HC Deb 21 March 1821 vol 4 cc1380-4

The entry in the Journals of the 17th February 1793, of a resolution for an address on behalf of the American Loyalists, having been read,

Mr. W. Courtenay

said, that the address which had been just read stated, that it would have been superfluous for the House to express the regard of the nation for every description of men who had, in the cause of his majesty, risked their lives and forfeited their properties, during a long and calamitous war. It was in conformity with the sentiments contained in that address, that he rose to bring before parliament, the case of persons who had so risked their lives and forfeited their properties. The House would see the difficulties he had to meet in bringing forward claims in 1821, which had their foundation so long ago as the peace of 1783. But he hoped to satisfy the House that the lapse of time could not create a bar to those claims. At the commencement of the American war, the legislature of America took every means to prevail on persons of property and influence in that country, to raise what was then called the standard of rebellion. It was, on the other hand, the duty of the government of this country to call on the exertions of individuals in America, who owed allegiance to the king of England. I Accordingly, royal proclamations and re-I solutions of that House were issued from 1776 to 1783, calling upon individuals to join the royal standard. At the person of 1783, there were two classes of persons who had lost their property or the service J of England, and who therefore had claims for compensation on this country. The House was aware that by several acts of the legislature of America, the persons of the loyalists had been attainted, and their property confiscated. By the 4th and 5th articles of the treaty of 1783 it was agreed that there should be no impediments thrown in the-way of the mutual recovery of debts, and that the congress should do all in its power to have restitution made to the loyalists. The persons who had suffered in consequence of their attachment to the cause of England, were persons who had resided in America, and whose property had been confiscated, and English merchants who had lost their property, in consequence of commercial transactions with America. At the time when the address which had been read by the clerk was agreed to by the House, it was the general understanding, that full and complete compensation should be made to those who had suffered in the cause of England. In evidence of this, he might refer to the speeches of the late lord Through, the late chief baron Macdonald, then solicitor general to Mr. Wilberforce, and many others. By an act passed in 1783, certain commissioners were appointed to carry the treaty into effect, and to ascertain who were the loyalists who had claims upon the country. There was one class of loyalists to whom the commissioners refused compensation, namely, those who had vested their property in America. To those persons the commissioners said, "We will not listen to your claims until you first get from America what you can." By a treaty which was entered into in 1794, America undertook to make full compensation to British creditors, and to prevent legal impediments from being thrown in their way. In 1789, Mr. Pitt called upon that House to make compensation to those who had lost their lands in America, and also to those who had been ruined in their professions in consequence of their attachment to the English interest: the House up to the present hour were in the habit of making good that compensation by an annual vote. But for the British creditors no compensation was made, no redress was granted to them—if he excepted their share of a 6um of 600,000l. which, by a treaty entered into in 1811, America bound itself to pay, and which was accordingly paid. It was material to observe, that it never was considered that the sum of 600,000l. was to be taken as full compensation; if it were, flint, indeed, would be a full answer to the claim which he now put forth. It was allowed on all hands, and it was so decided in a court of justice in America, that all the treaties entered into between America and England, subsequent to the peace of 1783, recognized the claims; of the loyalists. The government of this country, he contended, was bound to make compensation to them, as from America they had no expectation whatever. It was true a very considerable time had elapsed; still, the House would recollect the material fact, that they had never ceased to put forth their claims. After contending, that the case which he now brought before the House had never been decided upon, and urging, that there was much greater danger of a bad example from refusing, than from granting the claims, the hon. member moved for "An Account of the Dates and Descriptions of all Communications that have taken place between his Majesty's Government and any of the persons styling themselves American Loyalists, or their agents, since the 4th of April 1812, to the present time; together with Copies of such of the said Communications as bear date respectively on or about the 5th of April and 3rd Dec. 1812; the 21st April, 6th and 10th July 1813; 26th May and 2nd Sept. 1814; 31st Jan. and 17th May 1815; 19th June 1817; 8th April 1819; and 1st May 1820."

Mr. Dickinson

supported the motion, and contended, that as the claimants had done every thing to keep their claims alive, they were not to be opposed by a sort of statute of limitation, which was set up in the mind of the chancellor of the exchequer. He knew no stronger claim upon this country, than that of persons who had sacrificed their property and the interests of their families from attachment to its cause.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that these gentlemen had for forty years been entitled to compensation, and now the very length of time during which justice had beer! withheld, was made an argument against their demand. When they saw every day compensation made for the loss of offices which those who had lost them had no right to expect to retain it seemed extraordinary that so great a renitence should exist to accede to the claims of those who had lost every thing through their attachment to this country He re- collected the American war, and had differed from these1 loyalists as to the part they had taken;—nay, he had thought at the tim£ that they deserved punishment; but that punishment would never have amounted to one-fiftieth part Of what they had since endured

Mr. Wilberforce

said, if ever any set of men Were deserving of consideration, it was these claimants, who had drunk to the very dreg the bitter cup of that "hope deferred," which "maketh the heart sick."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

admitted, that men in office were obliged to look with more scrupulousness, and perhaps want-of liberality, upon the demands of individuals, than they would be disposed to do if the claim were upon then-Own private funds. The case made out by the lion, member was unquestionably very strong. He by no means meant to contend that the lapse of time was a bar to the demands now made, because those demands had been unremittingly pressed; but it Was high time to come to a final decision whether any thing or nothing should be granted. Neither did he mean to argue that any thing more than a partial compensation had hitherto been afforded to any of the parties. He then proceeded to notice the precise stipulations of the treaty of commerce with the United States in 1794, and followed it by some observations upon the breach of faith of which America had been guilty with regard to the creditors whose demands she thereby undertook to satisfy. The dispute upon this point had been finally, amicably adjusted; and the total amount of the claims was settled by commissioners, at about 1,450,000l., out of which the loyalists, exclusive of commercial creditors, required 250,000l. He combated the position, that the attorney-general for the United States had contended in the courts of the republic, that the claimants were barred in limine by the attainder upon them for their conduct. In illustration, he referred to various documents, and especially to the report of a board of joint commissioners, appointed under the 6th article of the treaty; of 11794. He was ready to produce the papers now called for; but he thought it right to state that there were many grounds On which these claims ought to be resisted. To those documents he should beg leave to add others, that would bring the case fully before parliament. It was painful to resist the claims of those who were not only suffering, but meritorious; but he could not separate the case of the loyalists from that of the merchant creditors; and he considered both of them as suffering from the common fate of war.

Dr. Phillimore

considered the case made out by the hon. and learned mover as strong a one as ever came before the House. The chancellor of the exchequer had, in his view of the question, been led into a confusion of the rights of the loyalists with those of the American creditor. But, according to all national law, the two were quite distinct, and their claims rested upon a very different foundation.

Mr. Lockhart

said, that he was an advocate for compensation to that description of American loyalists who, being domiciled in America, had sacrificed their property to their allegiance: while he would protest against any attempt to indemnify the mere British merchant, who might have made unsuccessful speculations in America at the period alluded to.

Mr. Courtenay

said, he had no objection whatever to the distinction which his hon. friend had desired to establish.

The motion was agreed to.