December 22nd, 1807

161293-004-9ce10f82The Treaty of Amiens, negotiated by Joseph Bonaparte and the Marquess Cornwallis in 1802, had been short lived. By 1807 France and England had been engaged in open warfare for four years. As a result, the island nation that once was the declared sovereign of what had become the United States of America just over a generation prior sought to choke off trade to Napoleon. In order to do this blockades were established and the British would shut down all trade from the US to Europe unless they first traded through British ports. Those vessels found in violation of the established order of the most powerful Navy in the world would risk not only forfeiture of their cargo but the possibility that the crew would be taken and forced into service on a British Ship. Perhaps not as brutal as the forced slavery imposed on American fishermen and sailors captured by the North African Ottoman Corsairs known as the Barbary Pirates, it was a gross violation of the sovereignty of this new nation.

On December 22nd, 1807 President Thomas Jefferson signed into law the US Embargo Act, an extension of the Non-Importation Act signed the previous year stopping the importation of British goods into the Nation. This would be a much further reaching Bill that President Jefferson sought from Congress and hastily signed despite protests from his Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin (the longest serving Secretary of the Treasury in US history, serving for 13 years under Jefferson and then Madison until 1814). Gallatin believed that this embargo was ultimately doomed to fail from the start. He was right, it was a disaster as smuggling rose, American businesses suffered and Britain sought new markets, feeling only the generally positive effect of less competition from American merchants in the marketplace. In the end it was the first real foreign policy test of the United States and it failed as Americans lost significant trust in its government and the world viewed the US as unable to protect its interests, a slap against this new republican government. In the subsequent elections, though the Democratic-Republicans would retain their hold on the Presidency with the election of James Madison, as well as the House and the Senate, the Federalists would make significant gains, including taking 22 seats from the Majority Party in the House, in no small part due to the Embargo Act fiasco. Within a few short years the US would be at War with England with the British policies during the Napoleonic Wars and the necessity of the Americans to act becoming key factors, though not the only factors, in that Declaration of War.


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