Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“Protest by "A Private Citizen" against the Port Bill”
authors:George Mason
date written:1786-11

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:16 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Aug. 8, 2022, 2:18 p.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Protest by "A Private Citizen" against the Port Bill." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 2. Ed. Robert A. Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 859-63. Print.
Rare Book Room, Library of Congress

Protest by "A Private Citizen" against the Port Bill (November 1786)

[November—December? 1786]
A Private Citizen begs leave humbly to submit the following Queries to the consideration of the General Assembly now sitting.
Will not sound policy always endeavour to extend and improve, not to contract or counteract the advantages of nature?
Have not the many fine navigable rivers, ports and harbours, with which Virginia abounds, always been justly considered as one of the greatest blessings, and natural advantages of our Country?
Would not the man be suspected of insanity, who should seriously propose to stretch a chain or lay a rock, at a certain place, across the channel of each of our large rivers, leaving only a sufficient depth of water over it for small craft, and thereby rendering the navigation above impracticable to ships or vessels of burthen, as the proper means of promoting and increasing our trade and commerce?
Would not such a project be more absurd even than that of Gulliver's professor; who, for a public reward, proposed to raise and propagate a new breed of sheep without wool?
Was the thing really practicable, and a rock so laid across the channels of our rivers, should we not soon find cause to wish it, like old Corsica's ladle, out again? And what would be thought of a government, which should make compulsory laws for executing such a project?
Will not the Port-Bill, published for public consideration, have similar operations and effects? And can any problematical and uncertain advantages expected from it, compensate for the manifest and certain partiality, oppression, injustice, and injury, it will produce?
Can imported goods come cheaper to the consumer, or the bulky produce of our lands bear a better price, by being burthened with the double charges of commissions, freight, ensurance, and warehouse rent?
Are not such paradoxes, however artfully disguised, or plausibly explained, sufficient to shock the creed even of the most credulous?
Was it not a common and just cause of complaint against Great Britain, under our late government, that by her monopoly of our trade, the greater part of our Tobacco went to market burthened with the before-mentioned double charges, at the expence and to the great loss of the planter? And whence comes it, that in this case, similar causes will not produce, as in general, the same effects?
Will not the merchant be obliged to proportion his profits and the advance upon his merchandise, to his expence of living? And will the exhorbitant rate of ground rent and house rent, which must inevitably take place, upon restraining our trade to few places, have a tendency to lessen, or to enhance the price of goods to the consumer?
Are the trade and population of Philadelphia, and some other great cities in the United States, the effect of artificial, or of natural causes? Or do they owe their origin or their increase, to Port Bills, and compulsive laws?
Although no two things are more different, the one holding out invitations, and the other laying restraints and inflicting penalties; have not many people been imposed on, by a misrepresentation of the Port Bill; that it was like a law for establishing and encouraging free ports?
Is there any greater, or more dangerous error in government, than that of governing too much?
Will not the Port Bill be particularly hurtful to the revenue and trade of Virginia in Potowmack river, by inducing many vessels, which would otherwise enter and load in both States, to enter and load only in the state of Maryland? And will not the inhabitants of the counties of Prince William, Stafford, King George[,] Westmoreland and Northumberland, have just cause to complain of the unnecessary charge of freight to Alexandria, on their Indian corn and other bulky produce of their lands; and instead of the convenience they have always heretofore enjoyed, of supplying their families with West-India goods, salt, and other heavy articles, at their own doors; be compelled to buy them in future, burthened with the charge of freight to and from Alexandria, or running the risk of smuggling them from Maryland?
Has not every man a just right to the natural advantages accruing from the situation of his estate, acquired by the present possessor, or his ancestors, at a much dearer rate, on that very account? And is not the act which robs him of them (whatever speculative or chimerical notions may be advanced to palliate it) an act of injustice, oppression, and tyranny?
Are not all the lands upon tide water, in consideration of these advantages, rated in our tax laws much higher than lands of superior quality without them?
