Jefferson’s failed Embargo Act of 1807

The HMS Shannon attacking the USS Chesapeake in 1807 (painted in 1813)


The Embargo Act of 1807 was an effort by President Thomas Jefferson to keep the United States out of European wars that had been waged since 1803. In Europe, Napoleon was sweeping across the continent, and almost every European power was aligned against France. Initially, the United States sought to continue trade with Europe, but France and Britain refused to acknowledge the United States’ neutrality

Soon, Britain began attacking US merchant ships and impressing United States merchant sailors into the British navy. To limit United States involvement in the European conflicts, Jefferson decided to close United States ports to all foreign trade. Instead of engaging with Europe, Jefferson essentially withdrew.

His effort to remain neutral in the face of European warfare was noble but ultimately failed to accomplish his goal. Not only did American traders flout the blockade by smuggling goods in and out of the United States, but before his presidency ended Jefferson reluctantly rescinded the embargo and allowed trade between the United States and all other foreign countries excluding Britain and France.

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