such advantages under as the turn of future affairsmight afford. We have only to consult our own feelings, and each man may from thence learn the spring of all national policy. And he, who does not this, may be fortunate enough to effect a temporary measure, but never will, unless by accident, accomplish a lasting one.
Perhaps the fittest condition any countries can be in to make a peace, calculated for duration, is when neither is conquered, and both are tired. The first of these suits England and America. I put England first in this case, because she began the war. And as she must be and is convinced of the impossibility of conquering America, and as America has no romantic ideas of extending her conquests to England, the object of the part of England is lost, and on the part of America is so far secure, that, unless she unwisely conquers herself, she is certain of not being conquered; and this being the case, there is no visible object to prevent the opening a negotiation. But how far England is disposed thereto is a matter wholly unknown, and much to be doubted.
A movement toward a negotiation, and a disposition to enter into it, are very distinct things. The first is often made, as an army affects to retreat, in order to throw an enemy off his guard. To prevent which, the most vigorous preparations ought to be made for war at the very instant of negotiating for a peace.
Let America make these preparations, and she may send her terms and claims whenever she pleases, without any apprehension of appearing or acting out of character. Those preparations relate now more to revenue than to force, and that being wholly and immediately within the compass of our own abilities, requires nothing but our consent to accomplish. A plan has been proposed, and all who are judges have approved it, for stopping the emissions of paper money and raising a revenue, by subscription for three years without interest, and in lieu thereof to take every subscriber’s taxes out of his subscription, and the balance at the expiration of that time to be returned. If the states universally go into this measure, they will acquire a degree of strength and ability fitted either for peace or war. It is, I am clearly convinced, the best measure they can adopt, the best interest they can have, and the best security they can hold. In short, it is carrying on or providing against war without expense, because the remaining money in the country, after the subscriptions are made, will be equal in value to the whole they now hold. Boston has proposed the same measure.
To leave the fisheries wholly out, on any pretense whatever, is to sow the seeds of another war; and I will be content to have the name of an idiot engraven for an epitaph, if it does not produce that effect. The difficulties which are now given will become a soil for those seeds to grow in, and future circumstances will quicken their vegetation. Nations are very fond of appealing to treaties when it suits their purpose, and though America might afterwards assign her unquestioned right as a reason for her silence, yet all must know that treaties are never to be explained by presumption, but wholly by what is put in, and never by what is left out.
There has not yet been an argument given for omitting the fisheries; but what might have been given as a stronger reason to the contrary. All which has been advanced rests only on supposition, and that failing, leaves them no foundation. They suppose Britain will not hereafter interrupt the right; but the case is, they have no right to that supposition; and it may likewise be parried by saying - suppose she should? Now the matter, as I conceive it stands thus -
If the right to the States to fish on the Banks of Newfoundland be made and consented to as an article in a treaty with Britain, it of consequence becomes expressly guaranteed by the eleventh article of the present treaty of alliance with France; but, if it be left out in a treaty with the former, it is not then guaranteed in the present treaty with the latter, because the guaranteeing is limited to “the whole of their (our) possessions, as the same shall be fixed and assuredto the said states at the moment of the cessation of their present war with England.” Art. II.
Were the states to claim, as a memorial to be recorded with themselves, an exclusive right to those fisheries, as a matter of right only, derived from natural situation, and to propose to their allies to guarantee to them expressly so much of that right as we may have occasion to use, and the states to guarantee to such allies such portions of the fisheries as they possessed by the last treaty of peace, there might be some pretense for not touching on the subject in a treaty with Britain; because, after the conclusion of the war, she would hardly venture to interrupt the states in a right, which, though not described in a treaty with her, should be powerfully guaranteed in a treaty with others. But to omit it wholly in one treaty, and to leave it unguaranteed in another, and to trust it entirely, as the phrase is, to the chapter of accidents, is too loose, too impolitic a mode of conducting national business.
Had nothing, says Americanus, being said on the subject of the fisheries, our fishermen, on the peace, might have returned to their old stations without interruption.
Is this talking like an American politician, or a seducing emissary? “Who authorized Americanus to intimate such an assurance; or how came he to know what the British Ministry would or would not hereafter do; or how can he be certain they have told him truth? If it be supposition only, he has, as I before remarked, no right to make it; and 'if it be more than supposition, it must be the effect of secret correspondence. In the first of these cases he is foolish; in the second worse. Does he not see that the fisheries are not expressly and only conditionally, guaranteed, and that if in such a situation they be omitted in a treaty with Britain, and she should afterwards interrupt our right, that the States stand single in the question, and have no right on the face of the present treaties to call on their allies for assistance? And yet this man is persuading us to say nothing about them.
Americanus like some others is mightily fond of amusing his readers with “the law of nations,” just as if there really was such a law, fixed and known like the law of the ten commandments. Whereas the law of nations is in theory the law of treaties compounded with customary usage, and in practice just what they can get and keep till it be taken from them. It is a term without any regular defined meaning, and as in some instances we have invented the thing first and given the name afterwards, so in this we have invented the name and the thing is yet to be made.
Some gentlemen say, leave the fisheries to be settled afterwards in a treaty of commerce. This is really beginning business at the wrong end. For a treaty of peace cannot precede the settlement of disputes, but proceeds in consequence of all controverted points respecting right and dominion being adjusted and agreed on. There is one kind of treaty of commerce which may follow a treaty of peace, but that respects such articles only and the mode of trafficking with them as are produced within, or imported into the known and described dominions of the parties; or to the rules of exchange, or paying or recovering debts, but never to the dominion itself; and comes more properly within the province of a consul than the superior contracting powers.
With these remarks I shall, for the present, close the subject. It is a new one, and I have endeavored to give it as systematical an investigation as the short time allowed and the other business I have on hand will admit of. How the affair stands in Congress, or how the cast of the House is on the question, I have, for several reasons, not inquired into: neither have I conversed with any gentleman of that body on the subject. They have their opinion and I mine; and as I choose to think my own reasons and write my own thoughts, I feel the more free the less I consult.
Who the writer of Americanus is I am not informed. I never said or ever believed it to be Mr. Gouverneur Morris, or replied to it upon that supposition. The manner is not his, neither do I know that the principles are, and as that gentleman has disavowed it, the assurance is sufficient. I have likewise heard it supposed that Mr. Deane is the author, and that his friend Mr. Langworthy carried it to the press. But I know not who the author is. I have replied to the piece rather than to the man; though for the sake of relief to the reader and amusement to myself, he now and then comes in for a stroke.
Philadelphia, July 17, 1779.