Find Laws Find Lawyers Free Legal Forms USA State Laws
Home » Find Laws » Commercial Laws » Embargo Act

Embargo Act


What is the Embargo Act of 1807?

The Embargo Act of 1807 and the consequent Nonintercourse Acts were American laws that restricted American ships from taking part in foreign trade between 1807 and 1812. The Embargo Act along with the second act was a diplomatic response by former presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson designed to avoid war and protect American interests. However, these acts failed to do so but instead played a major role in the cause of the War of 1812 which was between the United States and Britain.

Both France and Britain were involved in a life-and-death fight for control over Europe, and the remote United States became a pawn in this fight for power. The United States wished to remain neutral in this conflict and maintain trade with both countries, but neither country wanted the other one to have access to American supplies. The goal in the United States was to use the technique of economic coercion in order to avoid war while subsequently punishing Britain, and forcing it to properly respect American rights.

The Nonintercourse Act, which was passed after the Embargo Act of 1807 Jefferson was strongly opposed by New England due to the fact that the act stopped American trade with Great Britain completely.

Originally, these acts were done as a way to punish Britain for having violated American rights on the high seas. The main offense in this regard was the seizure or impressment of 6,000 sailors off of American ships by force. These 6,000 sailors claimed to be citizens of the United States. If the sailors had been born within British Empire, the Royal Navy could consider them British and therefore have the authority to seize them and move them into the British Navy.

Other Embargo Acts were passed between 1807 and 1808, as an effort to deter and stop Americans traders from defying the previously passed embargo act by fulfilling sales to Britain or France. The embargo created enormous protest, particularly from New England, which were organized by the Federalist Party. The Federalist Party was repealed from American offices as Jefferson left his post as President in early 1809. Complaints against Britain continued despite this, and they continued until American’s declaration of war in 1812 against Britain.

Background of the Embargo Act of 1807 Jefferson

After a small truce in between 1802 and1803, the European wars restarted and continued until Napoleon was defeated in 1814. These wars resulted in American relations with France and Britain to deteriorate quickly, with high potential of war.

With Britain being the supreme on the sea, while France on the land, the European war quickly developed into a fight of blockade and counter blockades. Britain's Royal Navy closed down many harbors in Europe to American ships unless the ships first traded through the British ports. Meanwhile, France declared a paper blockade against Britain and seized all American ships that submitted to British regulations. The Royal Navy required large numbers of sailors to enforce their blockades and saw the United States merchant fleet as an easy source for British sailors.

The British method of impressment dishonored and humiliated the United States because the country was unable to defend its ships and protect its sailors. This British system of taking British deserters, who were mostly Americans, from ships from the United States and pushing them to be a part of the Royal Navy enlarged significantly after 1803, and resulted in bitter anger from the United States. This anger reached a high point after June 22, 1807, after the Leopard, a British ship, attacked the Chesapeake, an American ship, off the United States coast, and took four suspected deserters from the ship. This incident was looked at by Americans as a strong insult to the honor of America. This combined with the heavy commercial restrictions produced a demand by American citizens for war in the United States during the summer of 1807.

Thomas Jefferson did not want America to go to war, and was persuaded that the U.S. had enough power to pressure the European powers through economic methods instead of war. Consequently, in December 1807, Thomas Jefferson suggested to Congress the Embargo Act of 1807 Jefferson that would forbid all American ships from going to a foreign port. This act, which was written into law on December 22 1807, tried to stop American foreign trade. A few days earlier, Congress had already put into motion a nonimportation act, which was originally passed eight months earlier, which rejected entry to numerous British goods. Enforcing methods were placed in order to guarantee that vessels involved in the foreign coastal trade would not go to foreign ports were not completely successful. Certain American vessels traded abroad even during the Embargo, while others smuggled products along the Canadian border.

Beginning Legislation of the Embargo Act of 1807 Jefferson

Under the Embargo Act of 1807 Jefferson:

An embargo was placed on vessels and ships under United States jurisdiction.

All ships and vessels could not obtain clearance in order to participate in voyages to foreign places or ports.

The only exceptions for ships and vessels could be made under the immediate direction of the President of the United States.

The President had authority to enforce the provisions of the act by providing instructions to the Navy and revenue officers.

No foreign vessel or ship, without or with on-bard cargo could be prevented from departing.

A surety or bond was required from merchant ships on a voyage between U.S. ports.

All warships were exempted from these embargo provisions.

This embargo was a collective addition to the 1806 Nonimportation Act. The Embargo Act of 1807’s bill was drafted at the wish of former President Thomas Jefferson and consequently was passed by the 10th United States Congress on December 22, 1807. Congress originally acted to apply a bill eliminating imports, but additions to the bill ultimately banned exports as well.

Impact of the Embargo Act of 1807 Jefferson on United States

The embargo under the act lasted from December 1807 to March 1809. The embargo essentially controlled American trade overseas. All regions of the United States suffered greatly. In the Middle Atlantic States and commercial New England, many ships rotted away at the wharves, while in the agricultural areas such as the South, planters and farmers could not sell their harvests or crops internationally. In New England and Middle Atlantic states, the only benefit to this act was that due to the scarcity of European goods, there was a definite stimulus for the development of industry in America.

The embargo under the act was a financial catastrophe for the United States because the British still had the ability to export goods to America under certain loopholes, smuggling through Canadian borders, privateers from overseas, and whaling ships. Furthermore, the overall disregard for the law and authority mean that enforcement was extremely difficult.

Consequences of the Embargo Act of 1807 Jefferson

The embargo was just as hurtful to the United States as it was towards France and Britain. Britain had expected to suffer from the regulations and because of it, the nation built new relationships with the South American market for exports. Meanwhile, British ship owners found that the act resulted in less completion.

Thomas Jefferson found himself in a strange position through the Embargo Act of 1807. Despite frequently and eloquently arguing for as minimal government intervention, he now was assuming extraordinary powers in order to enforce this policy. The election of 1808, where James Madison won over Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, proved that the Federalists were coming back, and helped show Madison and Jefferson that the Embargo was failing.

Before leaving office in March 1809, Thomas Jefferson signed the repeal of the embargo, which had clearly failed. He replaced the act with the Nonintercourse Act, which re-opened American foreign trade with all countries except France, Britain, or their possessions. President Madison was given the authority to suspend this nonintercourse with either France or Britain in the case that one of these countries got rid of regulations against American commerce. This second act was no more effective than the Embargo Act and it showed that it was impossible to prevent United States vessels from trading with other European traders after leaving American Ports. Once they had left American ports.

Related Articles

Link To This Page


Find an CT Lawyer
Guide to Finding a Lawyer