Embargo Act

During the Napoleonic Wars between France and Britain, both belligerents violated the accepted norms of neutral shipping. As a neutral, the United States keenly felt the affront to its national pride as well as the cost to is merchant fleet.

President Thomas Jefferson felt that a solution short of war should be possible. The non-importation act had not proved successful. Jefferson concluded that if the United States stopped all trade with both belligerents, they would be forced by economic necessity to respect American neutral rights.

In pursuit of this objective, Jefferson proposed legislation which Congress passed in December 1807. Known as the Embargo Act, the new law forbade any American ship from leaving for a foreign port. As a gesture towards achieving military ends by peaceful means, it was a noble idea, but as a practical method of forcing Britain and France to respect American rights, it was a failure.

The impact on the economies of Britain and France were more limited than Jefferson had expected. While workers in British mills might lose their jobs due to shortages of raw materials, the factory owners made money from the increased value of their inventory on hand.

At home, the steep drop in overseas commerce, with what remained being illegal smuggling, cost the exporters and shippers dearly, although it worked to the benefit of manufacturers who replaced imports with domestic products. Protests against the embargo grew throughout 1808, forcing the embargo`s repeal in March 1809, before the end of Jefferson`s term of office. It was succeeded by the Nonintercourse Act.