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Embargo Act

EMBARGO ACT

EMBARGO ACT. From the opening of hostilities between Great Britain and France in 1803, the United States had found it difficult to steer a neutral course. Hoping to gain economic superiority, both nations attempted to restrict neutral countries from trading with the other. The United States claimed that its official policy of neutrality allowed it to engage in unmolested trade and commerce with both countries. However, although the French and British had committed occasional infractions to American shipping, the United States offered no more than casual protest over such occurrences.

That changed in 1806 when Napoleon Bonaparte issued his Berlin Decree. It declared that the French would blockade the British Isles. In reality this meant little, given the poor condition of their navy. However, Napoleon further decreed that neutral ships carrying British-made goods were subject to seizure, thus opening the way for privateers to attack American shipping. The following year, the British government responded with the Orders in Council that established a blockade on all European ports controlled by Napoleon. In addition, these Orders mandated that all neutral vessels stop in Britain and pay a transit duty if they wished to trade with any port blockaded by Britain. Later in the year, Napoleon retaliated with his Milan Decree, which authorized the seizure of any neutral vessels submitting to the British Orders in Council. This economic warfare greatly hindered the ability of the United States to conduct any meaningful trade in Europe.

The USS Chesapeake incident in June 1807 further strained American relations with Britain. The crew of the British ship Leopard fired upon the Chesapeake and boarded the ship in search of British deserters. Despite calls for war by some in Congress, President Thomas Jefferson chose to retaliate with economic sanctions. The Embargo Act, passed by Congress on 22 December 1807, was designed to punish France and Britain as well as protect American shipping from any further acts of aggression by either nation. The act forbade American ships and goods from leaving American ports except for those vessels in the coastal trade. Those who traded along the eastern seaboard had to post bond double the value of their vessel and cargo as a guarantee that the cargo would be delivered to an American port. Loopholes in the initial act allowed merchants to push the limits of legal trading, resulting in additional restrictions passed by Congress over the ensuing months to enforce compliance to the act. The restrictions culminated in the passage of the Enforcement Act of 1809, also referred to as the Giles Enforcement Act, which allowed customs officials to call out the militia to help enforce the embargo.

The embargo successfully curbed American commerce abroad. In 1807, the year the embargo was passed, the total exports for the United States reached $108 million. One year later, that number had declined to just over $22 million. New England was hit hardest by the embargo since it was a region heavily involved in international commerce. Other commercial cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, also suffered from the embargo. Overall, American trade declined by up to 75 percent for exports and 50 percent for imports. The embargo had less of an impact in the middle states and the South, where loyalty was greater to Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party. In addition, the southern economy was based more upon agricultural production than the shipping industry.

The Federalist Party, politically in control of most New England states during the years of the embargo, vigorously protested against the act on several grounds. Some accused Jefferson of exercising arbitrary powers that infringed upon the constitutional rights guaranteed to states and citizens. Many protestors harkened back to the spirit of the American Revolution, when resistance to Britain had been based upon commercial restrictions. To many Americans, the Embargo Act resembled the restrictions of trade placed upon the American colonies in the 1760s (Townsend Duties) and 1774 (Coercive Acts) by the British government. Since they and their forebears had protested those acts in the generation prior, they felt free to protest the Embargo Act as another injustice that needed repealing. Some also criticized the act for having no terminus, implying that the embargo could go on for years since the Embargo Act did not specify a termination date. Yet others suggested that only a stronger navy, not an embargo, would prevent future violations by foreign powers. Finally, many Federalists believed that Jefferson's policy had evolved out of his bias toward the French and, conversely, his distaste for the British.

By the end of 1808, resistance to the Embargo Act had grown significantly across the nation because of increasing financial loss. Some New England politicians hinted that if the embargo was not lifted, it would be the duty of states and individuals to nullify such a damaging law. Smuggling dramatically increased, particularly across the Canadian border. From a practical standpoint, the embargo appeared to be a failure because neither France nor Britain backed down from their original decrees curtailing neutral shipping. Although Jefferson continued to insist that the embargo would eventually work, Congress thought otherwise, and on 1 March 1809, the Embargo Act was replaced with the Nonintercourse Act, which reopened American ports to trade with all nations except Britain and France.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: The Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Effectively puts the Embargo Act into greater context.

Sears, Louis. Jefferson and the Embargo. 1927. Reprint, New York: Octagon, 1966.

Spivak, Burton. Jefferson's English Crisis: Commerce, Embargo, and the Republican Revolution. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979.

KeithPacholl

See alsoChesapeake-Leopard Incident ; Federalist Party ; Nonintercourse Act .

