Embargo Act of 1807

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Embargo Act of 1807

INTRODUCTION During the Napoleonic Wars both England and France attempted to limit their opponent's trade with neutral countries (such as the United States) by preying upon their shipping. U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison, in order to protect U.S. rights to trade and to avoid being drawn into the European conflict, embargoed trade with all nations in December 1807. It was hoped that limiting foreign trade would force England and France to change their policies, but the strategy did not work—neither European country changed its policy—and the United States itself suffered a sharp economic decline. The Embargo Act was repealed in 1809 and replaced by the Non-Intercourse Act, which limited trade only with England and France. This policy, too, was ended in 1810, with various provisions that ultimately led to the War of 1812 with England. ∎


Agreeably to the notice given yesterday; Mr. SMITH, of Maryland. asked and obtained leave to bring in a bill in addition to the act, entitled "An act laying an, embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States," and the several acts supplementary thereto, and for other purposes; and the bill was read; and ordered to the second reading. The bill is as follows:

Be it enacted, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That during the continuance of the, act laying an embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States, no vessels of any description whatever, and wherever bound, whose employment is confined to the navigation of bays, sounds, rivers, and lakes, within the jurisdiction of the United States, (packets, ferry-boats, and vessels, exempted from the obligation of giving any bond whatever, only excepted,) shall be allowed, to depart from any port of the United States without having previously obtained a clearance, nor until the master or commander shall have delivered to the collector or surveyor of the port of departure, a manifest of the whole cargo on board, including articles of domestic growth or manufacture, as well as foreign merchandise. And it shall also be the duty of the owners agents, or factors of every such vessel to produce within one month thereafter, to the collector of the district from which the vessel departed, a certificate of the landing of the whole of such cargo in a port of the United Staten, within the bay, sound, rivers, or lakes, to which the navigation of such vessel is confined, signed by the collector or surveyor, of the port, where the cargo shall have been landed.

Sec. 2. And be it farther enacted, That if any vessel described in the next preceding section, shall depart from a port of the United States without a clearance, or before the manifest of the cargo shall have been delivered to the collector or surveyor, in the manner therein prohibited, or if a certificate of the landing of the cargo shall not be produced within the time and in the manner therein provided; such vessel and cargo shall be forfeited, and the owner or owners, consignee, agent, factors, freighters, master or skipper of such vessel, shall respectively forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding thousand dollars, nor less than thousand dollars: Provided always, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to bar or prevent the recovery of the penalty on the bond given for each vessel.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That (luring the continuance of the act, laying an embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States, and of the several acts supplementary thereto, it shall be the duty of the master or person having charge or command of any vessel, flat, or boat, intended to that part of the river Mississippi, which lies between the southern boundary of the Mississippi Territory, and the river Iberville, if going down the said river, to stop at Fort Adams, and if going up the river, to stop at Iberville, and at each place, as the case maybe, to deliver to an inspector of the revenue, to be stationed there for that purpose, a manifest of the whole cargo on board, and also to produce within two months thereafter to the same officer, a certificate of the landing of the same in some port of the District of Mississippi, and within the jurisdiction of the United States; which certificate shall be signed by the collector or one of the surveyors of the District of Mississippi, or if the cargo shall be landed more than thirty miles from the place of residence of any such officer, by a State Or Territorial judge, having jurisdiction, at the place of such landing.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That if any vessel, flat, or boat, shall enter that part of the river Mississippi, as prescribed in the next preceding section, without stopping and delivering a manifest in the manner therein provided, or if a certificate of the landing of the cargo, shall not be produced within the time and in the manner therein provided, such vessel, flat, or boat, and cargo, shall be forfeited, and the owner or owners, consignee, agent, factors, freighters, master, or skipper, of any such vessel, flat, or boat, shall respectively forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding—dollars, nor less than—dollars.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That no ship or vessel, having any cargo whatever on board, shall, during the continuance of the act laying an embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States, be allowed to depart from any port of the United States for any other port or district of the United States, adjacent to the territories, colonies, or provinces of a foreign nation: nor shall any clearance be furnished to any ship or vessel bound as aforesaid, without special permission of the President of the United States: And if any ship or vessel shall, contrary to the provisions of that act, proceed to any port or district adjacent to the territories, colonies, or provinces of a foreign nation, such ship or vessel, with her cargo, shall be wholly forfeited; and if the same shall not be seized, the owner or owners, agents, factors, and freighters of such ship or vessel, shall for every such of-fence forfeit and pay -and the master of such ship or vessel, as well as all other persons who shall knowingly be concerned in such prohibited voyages, shall each respectively forfeit and pay for every such offence, whether the vessel be seized or not.

Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That the commanders of the public armed vessels, and gunboats of the United States, shall, as well as commanders or masters of the revenue cutter's and revenue boats; be authorized, and they are hereby authorized, to stop slid examine any vessel, flat, or boat, either on the high seas or within the jurisdiction of the United States, which there. may be reason to suspect to be engaged in any traffic or commerce, or in the transportation of merchandise of either domestic or foreign growth or manufacture, contrary to the provisions of this act, or of the act laying an embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of tile United States, or of any of the acts supplementary thereto; and if upon examination it shall appear that such vessel, flat, or boat, is thus engaged, it shall be the duty of the commander to seize every such vessel, flat, or boat, and to send the same to the nearest port of the United l States for trial.

Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That the Comptroller of the Treasury be, and he is hereby authorized to remit the duty accruing on the importation of goods of domestic produce, or which being of foreign produce, had been exported without receiving a drawback, which may have been or may be re-imported in vessels owned by citizens of the United States, and which having sailed subsequent to the first day of October last, and prior to the twenty-second day of December last, may be or have been stopped on the high seas by foreign armed vessels, and by reason thereof have returned, or may Hereafter return into the United States, without having touched at any foreign port or place. And the said Comptroller is likewise authorized to direct the exportation bonds given for foreign merchandise exported with privilege of drawback, in such vessel, and re-exported in the same, in the manner aforesaid, to lie cancelled, the duties on such re-importation being previously paid. and on such other conditions and restrictions as may be necessary for the safety of the revenue.

Sec. 8. And be it further enacted, That during the continuance of the act laying an embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States, no foreign ship or vessel shall go from one port in the United States to another; and should any foreign ship or vessel, contrary to this section, go from one port of the United States to another the vessel with leer cargo shall be wholly forfeited, and the owner or owners, agent, factors, freighters, and master of such ship or vessel, shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding—dollars, nor less than—dollars.

Embargo Act

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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.


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.


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

Embargo Act

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Embargo Act

The Embargo Act was a series of acts passed by Congress beginning on December 22, 1807. It banned exports from the United States to all foreign ports and limited imports from Great Britain. Congress passed it in response to aggression by British and French ships against American merchant vessels. President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) hoped to combat the aggression with economic sanctions rather than military action.

Conflicts arising

By 1793, relations between European countries had disintegrated into multiple conflicts, particularly between France and Great Britain. As part of their efforts to weaken the enemy, several European countries maintained naval blockades to limit their opponent's ability to launch warships and merchant vessels. For the first few years of these conflicts, the United States enjoyed a neutral status that allowed it to continue to trade with all countries in spite of the blockades.

Though American ships were officially neutral, both French and British vessels made it a practice to stop American trade ships to ensure that they were not carrying military supplies to the enemy. The British further inconvenienced the Americans by forcing into British naval service many sailors who had once been British citizens. To maintain the benefits of neutral trade, the American government refrained from reacting aggressively to such impressment of sailors.

Beginning in 1805, a series of court decisions and government decrees from both France and Britain established that American ships would no longer enjoy neutrality if they entered the enemy's ports. This threatened American trade, but the U.S. government still tried to remain passively diplomatic.

American reaction

In an attempt to convince France and England to stop harassing American vessels, the U.S. government took action to impose economic pressure on the countries. In 1806, Congress passed the Nonimportation Act to ban certain imports from England and France. It had little effect. When the British boarded an American warship in 1807, killing three men and drafting four into the British navy, the American government was forced to act. The young country, however, was not prepared for a war against Great Britain, which had superior naval forces. With little hope for a successful military campaign and personally driven by pacifist beliefs, President Jefferson was motivated to find a different solution.

The Embargo Act of December 1807 was intended to create economic difficulties for European nations. It was an assertion of America's importance and was meant to force the countries to reopen trade. By preventing access to the benefits of American goods and materials, President Jefferson hoped to force a change in European policies toward American ships. While the strategy made sense because the United States was ill-prepared for war, Americans felt the impact of the embargo more than the Europeans.

Jefferson's embargo was greatly criticized throughout the United States. By cutting demand for American goods, the embargo triggered an economic depression that lasted until 1816. Exports dropped by 75 percent while imports decreased by 50 percent. Northern manufacturers initially suffered most from the embargo, although they soon picked up a little slack to replace lost imports.

Southern states suffered when they lost the ability to export surplus crops, like tobacco and cotton. Eventually, domestic textile mills provided a new market for some of those crops. Under the embargo, however, much of the nation saw prices and earnings fall while unemployment rose. Although many Americans obeyed the embargo, some traders evaded it through legal loopholes or found illegal ways around it.

Ultimately, it was apparent that the United States would be unable to maintain the embargo long enough to compel a change in European policies. Growing criticism caused Congress to repeal the Embargo Act in March 1809, three days before President Jefferson left office. It was substituted by the less-severe Non-Intercourse Act, which barred trade only with France and Britain. The conflicts with both countries continued, and America's effort to avoid military conflict eventually failed with Great Britain. The two countries soon engaged in the War of 1812 .

Embargo Act

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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)

Embargo Act

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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.

Embargo Act

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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.