HC Deb 30 May 1844 vol 75 cc5-10
Mr. Jervis

rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, That this House will, on Tuesday next, resolve itself into a Committee to consider of the following Address to Her Majesty, that is to say, that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to take into consideration the claim made by John Hopton Russell Chichester, Esq., of Lincoln's Inn, as sole executor of Robert William Powell, an uncompensated American Loyalist, deceased, and that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to advance to such claimant the amount of the balance due to the estate of the said Robert William Powell, for losses incurred in consequence of his adherence to his allegiance, as ascertained by the Commissioners appointed for that purpose, and to assure Her Majesty that the House will make good the same. The hon. Member said he had hoped that it would not be necessary for him to make any lengthened observations to the House, but as he understood, that those who were interested in matters of this kind thought that a sufficient case had not been made out to warrant an acquiescence in the Motion, he would proceed to satisfy the House that the gentleman whose claim he advocated, had a good, case. The case involved no political question. The gentleman whom he represented was the grandson of a gen- tleman of the name of Powell, who, at the time of the disturbances in America, in 1764, was residing at Charleston, in South Carolina. He was a man of great property and influence, and entered into large speculations, having at one time embarked in his business about 40,000l. At that time it was of the utmost importance to secure the good feeling of those who were well inclined to British connection. In several of the speeches from the Throne the most solemn assurances were given to those who remained true to their allegiance of the protection of this country, and that they should be compensated for any loss which they might sustain in consequence of such allegiance. Mr. Powell was among the number who remained faithful. He raised a regiment of militia, and, as Colonel of it, rendered the greatest service to the Crown. It had been established, by clear evidence, that he had sustained a loss of 19,000l., out of which, in 1823, the sum of 10,175l. only had been paid. A large amount of the sum apportioned out of the droits of the Admiralty for the payment of claims of this kind was expended in defraying the expenses of Royal journeys to Ireland and Scotland. The amount in this case was so small and insignificant that there could be no difficulty in making it up. He believed that if the case was looked into, it would appear that this claim was founded on every principle of justice. All the documents now in existence relative to this gentleman's zealous devotion, to his allegiance and powerful aid to the Royal cause, together with vouchers for the sums of money said to have been expended by him in furtherance of such objects, were ready to be produced, in order to substantiate his claim. Other documents which were of public notoriety and in possession of the Government, would prove that strong inducements had been held out by the British Government, at the time of the war with the colonists, to the loyalists there, to rally in the cause of the connexion, and advance money in aid of the King's cause, promising them protection to the utmost extent within His Majesty's power and security for all sums of money advanced for such praise-worthy objects. The hon. and learned Member proceeded to read extracts from a variety of public proclamations and speeches made by noble Members of the Government in that day, that it was fully resolved by the British Government, that al losses sustained by American loyalists should be guaranteed and made good by the public. He read parts of a correspondence between the Governor of the Colony and the Government at home in support of the representations and claims of Col. Powell, from all which it appeared that the Colonel had devoted himself zealously and at considerable personal risk and positive loss to the Royal cause, more especially during the operations of His Majesty's forces in the State of South Carolina. The Minister of the Crown, both at and after the peace of Paris, through which the independence of the United States had been recognised by England, had fully recognised the principle of compensation in the amplest manner to all American Loyalists who had made sacrifices in the fearful struggle between the Colonies and the Mother Country, during the period of their attempt to assert their political independence. He contended, that unless the House assented to the Motion, it would be a party to a gross act of public injustice and ingratitude. What confidence could they ever expect would be reposed in the faith of any future government by men true to their allegiance, who might, perhaps, in the course of events, be placed in a similarly perplexing and dangerous situation in some other colony of Great Britain? He said, that he looked most minutely into the case, and from personal acquaintance with its merits, he was fully prepared to assert in his place, without fear of contradiction, that upon examination it would be found that the claims of the memorialist in this instance were founded upon principles of national honour and public justice. The hon. and learned Member concluded by submitting his Motion to the House.

