Embargo Act of 1807

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The Embargo Act of 1807 and the subsequent Nonintercourse Acts were American laws restricting American ships from engaging in foreign trade 1807 and 1812. They led to the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain.

Britain and France were engaged in a life-and-death struggle for control of Europe, and the small, remote USA became a pawn in their game. The Acts were diplomatic responses by presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison designed to protect American interests and avoid war. They failed, and helped cause the war. The Acts were bitterly opposed by New England shipping interests which suffered greatly from them.



The Embargo Act of 1807 is codified at 2 Stat. 451 and formally titled "An Embargo laid on Ships and Vessels in the Ports and Harbours of the United States". The bill was drafted at the request of President Thomas Jefferson and subsequently passed by the Tenth U.S. Congress, on December 22, 1807, during Session 1; Chapter 5. Congress initially acted to enforce a bill prohibiting imports, but supplements to the bill eventually banned exports as well.


After a short truce in 1802–1803 the European wars resumed and continued until the defeat of Napoleon in 1814.[1] The war caused American relations with both Britain and France to deteriorate rapidly. There was grave risk of war with one or the other. With Britain supreme on the sea, and France on the land, the war developed into a struggle of blockade and counterblockade. This commercial war peaked in 1806 and 1807. Britain's Royal Navy shut down most European harbors to American ships unless they first traded through British ports. France declared a paper blockade of Britain (which it lacked a navy to enforce) and seized American ships that obeyed British regulations.

The British system of impressment provided an additional grievance for the Americans. This British practice of taking British deserters, and often Americans, from American ships and forcing them into the Royal Navy increased greatly after 1803, and caused bitter anger in the United States. The anger reached a peak after June 22, 1807, when the British ship Leopard attacked the American Chesapeake off the U.S. coast, and removed four suspected deserters. This grave incident was perceived by Americans as a profound insult to American honor; combined with the increased commercial restrictions, it produced a demand for war in the United States in the summer of 1807[2]

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