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Aberdeen abandons, at the outset, all attempt to reply to the argument contained in my letter of the 2nd April; and that be takes no notice of the proposal therein, made on behalf of the claimants, that the matter should be submitted to the courts of law, with permission to the claimants to plead the Treaty. His information relative to the British citizenship of the house most extensively concerned in the claims, appears also, from Mr. Barry's communication, forwarded with my despatch of the 18th November, to be erroneous. The only strong point of his reply seems to be the statement, that, in point of fact, no loss was sustained by the claimants; the quantity of rough rice imported under the low duty having been too small to affect the market injuriously.
The argument, however, on the interpretation of the Treaty, is unquestionably with us; and it would be a very dangerous and uutenable doctrine, that one party to a Treaty is always free to pass laws countervailing its spirit and letter, provided it may be of opinion that no injury results to the other party. If the sum which has been received into the British Treasury were a small one, I think it would be recovered. Its magnitude leads to these elaborate attempts to escape the obligation of payment. In like manner, the amount in Eschequer bills originally deposited as security for the payment of the duties which might be ultimately found due, would, I think, now be surrendered, were it not felt that it would be impossible, after this should be done, not to refund the sums which have already passed into the Treasury. The hesitation to take the Exchequer bills out of deposit, seems to show a conviction that the Treasury is not entitled to their use. The Hon. Daniel Webster.
No. 10.-Mr. Everett to Mr. Webster. (Extract.)
London, February 28, 1843. The parties interested in the importations of “rough rice” from The United States into Great Britain, being inclined to the opinion that the surrender of the Exchequer bills which had been placed in deposit for the payment of the rate of duty which might be eventually decided to be due, might be obtained by legal process, prepared a case to be submitted to counsel on this subject. The opinion of Sir Thomas Wilde and Mr. Kelly, the counsel consulted, is favourable to their view of the subject, as you will perceive from the copies of the case and opinion (B) herewith submitted. Should the parties succeed in procuring the surrender of the Exchequer bills, it would greatly strengthen their claim to have the amount of their duties, which have been actually paid in cash, refunded. The Hon. Daniel Webster.
By the Convention of Commerce between Great Britain and the United States of America, signed at London, 3rd July, 1815, Article II, it was, amongst other things, agreed as follows: “No higher or other duties shall be imposed on the importation into the territories of His Britannic Majesty in Europe, of any articles the growth, produce, or manufacture of The United States, than are or shall be payable on the like articles being the growth, produce, or manufacture of any other foreign country."
By the Vth Article, the Convention was declared to be binding and obligatory on His Majesty and the said United States for 4 years from the date of signature.
By the IVth Article of a Convention of the 20th October, 1818, the provisions of the Convention of the 3rd July, 1815, were continued for a further term of 10 years; and by a Convention of the 6th August, 1827, the same provisions were further indefinitely extended and continued in force from the date of the expiration of the said 10 years, in the same manner as if all the provisions of the said Convention were therein specifically recited, with a proviso that either party might abrogate the Convention on giving 12 months' notice to the other.
In the Act of 3rd and 4th William IV, chap. 56, entitled “An Act for granting Duties of Customs,” passed in 1833, and under the head of " duties of customs inwards,” and in a table of the duties of customs payable on goods, wares, and merchandise imported, and from foreign parts, &c., there are the following items, viz.:
d. Rice, not being rough and in the husk, the cwt. .. 0 15 0
Rough and in the husk, or paddy, the bushel ...0 2 6
possessions, viz. :
By the Act of 5th and 6th William IV, chap. 66, entitled " An Act to amend the Law relating to the Customs," it was provided that, instead of the duty then payable under the said Act upon rough rice or paddy, the produce of the West Coast of Africa, imported from a British possession on that coast, there shall be paid for every bushel of such rice a duty of 1d.
By the Act of 6th and 7th William IV, chap. 60, entitled also “ An Act to amend the Laws relating to the Customs," a table of new duties is provided, which is declared to be in lieu of the duties imposed by the 3rd and 4th William IV, chap. 56, in respect of such
goods as are therein mentioned. In this table of new duties there is the following
* Rice, rough and in the husk, imported from the West Coast of Africa, the quarter, 1d."
After the passing of the last-mentioned Act (6th and 7th William IV, chap. 60,) several parcels of paddy were imported into the port of London from parts of the West Coast of Africa which were not British possessions on that coast ; and the Customs being satisfied that, under the Act, they were bound to admit this foreign paddy at the low duty of 1d. per bushel, it was accordingly admitted.
Upon this circumstance becoming known, the Gorernment of The United States claimed that, under the stipulation of the IInd Article of the Convention of Commerce (3rd July, 1815), no higher duty than 1d. per quarter ought to be paid on paddy of the growth of The United States, because paddy, the growth of a foreign country, on the West Coast of Africa, had been admitted at that low duty; and the merchants, both British and American, who imported paddy from The United States, insisted on their paddy being admitted at the low duty. The Customs insisted on the higher duty of 2s. 6d., which continued for some time to be paid under protest, until some of the merchants, finding that the Government officers avoided the settlement of the question, objected to continue paying under protest, and an agreement was made with the Board of Customs ; upon which they issued an order to the following effect, viz. :
“ Customs Order for Deposit of Exchequer Bills. "That the paddy should be delivered for home consumption, upon Eschequer bills being deposited equal to the amount of the high duty demanded, pending the decision as to the rate of duty due thereon under the Convention of Commerce; that the bills should not be devoted to the public service, but so held in deposit; and that upon the rate of duty due being decided, the parties should, within 3 months from such date, pay the same to the Customs, and receive back their bills; that, in the event of any of the bills being called in, to be paid off, before the settlement of the quesiton, the parties depositing should exchange the same for new bills to the amount.”
