Embargo Act
prohibiting American vessels from trading with European


The Embargo Act was a law passed by the United States that prohibited American shipping vessels from trading with France and England during the Napoleonic War of 1799-1815. The Act was passed in December 1807 by Congress at the urging of President Thomas Jefferson in retaliation to similar actions by the belligerents.

French emperor Napoleon I attempted to blockade Britain and forbid any nation to trade with that country. The British retaliated by trying to blockade France and its trading partners. Vessels violating either blockade would be seized. The United States and other countries were caught in the middle and risked losing merchant ships to both sides. Jefferson wanted to remain neutral, yet persuade both sides to respect American trading rights.

However, the idea backfired. The Embargo Act caused more hardship to the United States than to either France or Britian. Hundreds of ships attempted to circumvent the law by sailing before it was enforced, exploiting legal technicalities to remain in foreign waters, and smuggling. Northern shipping interests declared the act disastrous, and Southern planters suffered substantial losses. The embargo failed to produce European recognition of neutral rights and caused political division in the United States. The Act was repealed in March 1809 with the Non-intercourse Act.

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