THE LORDS OF THE TREASURY FAVOR REIMBURSEMENT
The events which took place in London in connection with the passage of the act for the reimbursement of the colonies for their expenditures in the Cape Breton expedition form an important part of this narrative and require consideration at this point.
The period during which the Lords of the Treasury and parliament had this question under discussion includes the date of the destruction by fire of the Boston town house in 1747. Through the aid of duplicate papers and reports sent to England, we are enabled to supply many of the deficiencies caused by the loss of papers at that fire. In one respect, the treasurer's annual statements, which he was accustomed to forward to England, we are unable to do so. For some reason the forwarding of these reports was stopped in 1744, and this omission was not noticed for some years thereafter. When it was discovered in London that the information to be obtained from these reports was not on file there, and duplicates were called for, it was stated that the gap could not be filled owing to the destruction of the books of account in the fire.(1)
For some time prior to the year 1744, the assembly had availed themselves of the services of Christopher Kilby, who was then in London, as their representative in matters which they wished brought to the consideration of the authorities there. In February, 1743-44(2) he was duly appointed agent of the province,(3) and on the 27th of that month the house took under consideration the question of his instructions.
At that time an effort was being made to induce parliament to take steps towards a reformation of the currency in the colonies. It was greatly feared that the fact that restraints had been imposed upon the emissions of the province of the Massachusetts Bay, while some of the neighboring governments had been left entirely free to issue what they pleased, might not be recognized and it was asserted that representations and proposals had been sent home which had "treated this government and people in a manner injurious, endeavoring to subvert that freedom of assembly which by charter they enjoy." The house, therefore, voted to instruct the secretary to write to Kilby that he was expected to give careful attendance to any application whereby the charter liberties or quiet of the province might be affected, and he was to use his utmost endeavor to prevent any proceeding thereon, until particularly instructed by the General Court. The form in which this vote was phrased did not meet with the approval of the council, and after several attenipts at amendments the matter was finally concluded on the 29th by instructions from the assembly, to the effect that he was especially to give careful attendance to any representations that might have been sent home by any private person or persons, whereby the charter privileges and interests of this people might be affected, and to use his utmost endeavors to prevent any proceedings thereon, until he should have received instructions. Again, on the first of March, 1743-44, it was ordered that the agent be instructed, in case there should be any parliamentary inquiry into the state of the currencies to do all in his power to prevent any injury. This last vote may have been taken in response to a suggestion made by the governor who on that day stated to the assembly that he estimated the losses sustained by the people of the province from the circulation of the bills of the neighboring governments at £100,000, and he expressed the hope that some steps might be taken to distinguish between the bills of the province of the Massachusetts Bay, and those of the neighboring governments. On the 16th of October, 1744, the contents of the bill about the currencies which was then being discussed by parliament was communicated to the house.
There is in the archives a copy of an act entitled, "a bill to regulate and restrain paper bills of credit and for ascertaining the currency thereof in his Majesty's colonies or plantations of Rhode Island and Providence plantations, Connecticutt, the Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire in America, and to prevent the same being legal tender in payment for money", which is, perhaps, the same as the proposed bill communicated at that time to the house. There were to be no more paper bills and no postponements of redemptions. The penalty for Rhode Island and Connecticut was to be the forfeiture of their charters. Short term bills for current expenses might be allowed, and emergent expenses might be provided for by special emissions under royal approval. The measure of values was to be the piece of eight of seventeen pennyweight, which was to pass at six shillings.(4)
On the 24th of February, 1743-44, the council being of opinion that the currency question, either then was under discussion in parliament or soon would be, and that justice would not be done this province unless steps were taken to show the difference between the emissions of this government and those of its neighbors, voted(5) that his excellency be requested to make a full representation of the whole matter to his Majesty's ministers of state, and to use his kind offices therein. The house, being not only jealous of its prerogatives, but having always displayed a fondness for addresses and arguments, promptly non-concurred in this vote, thus showing that they had no desire to make use of the kind offices of the governor. Indeed, it may be assumed that his employment as their mouth-piece was one of the last functions in which they would willingly have availed themselves of his services.