Sir G. Clerk

said, that whilst he found it to be his duty to oppose the Motion upon grounds peculiar to this case, he must be allowed to say, that no man in the Government, or in the country, more sincerely sympathised with the few remaining persons similarly situated to the present applicant. There was no class of British subjects that deserved better of their country than the American loyalists. Having stated this, he confessed he had been surprised to find that the hon. and learned Member should have particularly selected this case out of a great number of other cases resembling it in all respects. It was perfectly true, as the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated, that pursuant to the Treaty concluded between this country and the United States, as an independent state, that the rights of all liege subjects of his Britannic Majesty were reserved, and they were to be at liberty to recover any property to which they were entitled, together with all mortgages and debts due to them by American citizens in courts of the United States, and that no obstacle or impediment should be thrown in their way by that Government to prevent such recovery. This, though very just and proper stipulation, was found to be ineffectual; it turned out that in these cases the American citizens composing the juries, would not find a verdict for the plaintiff against an American citizen. In consequence of this state of things proving extremely unsatisfactory and inconvenient, Lord Grenville, in 1794, came to an understanding with the American President, that to adjust these claims there should be a Joint Commission appointed, consisting of two American and two British Commissioners, with power to appoint a fifth in cases where they could not arbitrate or come to a decision, whose determination was to be final. This plan also proved ineffectual, as there was a clause in the Convention that no decision should be held to be valid, unless there were then present one or more American Commissioners; and when a case was so far investigated that judgment or a decision might be expected to be pronounced, the American Commissioners withdrew, so that the Commission was rendered abortive. A jurisdiction so practically incompetent was soon after abolished, and another attempt to obtain justice to some extent for these claimants was made in 1802 by the late Lord Liverpool, and as the basis of the adjustment he put it to these claimants whether, instead of attempting in vain to obtain justice through the courts in America, or by a mixed Commission, they would accept a stated sum from the American Government. To this proposition, the claimants acceded, and in 1806 that Government paid over to England the sum of 600,000l. in full of all demands made by such British subjects upon American subjects, for losses during the war, or debts subsisting at the time of the peace. It was true, he must admit, that the sum of 600,000l. was very small and inadequate to the amount of the claims preferred; but accepted it was—and the result was, that a British Commission was appointed, which immediately proceeded to investigate and adjudicate upon the claims made on this fund. This sum of 600,000l., with interest accruing, some seven or eight years after amounted to 659,000l., and was offered to the claimants as a liquidation of their claims, being about 10s. in the pound thereon. It was remarkable that the only stipulation made by the parties in answer to the proposition made by Lord Liverpool in 1802 was, that they hoped this country would recover from America 10s. in the pound on the amount of the debt claimed by them. The Commission made the award in 1811. In 1812 the American claimants presented a petition to the House of Commons, praying for further compensation. A Select Committee was appointed in that year, which was put in possession of all the facts and documents to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred; and when the Report of that Committee was brought under the deliberation of the House, in 1813, a Motion was made by the then hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Lockhart), who moved for a Committee and proposed resolutions to the effect that the American claimants had made out an equitable claim for further compensation. That Motion the House negatived, because they considered that the parties had availed themselves of the alternative which had been offered them in 1802, whether they would resort to the course which they applied for power to pursue, or have a new Commission in America, and do the best they could with the American Government. They chose the latter course. In 1821, Mr. Courtenay, the present Earl of Devon, proposed a resolution somewhat like the present, but embodying the claims of fifty-five persons, instead, as in the present instance, of confining it to a particular case. This resolution was carried by a small majority, in a very thin House, in consequence of which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer offered as a compromise to pay a moiety of the balance claimed by these parties in full of all demands. The parties who made the claims acceded most readily to this, and requested Mr. Courtenay to do so on their part, as they would rather take only a portion of what they conceived themselves entitled to, than run the risk of proceeding in that House. The result was, that a sum of money to the amount required to pay the moiety of these demands was taken out of the droits of the Admiralty, but there had never been any intimation made, either in the House or out of it, that these claims should be paid in full out of the droits of the Admiralty. After the subject had been so fully discussed in 1813 and 1821, he did not think that it would be proper for the House again to open the subject. The hon. Member said that he only rested on the single case of Mr. Powell; but if the House had assented to the Motion, it would be bound to enter upon the cases of the other claimants who, as well as that gentleman, had received a certain sum as a payment in full of all demands. Under these circumstances, he would put it to the House whether it would not be most unwise again to open this question, which had been so long settled. It should also be recollected that the gentleman named in the Motion was not a claimant himself, but only a distant relative of that party, and he (Sir G. Clerk) did not think that he had the slightest case. On these grounds he should oppose the Motion.

Mr. Villiers

had seen the receipt which had been given, and it did not state that the payment which had been made was a payment in full, and therefore he did not think it was unwise to renew the claim of this gentleman who was the grandson of the party aggrieved. This matter came forward as identified with the last of the claimants, whose claims had not been satisfied. The claim had been recognised by the House as a just one, a sum of money had been voted, leaving it open to the House to discuss the subject at a future time. This gentleman had renewed his claim regularly; he had had audiences of the Chancellors of the Exchequer, who had never told him there was no ground for his claim, but he had been told there were no means to satisfy those claims.

Mr. Hume

thought this was a doubtful case. There should be an inquiry into the claims of the whole of these parties, because if the relatives of Mr. Powell were not satisfied, the relatives of others might not be. He would advise his hon. and learned Friend, under all the circumstances, not to press his Motion, for the House could not give an opinion on the matter.

Mr. Jervis

replied: On the 25th June, 1821, Mr. Courtenay said he was glad to inform the House that there were funds at the disposal of the Crown, out of which provision would be made for the claims of the American loyalists.

Motion negatived.

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