p. 1795                                  C



No. 746.

THE BOARD OF TRADE.


        (Guide to the Materials for American History, to 1783, in the Public Record Office of Great Britain. Vol. I. The State Papers by Charles M. Andrews, pp. 82–83.)

        The Board of Trade, in origin at least, did not constitute a separate department of government, and therefore its papers, though in character departmental and arranged according to the common departmental plan, properly belong among the state papers. The board was legally only a body of advisers to the crown and its papers would naturally fall into the same class as those of the Privy Council and the Secretary of State.
        Regarding the early history of the bodies created for plantation control nothing need be said here. Before 1696 great dissatisfaction was expressed by the mercantile classes because the control of trade was in the hands of courtiers without experience, and therefore Parliament determined to obtain the direction of matters of trade and plantations. It charged the adminis- tration with neglect of the interests of the merchants and in 1695 and 1696 adopted a large number of resolutions providing for a Parliamentary control of trade. But the king refused to allow this encroachment on his prerogative and a compromise was effected. On May 15, 1696, William III. caused a commission to issue under the great seal constituting a special council or board for the purpose of promoting the trade of the kingdom and of inspecting and improving the plantations in America and elsewhere. This commission followed in all respects the resolutions of the House of Commons, which in their turn were based throughout on the instructions to the Shaftesbury council of 1672.
        The commission erected a council composed of two groups of members. First, the high officials of state, including afterward the auditor general of the plantation revenues. These officials were ex officio members, whose presence was not required unless they desired to attend or the public business demanded it. Nevertheless, the board took pains to remind each one, when he entered on his term of office, that he was a member, requesting him to attend when he could. Many did attend, particularly the secretaries of state, and took an active part in the work of the board. Second, the active or paid members, supposedly competent men, upon whom the actual work of the board fell. Three constituted a quorum for ordinary business. Yet even with this small number a quorum was sometimes wanting, and in 1709 the

p. 1796

Secretary of State had to write to the board insisting that if any had to be absent on account of private business they should relieve one another and take their turns “always having enough in town to do business in pursuance of their commision.” At first, reports and representations had to be signed by five members, but after 1697 the number was reduced to four or more and this continued to be the rule for the remainder of the board's history. Generally one or two meetings a week were held, except during August when the board broke up for a recess, but later the number varied, sometimes rising to five and at other times, notably in 1774, dwindling to two meetings a month. The duties of the board, as the many commissions show, were rather the protecting and furthering of trade and commerce than the administration of the colonies. In fact, with the administration of the colonies as such the board had nothing to do, though it was required to keep itself informed on this point and to obtain such information as was necessary to hasten the settling and improving of the plantations so as to render them more useful and beneficial to the kingdom of England. The main object of the board was to develop the colonies in the commercial interest of the mother country.

[1927lab]


 

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