July 27th, 1745, the house voted to prepare a petition to his Majesty for relief under the heavy burthen occasioned by the Cape Breton expedition. On the 30th the petition in this behalf was accepted, and on the 31st of July, William Bollan, who was then about to embark for Great Britain, and who was said to be thoroughly familiar with the matter, was authorized to act in concert with Kilby, the agent of the province, in preparing and pursuing the petition of the two houses for relief under the insupportable charges of the Cape Breton expedition.
The presentation of the petition, perhaps influenced by the appointment of Bollan, created hopes that the depreciation of the bills might be checked, and thus render their redemption through the reimbursement feasible. We have evidence of this feeling in a proposition submitted to the assembly in June, 1746, the method suggested in which was doubtless an outcome of the loan made at the time of the Hill and Walker expedition against Quebec. At that time the province loaned its bills to the Boston merchants in order to enable them to purchase supplies for the expedition, the merchants taking their pay from the troops and the fleet, in bills of exchange on London, which would not be paid for some time thereafter. In the present case, the merchants had the bills in hand, and believed that the exchange would be promptly met, and therefore, on the 6th of June, 1746, they made the following proposition: They said that to prevent the evils arising from the great floods of paper money which had been and were being issued in the province, they would offer to the General Court such sums of province bills as might be needed for the proposed expedition against Canada then under consideration, upon condition of being paid at a reasonable exchange by bills on Great Britain. In case the expenses of the expedition should not be paid by Great Britain, they would be content to take their pay in province bills without interest, when it should become known that the charges would not be reimbursed, provided this period did not exceed twelve months. By this last clause it was probably intended merely to limit the time that they should allow the use of the bills without charge for interest.(6)
If this proposition had been adopted it is evident that it would have had a tendency to check the depreciation of the bills, but it was received with such disfavor in the house that the representatives not only declined to consider it then, but actually voted that they would not entertain its consideration at any future time.
Evidence of the favorable disposition of the Lords of the Treasury and of parliament towards the claim of the New England governments for reimbursement of the expenses incurred in the prosecution of the Louisburg expedition soon led the agents of the province to believe that but little difficulty would be experienced in securing payment for the same. On the 14th of November, 1746, however, Bollan met with a set-back which seriously disconcerted him and made him realize that the path which led to success in this affair was not free from obstructions and perils. While the matter was still fresh in his mind he wrote that the Lords Commissioners had on the fourteenth come to the conclusion that some satisfaction, and he underscored the word "some," should be made the province. The fact that a favorable conclusion was reached had been previously communicated to him and the introduction at this time of the word "some" he regarded as of sinister import. It might produce fatal consequences and his astonishment was so great that he could not tell what to say to it. He still had hopes, but they were very slender, that he could get this dangerous word wiped out.(7)
On the 15th of January, 1746-47, a favorable report was made on the petition of the province(8) for the reimbursement, and the matter was referred to a committee to adjust and liquidate the accounts on which it was based. Bollan submitted to this committee copies of acts showing emissions of public bills in aid of the Louisburg expedition amounting to £258,800, and also a transfer of £20,000 more, originally issued for another purpose. This was accompanied by vouchers showing expenditures amounting to £261,700, 0s. 3d. Certificates were also submitted showing that silver was rated at that time at 7s. 6d. by committees appointed to ascertain the value of bills, and that £142, 10s. in bills were then equal to £100 sterling.(9)
As time went on, and the conviction ripened that the application for reimbursement was likely to prove successful, thoughtful men began to appreciate the fact that the reception in the province of so large an amount of coin would furnish an opportunity for the resumption of specie payments. There was a division of opinion among the hard money men as to how it was best to do this. Dr. Douglass, who had been a consistent opponent of the heresies of the land bank, and an earnest advocate of a specie basis for the circulating medium, was a firm believer in the necessity of approaching the matter cautiously, and was violent in his opposition to a radical and sudden attempt at the conversion of the paper money then circulating into coin at current rates. He believed that it could best be accomplished by making the redemptions by degrees, and that any other method would work destruction upon the trade of the province. On the other hand, Hutchinson thought that the true method was to grapple with the whole question at once, and redeem the bills on the basis of their then depreciation. The advocates of paper money, in their turn, were appalled at the shrinkage in the amount of the currency which any such proceeding involved, and were heartily opposed to any plan which had in view an abrupt attempt to make such enormous reductions of nominal values. The evidences that these questions were occupying the attention of the public are to be found in various directions. They showed themselves from time to time in the various votes which were taken in connection with the action of time committees for ascertaining the value of money, some of which have been already given.
