The Turbulent Life of a Merchant in the Revolutionary Era
The following paper, through the mind and words of a fictionalized character, examines the crucial issues and various changes the imperial relationship between Great Britain and its North American colonies underwent in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Drawing upon various historical events and enactments, the story of Gerald Gardner, a Bostonian merchant, will try to synthesize these events and provide a reflection upon the American Revolution from the point-of-view of those who shared his line of work. While the following opinions expressed display the feelings and attitudes of one man, the same cannot be applied historically to all of the merchant class. The characters and opinions are fictional, however, the historical events, legislation, and enactments are not.
Gerald Gardner began working in the trade industry at some point near the year 1750, finding favorable conditions under which his business could flourish. His job involved him both selling and shipping to overseas markets while also buying and importing goods he could then sell in the colonies. Although British law required “that certain products of the colonies, such as tobacco, rice, indigo, when exported should be taken only to England or to another English colony” and “that the colonies purchase European manufactures only through England”, Gardner paid little heed to these laws (Morgan, 10). That did not mean he did not engage in trade with the mother country, since England had the world’s most advanced industry and normally the best prices. But Gardner saw the Navigation law as intending to “promote the economic welfare of the empire in general and of the mother country in particular” (Morgan, 10). He was neither interested in nor motivated by the gains of the empire; he was simply focused on his personal well-being. Thus, in order profit largely, he often bought and directly imported shipments of beautiful and valuable textiles from Holland and France, which under English law, was forbidden. To do so, Gardner paid customs officers to look the other way upon receiving these shipments. Well aware of the lax, ineffective Navigation Act enforcement, the customs officers engaged in these deals knowing they were unlikely to be punished for them, much less have them be discovered by superiors (Morgan, 11). Gerald Garner built himself quite the name in the business world, shipping raw materials to and buying manufactures from England, while also illegally purchasing French and Dutch textiles directly from the respective nations rather than through England. Purchasing directly from France or Holland cut out the middleman, England, who would have charged them for a higher price. Life was well for Gardner. He had amassed quite the personal fortunes; he had trading connections throughout Europe. But the comfortable lifestyle he had grown to enjoy would soon suffer major changes, when, in 1763, Britain began to reform its failing imperial administration.
The antiquated British imperial system, already costing substantially more to operate than it rose in revenue, now faced another enormous economic problem, funding its acquisitions gained from the Seven Years’ War. The government in London needed money badly, considering the size and scope of its new North American territories and also its large debt amassed in funding a seven-year war. To raise the badly needed revenue, the Privy Council Of England on October 4, 1763, Britain began to tackle the revenue problem by reforming its customs service. Citing its essential problem “that the Revenue arising [from America] is very small and inconsiderable having in no degree increased with the Commerce of those Countries, and is not sufficient to defray a fourth Part of the Expence necessary for collecting it,” the Order provided measures to enforce the Navigation laws (Greene, 14). Britain appointed many new officers, gave out strict instructions and regulation...
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