Must not the Port Bill then induce a necessity of new valuations & regulations, not only at a great public charge, but to the lessening the revenue of the land tax and destroying a system universally approved, or to the risk of creating general discontent, confusion, anarchy, and perhaps, convulsion in the state? Or is it expected that a free people will quietly acquiesce in such partiality and oppression as being compelled to pay taxes for emoluments, they are no longer suffered to enjoy? Or that the inhabitants of the back counties will agree to have the valuation and taxes of their lands raised, to make good the deficiency in the revenue, arising from the consequences of such a law?
If we enquire cooly and candidly, after the causes which have deterred foreigners from trading with us, will they not be found in our own conduct? In our breach of public faith—In our refusal to pay our debts—In the ex-post facto interference of our laws with private property and contracts—In our iniquitous tender laws, and other regulations calculated to defraud creditors—In the dread of such measures being repeated—And In a general defect of our system for the administration of justice? And is it any wonder that causes which have so exceedingly weakened the confidence of our own citizens in the government should destroy all confidence in foreigners?
Have not several of the few foreign merchants, who have attempted to trade with us, been most scandalously imposed on, and cheated to their utter ruin? And do our laws afford them any adequate and effectual remedy or any proper means of speedily enforcing their contracts?
Will not therefore a faithful performance of treaties—an honest payment of our debts—and a proper reform in our judiciary system, with some particular regulations giving foreign merchants (who cannot wait the tedious process of common legal forms) speedy justice, be a more effectual means of inviting foreigners to trade with us, than a thousand Port Bills?
But are there not other considerations, upon this subject, of more importance to the community, than our trade and commerce?
Are not self-defence and public safety—Is not the preservation and duration of our free government, of so much greater importance, than trade and commerce, if contrasted with these, should be regarded as an atom, or rather as an evil?
Is it not notorious, that in the late war, our great trading sea port towns were the vulnerable parts of America? Is there one of them, which was not at the mercy of the enemy? And is it not an undeniable truth, if the bulk of our people had been collected in large sea port towns, that instead of victory, independence and liberty; subjugation and slavery would, at this day, have been our portion?
Was it in the power of Virginia, in the late war to defend her bay and rivers from the depredations of a few refugee piratical barges? Is it more in her power now? Would not a single Algerine corsair be liable to plunder and burn any of our sea port towns, and carry the principal inhabitants into slavery; or to exact exorbitant sums by way of ransom? Will not collecting our produce and imports at one, or at few places, hold out a temptation to such enterprizes? Will not these, most probably, be the fruits of the Port Bill? Can they be prevented by any other means than ships of war, or strong garrisons, and a grievous increase of taxes, such as the people are not able to bear? And however irksome it may be to a good citizen to expose the weakness of his country, does not such an occasion require truth?
If virtue is the vital principle of a republic, and it cannot long exist, without frugality, probity and strictness of morals; will the manners of populous commercial cities be favorable to the principles of our free government? Or will not the vice, the depravity of morals, the luxury, venality, and corruption, which invariably prevail in great commercial cities, be utterly subversive of them?
Were not these the causes which, in ancient times sap'd the foundations of Athens, of Carthage, and of Rome? And have they not in modern times destroyed the liberties of Geneva, and of Venice; and left nothing of their former boasted freedom to the states of Holland, but a name? In short, are they not the means, by which the justice of Divine Providence (in a natural chain of events) constantly punishes avarice, and the inordinate lust of wealth, in nations?
Are not a people more miserable and contemptible in the last, than in the early and middle stages of society? And is it not safer and wiser to leave things to the natural progress of time, than to hasten them, prematurely, by violence; and to bring on the community all the evils, before it is capable of receiving any of the advantages of populous countries?
A profession of the rectitude of his intentions will little avail any man. He must be judged, if he is known, by the general tenour of his conduct; if he is not known, by the merits of the advice, which he offers to the public: And to these, the writer of the above Queries appeals.

Resource Metadata






Annotations (0)