In pursuance of this order, Exchequer bills to the amount altogether of 5,5001, have been deposited with George Franc, Esq., who is the First Clerk in the office of Sir William Boothby, Bart., ReceiverGeneral of the Customs, as security for the duty on cargoes of paddy, by several ships. The first deposit was made on the 19th November, 1840, and was in Exchequer bills, amounting to 3001., on paddy imported by the ship Catharine, from Charleston.
There is no Act of Parliament authorizing Mr. Franc, or any other officer, to receive duty in deposit. But Mr. Franc, in receiving these Exchequer bills, acted under the authority of the Receiver-General ; and the order which we have referred to was agreed to by the Board of Customs; and it was, of course, only by reason of Mr. Franc being in the office of the Receiver-General, that he became the depositary. Exchequer bills are received by the Customs when given for duties; but where they are paid in that way for duties, the payment is always made to the officer in the Long Room, called the Computer's.
In the month of October, 1841, Mr. Stevenson, the American Minister, being about to leave England, insisted, before his return that an answer should be given to his various notes; and, at length, in consequence of his remonstrance, a Treasury Minute passed, and dated the 15th October, 1841, as follows:
" Treasury Minute, October 15th, 1841. “ It appears to my Lords, that the protracted discussions which have taken place as to the admission of rough rice brought from The United States at the same rate of duty as that brought from the West Coast of Africa, originated in, and now depend on, the construction to be given to the IInd Article of the Convention of July, 1815; on which the American Minister has taken a different view from that expressed by the late Board of Treasury and Board of Trade in their respective minutes.
“Upon a point of doubtful discussion, my Lords are ready to alter the Customs law so as to make it conformable to the view taken by the Minister of The United States of the provisions of the Convention, and will propose to Parliament, as soon as circumstances will admit, the equalization of the duties on rice from The United States and the West Coast of Africa.
“ With a view, also, to accelerate the operation of a measure considered desirable by the citizens of The United States, my Lords will, in the mean time, give directions that all rough rice from The United States, on which duty has not yet been charged, shall be admitted to entry at the duty of id. per quarter, subject to future confirmation of Parliament; of which, however, my Lords entertain no doubt. “ Transmit
of this minute to the Commissioners of Customs, and direct them to admit rough rice imported from The United States, on which duty has not already been charged, at the same low rate of duty as on that imported from the West Coast of Africa, subject to the future confirmation of Parliament; the parties importing entering into the usual obligation to abide by the decision of Parliament."
The above Treasury Minute having been duly communicated to the Customs, the parties at once paid the ld. duty on all the paddy, for securing the duty on which the Exchequer bills had been deposited, and at the same time entered into the following bond:
“Whereas the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury have, by Sir George Clerk's letter dated the 18th October, 1841, directed the Commissioners of Customs to admit rough rice, the produce of, and imported from, the United States of America, on which duty has not already been charged, at the same low rate of duty as on that imported from the West Coast of Africa, subject to future confirmation of Parliament; the parties entering the said rough rice giving the usual security to abide the decision of Parliament thereon: And whereas hath entered -- quarters of rough rice, and paid a duty of 1d. per quarter thereon, subject to the directions contained in the said letter : Now, the condition of this obligation is such, that if the said shall abide the decision of Parliament with respect to rough rice, the produce of, and imported from, the United States of America, then this obligation to be void, otherwise to be and remain in full force and virtue.”
In November, 1841, the parties claimed the Exchequer bills from Mr. Franc, but were advised that it was better to let the matter stand over until a decision of Parliament on the subject.
In the session of 1842, being the next session after the bond was given, the last Customs Act passed, and in the table (A) of duties of customs payable, the duty on rice, rough and in the husk, is made per quarter : Of or from foreiga countries, 78.; of and from British possessions, id.
There has been no other decision of Parliament on the subject of paddy ; and you will observe that this Act equalizes all the duties on foreign paddy at 78.
In August, 1842, the following Treasury Minute passed, under which the bonds given to the Customs have been cancelled : GENTLEMEN,
“ Treasury Chambers, August 6, 1842. “ The Lords of Her Majesty's Treasury having had under consi. deration your secretary's letter of the 25th ultimo, relative to the application of Mr. Charles Barry, praying that certain bonds entered into for paddy, or rough rice, the produce of, and imported from, the United States of America, may be cancelled upon the conditions thereof being complied with, I am directed by their Lordships to authorize you to cancel the said bonds accordingly.
“I am, &c. “ The Commissioners of Customs.
“ G. CLERK.” The parties now claim to have the Exchequer bills given up to them, on the ground that the purpose for which the bills were deposited has been satisfied.
It is not pretended that the Exchequer bills can be held on any other terms than those of the condition of deposit, already stated in the order of the Board of Customs.