The pamphleteers also took a hand in the discussion. In 1748, a writer who was opposed to the plan for resuming specie payments, which was ultimately adopted, submitted for public consideration a proposition of his own.(10) He referred to an article which had been printed in the "Independent Advertiser," No. 13, March 28, advocating the use of the Louisburg reimbursement for resumption, and then proposed "to keep all the silver money bounty granted, for ever in the Bank of England, as the government's fund and bottom, and to have the interest thereof only drawn for yearly by the government, which interest will amount to about eighty thousand pounds (as our money now stands) yearly, and so every year sink and burn eighty thousand pounds of our paper bills."
The expectations of the assembly may be gathered from a report of a committee which had been appointed to consider some method for preventing the depreciation of the currency. They were of opinion on the 5th of June, 1747, that considering the expectation of the speedy reimbursement of the charges of the Cape Breton expedition, it would be most convenient to defer the determination of this question to some future time. The messages and speeches of the governor also contain hints of a belief that the days of paper money were drawing to an end.
On the 29th of October, 1747, Shirley called upon the assembly to furnish money to pay the troops raised for the late intended expedition against Canada. This message was communicated to the representatives November 5th, and they answered that they would, were it in their power, advance with the utmost cheerfulness the money for the payment of the troops, but they had no other way to do this than by more emissions of public bills. They had already issued exorbitant sums, and beside these, the bills of the other governments circulated promiscuously in the province. Should such a sum be issued it would be followed by a great "impair", if not utter loss of the public credit. The truth of each of the propositions laid down by the house was obvious. Notwithstanding this, Shirley, on the 3d of February, 1747-48, said to the assembly, "I must earnestly recommend you to find some other way for the supply of the treasury than by making new emissions of public bills." It might, perhaps, have been expected of the governor, in view of the fact that the representatives had already announced that they knew of no other way to raise money than by the emission of public bills, that he should himself suggest some new method of supplying the treasury. Although no way of escape from the difficulties of the situation presented itself at that time, it is worthy of note that for the first time since the province began to rely upon this method of supplying its treasury, the governor and the house were of one opinion as to the effect of emitting more bills.
Meantime news from Great Britain had been received from the agents of the province, sometimes full of encouragement, often of a despondent nature, according to the turn that events had taken and the feelings of the writer. On the 3rd of October, 1747, Kilby wrote in a hopeful strain concerning the progress made with the petition for reimbursement.(11) Bollan, on the 5th of November, said that he had the day before attended a meeting of a sub-committee having in charge the accounts of the province submitted in connection with the petition. A proposition had then been made to pay only such sum as was equal to the present value of the bills of credit. He was greatly surprised at this, because at the outset of the discussion with the Lords of the Treasury, it had been agreed that the questions to determine were, what sum in currency is due? and, what was sterling exchange at the time of the expenditures? He had said that he would not submit to such a proposition. It would be no payment at all. He thought his arguments had produced a good result and had convinced the committee.(12)
After having prematurely announced December 10, 1747, that parliament had provided for payment of the province by passing a grant, Bollan wrote January 1, 1747-48, that he had encouragement that the affair would be dispatched when their lordships met again.(13)
Instead of the grant having been made by parliament, as Bollan thought in December, the fact was that the Lords of the Treasury still retained their clutch upon the petition, and their delay in action caused much perturbation. February 29, 1747-48, Bollan wrote expressing his surprise and concern that the Lords insisted so much at this time on the fall of bills. He had attended a meeting on the 15th of the month, at which Pelham, First Lord Commissioner, had proposed that the province should be paid a sum equal only to the value of the bills at that time and had asked Bollan what he had to say. The latter was apparently prepared for the occasion, for he wrote that "several things were said not pleasant to hear." The result of the interview was that the question was to be referred to parliament.
