Reported 280 years ago (March 1739): Merchants who trade in America query Spain’s pledges

The Belfast News Letter of March 20 1738 (which is March 31 1739 in the modern calendar)
The Belfast News Letter of March 20 1738 (which is March 31 1739 in the modern calendar)
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From the Belfast News Letter of March 20 1738. This is in fact equivalent to March 31 1739 in the modern calendar, because there was an 11-day time lag between the two calendars, and because the new year then began in late March, a few days after this edition.

It is by all admitted that the unwarrantable visiting, searching, and taking our Ships in their Voyages to and from our Plantations in America, hath been the principal Cause of our Difference with the Court of Spain.

It is too as generally admitted, that ‘twill be impossible to carry on for the future this advantageous Branch of our Commerce, unless Spain will absolutely and for ever confine their visiting, searching, and taking our Vessels, to the Regulations settled betwixt the two Nations by the Treaties of 1667 and 1670.

By those Treaties it appears to have been mutually stipulated, that in case either theirs, or our Ships, should have been found sailing into, or trading to the Ports, Harbours, &c. belonging to the other Nation, or carrying contraband Goods for the Service of an Enemy, and which are there explain’d to be warlike Stores, they should be subject to visiting, searching, and taking by the injur’d Party; but if the Ships of either Nation should have been driven into the Harbours of the other, to avoid Pyrates, or want of Provisions, or any other absolute Necessity, then they were to be treated kindly, to be furnish’d with what they might want reasonably, and to depart as soon as conveniently they could.

By no Treaty since have we ever admitted, or hath Spain ever claim’d, any farther Right.

For near the first fifty Years after the making these Treaties, no such Complaint hath ever been made as has been thought worthy the Notice of either Nation.

But for some Years past the Spaniards, whether justly provok’d or not I shall not enter into, have, under Pretence of Powers by these Treaties, made many unwarrantable Seizures of our Ships and Effects which have not been sailing into or trading with their Ports, or carrying contraband goods for the Service of their Enemies, by which they have rendered our trading to our American Colonies so hazardous, that our Merchants exhibited to the House of Commons the last Session of Parliament their most reasonable Complaints, and at the Bar of the House so fully made out the Allegations of their Petition, that the House came to a Resolution to address the King in their Behalf; who was graciously pleas’d to answer them, That he’d use his Endeavours to procure them Satisfaction for what was past, and Security for the time to come.

To obtain these Ends two Methods were agreed on; the one, to try if what was wanted could be obtain’d by Treaty; the other, to equip a Fleet, not only to give Weight to our Negociation, but also that in case that had fail’d, to have been in Readiness to do ourselves that Justice by Force, which we could not obtain by Treaty.

In Consequence of these Measures, the King of Spain did think fit to consent to a Treaty, which was soon after set on foot and he has already so far acknowledged his having exceeded the Powers he might think he had by the Treaties of 1667 and 1670, as not only to have agreed to the making Satisfaction to our Merchants for the Injuries his Subjects had done them, and which Satisfaction is actually to be paid them in Money in London within four Months, or sooner if possible, from the Day of signing the Convention, but also to refer all the other Matters of Difference betwixt us, to be adjusted and settled (and which must be finish’d in eight Months) agreeable to the Treaties subsisting between the two Nations.

By no Treaty is it pretended that Spain has any other Power than what is before mention’d; and as this was a mutual Stipulation, and that we have the same Powers, no one can deny their being reasonable.

Since then the King of Spain has consented to submit himself to be restrain’d within the original Intention of the Treaties subsisting between us, the West-India Merchants, who are the only Traders directly and properly concerned in this Question, are desired to answer the following Queries.

If our Crown had insisted, as some seem to have expected it should, that Spain should have explicitly declared, that they would not search, visit, or take any of our Ships during the eight Months allow’d the Plenipotentiaries to settle all our Differences;

Qu 1. Whether it would not have carried with it an Implication of what we absolutely deny, that is, of their having any such Right?

Qu. 2. Whether it does appear, that since the Differences have been in a way of adjusting by Treaty, the King of Spain has given any fresh Orders, in Consequence of which one single Ship of ours has been visited, search’d, or taken?

Tho’ it may be true, that some Ships may have been taken since, and before the Knowledge of this Treaty could be supposed to have reach’d the Spanish Governors in New Spain.

Qu. 3. Whether it be not actually stipulated by the second separate Article of the Convention, in case any Ships not specified therein should have been taken or seized since the 10th of December 1737, or may be hereafter taken or seized, that Satisfaction should be made for the Effects so seized, or Prizes taken?

And if, as appears by the third Article, a Satisfaction for what is past be actually stipulated to be paid here in London within four Months, as before-mentioned, and that eight Months is the utmost Term we are to wait for the adjusting all the other Differences, then it will be natural to ask,

Qu. 4. Whether they had no other Reasons than barely the Care of their own Concerns, to induce them to make the present Application to Parliament?