William's Second Reorganization
The Board of Trade.—As the war progressed, the enforcement of the navigation laws became more and more difficult; piracy and smuggling increased, and the Dutch obtained a larger part of the carrying trade than formerly. The complaints of English merchants were voiced in the House of Commons, where an insistent minority demanded a reorganization of the machinery of colonial administration and a revision of the navigation laws. William was opposed to the creation of a new board by parliament, considering that such action would be an encroachment upon the prerogative of the crown. The parliamentary bill was dropped, and in May, 1696, the king organized the Board of Commissioners for Trade and Plantations. Instead of being a committee of the privy council, the new board was an independent organization. It was composed of nominal and real members. The nominal members were the chief officers of state who seldom attended meetings. The working members of the board were eight non-ministerial paid officials, among those first commissioned being John Locke and William Blathwayt, the efficient secretary of the old committee.
The board had general supervision of colonial trade and government, gathered information, and reported on colonial affairs to the king or to parliament. Instructions to royal governors were draughted by them and they made nominations in cases of vacancy in the colonial service. They examined colonial legislation with a view to its confirmation or disallowance, listened to complaints, examined the accounts of the colonial treasuries, and attended to many minor matters. The board was in reality a clearing house for colonial administration; it examined, reported, and recommended, but it could not execute. During the reigns of William and Anne, its recommendations carried great weight, but its importance gradually declined as the cabinet system developed.
The secretaries of state.—Of William's ministers, those to whom colonial affairs were usually entrusted were the two secretaries of state, one or the other attending to the work. Governors usually corresponded directly with the secretaries. Questions which involved foreign countries, questions of defence, Indian outbreaks, and violations of the navigation acts were usually handled by the secretaries without being referred to the Board of Trade.
The privy council.—The privy council continued to be the executive center of the system. Recommendations which were read before it were usually referred to a committee of the whole, and upon the decision of this committee the council acted. As Dickerson says, "The whole machinery ... for colonial administration included a Board of Trade to investigate, gather facts, and make recommendations; a committee of the Privy Council to act as a board of review and a court of appeals, both administrative and legal; and the privy council, meeting with the king, before which all final actions of importance were registered."
The Board of Trade and other departments of government.—The commissioners of the customs worked in close touch with the Board of Trade. The bodies were mutually helpful in collecting information. The admiralty and the treasury were also necessarily in close touch with the Board of Trade as was the Bishop of London. Many members of the Board of Trade occupied seats in parliament and prepared bills which affected the colonies. The board members also furnished information to parliament concerning trade and colonial matters.
Evasion of the trade laws.—The earlier navigation laws had not been thoroughly enforced. Most of the customs officials and some of the governors exerted themselves to enforce the laws, and several ships were fitted out to stop illicit traffic, but many of the officials were negligent, and several of them no doubt profited by non-enforcement of the laws. When arrests were made convictions proved difficult, for the juries were in sympathy with the law-breakers. In 1693 a Scotch commercial company was organized with the object of trading to India and Africa. This alarmed the English East India and the Royal African companies. The complaints of the customs officials and individual merchants, when reinforced by these powerful corporations, resulted in the passage of "An Act for preventing Frauds and regulating abuses in the Plantation Trade," a law familiarly known as the Navigation Act of 1696.
Navigation Act of 1696.—The act provided that after March 25, 1698, no goods should be imported into or exported from any English colony in Asia, Africa, or America, or be carried from or to any colony, or England, Wales, or Berwick-upon-Tweed, except in ships built by English subjects and navigated by English masters, with three-fourths of the crews English subjects. Exception was made of prizes condemned in the admiralty courts, and, for three years, of ships which were under contract to deliver supplies to the English navy. All ships engaged in colonial trade were made subject to the same rules of search and the same penalties for violations as prevailed in England. No vessel was allowed to engage in colonial trade until one or more of the owners had registered the vessel and taken a prescribed oath. The Lord Treasurer, Commissioners of the Navy, and Commissioners of the Customs were allowed to appoint customs officers for any place which they saw fit. Forfeiture of vessel and cargo was the penalty for breach of the law, one-third of the proceeds to go to the crown, one-third to the governor of the colony, and one-third to the informant who brought the suit. Governors or commanders-in-chief of the colonies were required to take oath to enforce the acts of trade, under penalty of a fine of a thousand pounds and removal from office. Naval officers in the customs service were required to give ample security to the Commissioners of the Customs in England. In order to secure convictions, the act provided that in cases arising under the navigation laws, only natives of England, Ireland, or persons born in the English colonies could serve on juries. Those having land grants were forbidden to dispose of any lands to foreigners without an order in council, and the crown reserved the right to approve the nomination of governors in the proprietary colonies. Any colonial act at variance with the navigation laws was declared null and void.
Woolen Act of 1698.—The frequent interruptions of trade during the War of the English Succession caused the New Englanders to manufacture many woolen goods. In order to retain a monopoly for English manufacturers, in 1698 an act was passed forbidding the colonists to ship wool or woolen products from one colony to another.
Admiralty courts.—The Navigation Act of 1696 presupposed the establishment of admiralty courts in the colonies. The continental colonies were soon organized into two admiralty districts, New England, New York, and after 1702 New Jersey comprising the northern, and the rest the southern district. At a later period the districts were subdivided. In these courts there were no juries, a fact which made the admiralty courts exceedingly unpopular.
The Piracy Act.—Piracy had long existed, especially in the West Indies, and though stringent measures were taken to suppress it, the black flag still floated over many a pirate craft. Madagascar became a favorite haven, and from its harbors went forth the sea rovers to prey upon the East and West Indiamen. In many ports of the American colonies they were able to dispose of their booty, while officials closed their eyes or shared in the profits. Of the pirates of the period, the best known is Captain Kidd, about whose name has clustered much of fable and romance. The Navigation Act of 1696 made smuggling more difficult, and out and out piracy increased greatly after the passage of the act. To protect the merchant ships and make the navigation laws more effective, in 1700 an act was passed which provided that piracy and other felonies committed on the high seas might be tried in special colonial courts created by the crown.
The "Charter of Privileges" and the formation of Delaware.—Near the close of the reign of William III the government of Pennsylvania was changed. In 1701 in the hope of quieting dissension in Pennsylvania, Penn consented to the "Charter of Privileges," which was passed by the council and assembly. The proprietor continued to appoint the governor and councillors, but the assembly was henceforth composed of four representatives from each county who were elected by the freemen. The assembly was allowed to elect its own officers and to initiate legislation. Delaware was allowed to have its own assembly but remained under the jurisdiction of the proprietor.
New Jersey.—The policy of bringing all the colonies to a common type was evidenced by various attempts to send governors to the chartered and proprietary colonies, but in the end the attempts were abandoned. Various bills were introduced in parliament to make all the colonies royal, but they failed except in the case of New Jersey. The position of the proprietors in East and West New Jersey had always been precarious, and in 1702 they surrendered their rights to the crown. The two colonies were consolidated into the single colony of New Jersey, the royal type of government being established, Governor Cornbury of New York being commissioned as the first royal executive.
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