In the same letter, Bollan complained that while he was striving to gain for the province the value of their expenses on account of the expedition, there were several others who were very busy in framing their schemes for disposing of the money. Some of them, he was told, had applied to the treasury to prevent payment being made to the province until their proposed regulations could be enforced. The only use made of these applications, so far as he knew, was to draw arguments thence for the payment of the lesser sum. These persons were weak and officious and ought to have known that the only result of their interposition would be to reduce the amount to be paid or to delay the payment. He wished express power to receive the money, to be forwarded to him at an early date.(14)
In a letter to Pelham dated the 25th of February, Bollan gave his reasons why the province should receive the full value of the bills at the time of the expedition. They were in substance that the debts then contracted still retained their original values; that if the lesser sum should be paid, the province would be a loser by one-half the sum expended; that the sinking of the bills, in itself a hardship, had been caused by the delay in the payment of the reimbursement; and to pay on the basis of the value of the bills at that time would be grafting a new hardship on an old one; that if it was reasonable to do this, then by waiting longer there would be still less to pay and if payment should be delayed until the province was ruined, there would be nothing to pay; that according to calculations which had been made, the payment of the lesser sum would be entirely exhausted in providing for the expenses incurred by the province in holding Louisburg and would not provide a farthing towards its capture. Further, he believed the payment of the lesser sum to be incompatible with the tenor of the bills.(15)
In the province, Hutchinson took advantage of the evident growth of the desire for a return to specie payments and on the 16th of February, 1747-48, a memorial of his, offering proposals for regulating the medium of trade of this province was submitted to the house and was referred to a joint committee. The details of Hutchinson's proposition are not given in the records but a copy of a memorial said to have been presented by him February 3rd, 1747-48, is in the archives and through references in the correspondence of Bollan, it may be identified as the plan then submitted.(16)
Hutchinson thought the reimbursement of the expense for the Louisburg expedition probable and proposed that this money should be used for sinking the variable paper medium then in circulation and substituting a fixed and unalterable money. There was then extant, he thought, near £1,900,000 old tenor. The charge of the expedition he estimated at £170,000 sterling. He proposed that enough should be borrowed to redeem all the outstanding paper. £50,000 he considered adequate for this purpose and this could easily be repaid in twelve annual payments. This sum should be imported in bullion, or Spanish milled dollars and Portuguese gold. He would pay a debt of 44 shillings old tenor with one dollar in silver. The concurrence of the neighboring governments should be sought and a bill prepared for submission to them.
Bearing in mind that the silver dollar was valued at six shillings, it will be seen that Hutchinson's proposition was to settle debts contracted in old tenor at the rate of seven and one-third for one in silver. The £220,000 to be derived from the estimated reimbursement and the loan, throwing aside fractional parts of pounds would have amounted to £293,333 New England money.(17) If converted into old tenor at the above rate it would have been equivalent to £2,151,108. This would have left on hand a little over £34,000 New England money if Hutchinson's estimate of £1,900,000 old tenor outstanding was correct. It is possible that he feared an under-estimate of the currency and wished to be sure on that point.