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Embargo Act of 1807

Embargo Act of 1807, passed Dec. 22, 1807, by the U.S. Congress in answer to the British orders in council restricting neutral shipping and to Napoleon's restrictive Continental System. The U.S. merchant marine suffered from both the British and French, and Thomas Jefferson undertook to answer both nations with measures that by restricting neutral trade would show the importance of that trade. The first attempt was the Nonimportation Act, passed Apr. 18, 1806, forbidding the importation of specified British goods in order to force Great Britain to relax its rigorous rulings on cargoes and sailors (see impressment). The act was suspended, but the Embargo Act of 1807 was a bolder statement of the same idea. It forbade all international trade to and from American ports, and Jefferson hoped that Britain and France would be persuaded of the value and the rights of a neutral commerce. In Jan., 1808, the prohibition was extended to inland waters and land commerce to halt the skyrocketing trade with Canada. Merchants, sea captains, and sailors were naturally dismayed to find themselves without income and to see the ships rotting at the wharves. All sorts of dodges were used to circumvent the law. The daring attempt to use economic pressure in a world at war was not successful. Britain and France stood firm, and not enough pressure could be brought to bear. Enforcement was difficult, especially in New England, where merchants looked on the scheme as an attempt to defraud them of a livelihood. When in Jan., 1809, Congress, against much opposition, passed an act to make enforcement more rigid, resistance approached the point of rebellion—again especially in New England—and the scheme had to be abandoned. On Mar. 1, 1809, the embargo was superseded by the Nonintercourse Act. This allowed resumption of all commercial intercourse except with Britain and France. Jefferson reluctantly accepted it. Not unexpectedly, it failed to bring pressure on Britain and France. In 1810 it was replaced by Macon's Bill No. 2 (named after Nathaniel Macon), which virtually ended the experiment. It provided for trade with both Britain and France unless one of those powers revoked its restrictions; in that case, the President was authorized to forbid commerce with the country that had not also revoked its offensive measures.

See L. M. Sears, Jefferson and the Embargo (1927, repr. 1967).

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Embargo Act

EMBARGO ACT

A legislative measure enacted by Congress in 1807 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson that banned trade between U.S. ports and foreign nations.

The Embargo Act was intended to use economic pressure to compel England and France to remove restrictions on commercial trading with neutral nations that they imposed in their warfare with each other. Napoleon decreed under his Continental system that no ally of France or any neutral nation could trade with Great Britain, in order to destroy the English economy. In retaliation, England caused a blockade of the northern European coastline, affecting nations that had remained neutral in the dispute between France and England. These vindictive measures hurt neutral American traders, prompting Congress to take action to safeguard the economic interests of the United States. The first enactment was the Nonimportation Act of 1806 (2 Stat. 379), which prohibited the import of designated English goods to stop the harsh treatment of American ships caught running the blockade. The Embargo Act of 1807 (2 Stat. 451) superseded this enactment and expanded the prohibition against international trade to all nations. A later amendment in 1809 (2 Stat. 506) extended the ban from American ports to inland waters and overland transactions, thereby stopping trade with Canada, and mandated strict enforcement of its provisions.

The American public opposed the act, particularly those segments dependent upon international trade for their livelihoods. This opposition eventually led to the enactment of the Non-Intercourse Act (2 Stat. 528 [1809]), which superseded the stringent provisions of the Embargo Act. Under that act, only trade with England and France was proscribed, but the measure was ineffectual.

Subsequently, in 1810, Nathaniel Macon proposed a measure, called Macon's Bill No. 2, which Congress enacted despite solid Federalist opposition, that empowered the president to resume commerce with the warring nation that lifts its restrictions on neutral trade.

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Embargo Act

EMBARGO ACT


On December 22, 1807, President Thomas Jefferson (180109) signed the Embargo Act, which prohibited from leaving the United States ships destined for any foreign port. The legislation had been drawn up to pressure France and Britain. Those two countries were then at war and had been seizing United States merchant ships to prevent each other from receiving goods.

After the French navy was crushed at the Battle of Trafalgar (October 1805) by the British under Admiral Horatio Nelson (17581805), French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte (17691821) turned to economic warfare in his long struggle with the British. He directed all countries under French control not to trade with Britain. With an economy dependent on trade, Britain struck back by imposing a naval blockade on France, which soon retaliated by interfering with U.S. shipping.

The United States tried to remain neutral when the struggle began in 1793. But the interruption of shipping to and from the Continent and the search and seizure of ships posed significant problems to U.S. export business. The Embargo Act was an attempt by Jefferson to solve these problems without getting involved in the conflict. The effort failed.

The embargo made sales of United States farm surpluses impossible. New England shippers protested the act and were joined by southern cotton and tobacco planters in their opposition. Still, the embargo remained in effect for 14 months, during which time the U.S. economy suffered. Many ships resorted to smuggling. In 1809 Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act, which limited the shipping embargo to France and Britain; all other foreign ports were again open to American ships.

Despite efforts to remain neutral, the United States was ultimately drawn into the conflict three years later and fought with the British in the War of 1812 (181214).


See also: Embargo, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleonic Wars (Economic Impact of)

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"Embargo Act." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Embargo Act

Embargo Act (1807) Act passed under President Jefferson to force England and France to remove restrictions on US trade. It forbade international trade to and from US ports.

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