The Embargo Act of 1807 was a piece of legislation that forbade American merchants to trade with any foreign nation, and was intended to be a coercive measure against France and Britain.
The Embargo Act of 1807 was passed in the United States during the Napoleonic wars in Europe. During that period, Britain and France were fighting each other, and both turned to blockades in an effort to hurt the enemy’s economy. As a result, the warring countries tried to stop neutral countries from trading with their enemies. These practices directly influenced the ability of American merchants to trade with European nations.
This piece of legislation was created in response to repeated violations of American neutrality by various nations, particularly the United Kingdom. During that period, the British navy had repeatedly seized U.S. vessels and their cargo, considering their operation a form of smuggling. In addition, thousands of British-American sailors had been forced to serve on U.K. military ships, since, according to British law, these people were subjects of the Crown. The United Kingdom’s war effort was dependent on resources and raw materials from the United States. The British needed American cotton and wood because these were goods that the United Kingdom could not obtain anywhere else in sufficient amounts. Other European nations, including France, also needed the United States as a trade partner.
This situation forced President Thomas Jefferson to pass a law that forbade the sale of goods to any foreign nations, as a form of retaliation. The measure was also meant to protest against the practice of continental blockades and protective tariffs that compromised free trade among nations. The European nations’ dependence on trade with the United States was expected to provide leverage that could be used to coerce them to change their policies.
The Embargo Act of 1807 was ineffective at achieving its goals, and did not lead to any noticeable change in the policies of the warring nations regarding the issue of trade and the treatment of American ships and sailors. The British economy was minimally affected by Roosevelt’s law, and the problems the legislation was aimed at solving remained. The British managed to develop alternative markets to export their goods, and their merchants faced less competition due to the fact that Americans were absent from the market. Moreover, the embargo had a severe effect on the American economy, reducing exports and leaving manufacturers without access to European tools and other finished goods. However, this situation had a double effect on the United States, because it also helped to stimulate the development of American industry.
In addition to the failure to solve the problems regarding the issue of trade, the Embargo Act of 1807 went against Jefferson’s beliefs on the issue of power. The president was a proponent of the idea that the federal government should be decentralized and should not interfere in trade and business. Thus, the decision to impose the Embargo Act contradicted Jefferson’s principles and presidential agenda. The Act’s negative consequences and its public criticism convinced the president to repeal the Act in 1809. Consequently, the United States’ ongoing conflicts with Britain led to the War of 1812.