The committee appointed to take the memorial under their charge reported to the house on the 24th. They were unanimously of opinion that the proposals in the memorial might prove very salutary to the province, and they offered for consideration a bill entitled "An act for calling in and exchanging the bills of credit, of the several denominations which have at any time been issued by this government, and are still outstanding, and for ascertaining the rate of coined silver in this province for the future." They recommended that a copy of this bill should be sent to the governments of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and that it should be proposed to each of these governments to appoint commissioners to meet in this province the 12th of April, or as soon thereafter as might be, to treat with such commissioners as should be appointed by this government in order to the bringing to a period the bills of all these several governments in the like manner as was proposed for the bills of this, and also to settle the rates and values of money in the several governments for the future. The report was accepted by both houses and the governor affixed his consent to the same.(18) On the 27th, a committee was appointed to meet and confer with such gentlemen as should be appointed by the other governments pursuant to the vote of acceptance by the court of the report of the committee of both houses on the memorial of Thomas Hutchinson. A letter to the neighboring governments was prepared, and on the 5th of March was accepted by both houses and was regularly approved by the governor.(19) This letter announced that in view of the probable reimbursement by parliament, the assembly of this province had projected a bill for improving the opportunity to put an end to the paper currency of the province, a copy of which would be enclosed. This bill had received two readings at that time. It was thought to be desirable, in view of the general currency of the bills of the several governments, that a conference should be held, so that if possible, one general method should be adopted by all. The vote of this province appointing commissioners was also to be enclosed, and the danger of not arriving at an agreement was pointed out.(20) This attempt to secure cooperation resulted in a complete failure. Hopes, however, of accomplishing this result were kept up even under the most discouraging circumstances, and on November 2, 1748, a vote was passed to send messengers to each of these governments to see if a conference could not be brought about.(21) The relations of the other governments to the question of reimbursement were widely different from those of this province. Rhode Island, for instance, had an enormous circulation of bills of public credit, while her expectations in the way of reimbursement were very small. What constituted an eligible opportunity for the people of this province was practically of no value whatever to the people of Rhode Island. For this cause there was but little reason to expect cooperation.
The opinion had now become strong that the time was near at hand when payment might be expected from Great Britain, and it was realized even before Bollan reminded the assembly of the necessity for this action, that some person or persons would have to receive the money in behalf of the province, for which purpose special authority would be required. It was, therefore, voted on the 5th of March, 1747-48, that Bollan be authorized to receive for the use of the province all such sums of money as were or should be granted by parliament to or for the province for payment of the expenses of the Cape Breton expedition.
The fact that Shirley's former suggestions as to the necessity for raising money in some other way than by bills of credit had failed, did not deter him from renewing his assaults. On the 26th of May, 1748, he said to the assembly, "You must be convinced that if you had not made any new bills of credit for the last two years a moderate interest for the money borrowed would have been more than repaid by the loss and damage it would have saved to the public." . . . "Upon these considerations I hope you will take some other expedient than making bills of credit for the supply of the treasury." It will be noted that Shirley intimated in the foregoing that the province could have borrowed money. This is the only suggestion put forward by him for any method of meeting the extraordinary expenses of the province and this it will be observed is indirect. The answer of the assembly was an emission of £100,000 bills of the last tenor in June of that year.
On the 2d of April, 1748, Bollan wrote that the House of Commons had the day before resolved that the reimbursement was reasonable. The time of the payment had not been determined but after securing an agreement to pay the larger sum he had insisted upon prompt payment, so that the bills of credit might be retired. The matter had been referred to the treasury. Its progress had been attended with numberless difficulties and it would be for the honor of the province that the money should be carried over and exchanged for bills of credit. This was made necessary by what was said in parliament.(22)
1. Mass. Arch., vol. 54, no. 62.
2. Mass. Arch. vol. 20. no. 355.
3. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, no. 358.
4. Mass. Arch., vol. 102, nos. 170, 176.
5. Mass. Arch., vol. 102, no. 334.
6. It was generally understood that the Duke of Newcastle had given assurances that the province would be reimbursed for the expenses of the Canada expeditions.
7. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, no. 367.
8. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, no. 369.
9. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, nos. 380-388.
10. A word in season to all true lovers of their liberty and their country; both of which are now in the utmost danger of being forever lost. By Mylo Freeman, etc. Boston, 1748.
11. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, no. 395.
12. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, no. 400.
13. Mass. Arch. vol. 20, no. 407.
14. Mass. Arch. vol. 20, nos. 411-412.
15. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, no. 414.
16. Mass. Arch., vol. 102, no. 366.
17. That is the money in which the par of exchange was 133.
18. It was a house measure and came before the council February 26. See Acts and Resolves, Prov. Mass. Bay, vol. 3, p. 454. Mass. Arch., vol. 102, no. 371.
19. Acts and Res. Prov. Mass. Bay, vol. 3, p. 454.
20. Mass. Arch., vol. 102, no. 374.
21. Mass. Arch., vol. 102, no. 392.
22. Mass. Arch., vol. 20, no. 421.