What Was the Embargo Act?


Quick Answer

The Embargo Act of 1807 was legislation implemented by President Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. Congress to forbid all exports from the United States. It was an attempt to chasten the warring countries of Great Britain and France for their violations of U.S. neutrality.

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Full Answer

In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain and France both plundered U.S. shipping to meet their needs. Additionally, Great Britain kidnapped American seamen and pressed them into duty on British ships. Rather than resort to military options, President Thomas Jefferson proposed the Embargo Act of 1807 to punish the warring countries commercially. No ships were allowed to leave the United States for foreign ports without presidential permission, although warships and foreign ships were exempted.

The Embargo Act devastated U.S. overseas trade. Merchants in New England and the South lost significant business. Smuggling goods through Canada became widespread. Although Jefferson intended the act as a measure to prevent war, the United States was soon drawn into warfare with Great Britain in 1812. Congress repealed the act just days before Jefferson left presidential office in 1809. The Non-intercourse Act, which forbade trade with Great Britain and France only, replaced it, although this act also failed to apply sufficient economic pressure to influence relations with the warring countries.

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