Enforcement of military or naval service on unwilling men. Until the early 19th century, it flourished in port towns everywhere, as “recruiters” searched through waterfront boardinghouses, brothels, and taverns. They often chose vagabonds or prisoners. Impressed men were forced into service through violence or coercion and were held to their duty by brutal discipline. In the early 19th century, Royal Navy ships halting U.S. vessels to search for British deserters frequently impressed naturalized U.S. citizens, one cause of the War of 1812. Impressment declined in the 19th century as states adopted more systematic recruiting methods. Seealso conscription.
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