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The embargo act of 1807: Significance, Causes and the Effects on US trade

Embargo Act
Embargo Act

What was Embargo Act?

The embargo act was written and developed by the US to ban trade with European countries. Embargo act significance is undeniable because it holds a special place in the trade relation development after the Napoleonic wars.


Background of Embargo Act

During 1803-1815 there was an ongoing conflict between two European powers France and Britain. People might remember the events by the name “Napoleonic Wars.”

The events hold equal importance as the Embargo act itself. The seizure of US trade ships by Britain, and the trade war impact on us, the negative effects of trade barriers, the economic effects on the global economy, all led to the creation and imposition of the Embargo act 1807.

With the brief introduction, let us now move towards the details of the events that led the US to take action and ban the trade with France and Britain through the Embargo Act.

Embargo Act Of 1807
Embargo Act Of 1807

Causes of Embargo Act, 1807

The Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic wars were a series of conflicts between the French and the British coalitions. France and Britain both tried to economically destroy and devastate the other to submission by any means necessary.  The Napoleonic wars were fought between 1803-1815.

Trade Restrictions

During the napoleon’s wars, France and Britain imposed economic sanctions on each other to hurt the economy of the other to make them submit to the rule. The trade restrictions were not limited to France or Britain but to the neutral states that were not part of the economic war.

The patience and the diplomatic neutrality of the US were examined in the war. Both France and Britain took auctions against the neutral states capturing trade vessels in the sea including the ships of the United States of America.

The Impressments

The impressments of American sailors belonging to the US navy became the major issue for the United States of America during the Napoleonic Wars.

After witnessing the horrific results of the war with France, many sailors who belonged to the British navy left the British navy and joined the American merchant marines.

To bring the deserted sailors back, the British soldiers came aboard American merchant ships. The British soldiers intended to take anyone who could pass as a British soldier. The only exception was to prove American citizenship. 1,000, out of the 10,000 estimated men were taken from American ships, and they were proven to have British citizenship. Thus, allowing Britain’s navy to capture anyone.

The Embargo Act
The Embargo Act

The Chesapeake Affair between US and Britain

The tensions between the US and Britain grew even further when the Chesapeake affair took place in the middle of a sea. The impressments of people were going on by the Britain as they were trying to find the deserted British sailors.

On Chesapeake, the American merchant ship, the Captain of the ship James Barron was preparing the vessel to sail to the Mediterranean Sea. On June 22, 1807, the Chesapeake and the H.M.S. Leopard encountered in the sea.

The Chesapeake was halted by the British navy fleet and asked to let the British sailors on board for inspection. The captain of the American ship James Barron refused to do so and the British navy ship Leopard opened fire. After 20 minutes of fight, the American ship surrendered. 4 men were taken away by the British navy.

This act was an open violation of US neutral rights and was an act of war. But, the US decided to reply economically and began to draft a law that would affect the economic relations with both France and Britain.

Furthermore, three sailors were killed in the fight, eight injured, and ten more sustained injuries.

What Was The Embargo Act
What Was The Embargo Act

Impacts of Embargo Act, 1807

The Embargo Act was a complete failure as it did not affect the economies of the rivals but the domestic economy of the US.

The impressing of the American seamen was continue and Britain was showing no signs of improvement in the relationships

James Madison updated the congress on the impressment’s statistics in 1808, he reported 4228 seamen impressed since the inception of the war.

However, after imposing the embargo act there was no significant effect on the British market.  The economy of Britain was going well despite the imposition of the Embargo act.

Although, the gun backfired on the US economy and caused devastating impacts on the domestic economy of America. The agricultural prices and earnings fell in the US, shipping-related industries were destroyed, and the local markets of the US were wrecked and facing a starving situation.

Unemployment increased inside the country, and smuggling was widely endorsed by the public as the import and export were shut down too and from Britain and France and the courtiers involved in the Napoleonic wars.

The prices of domestic shipping were going sky high to unreasonable rates. The imports and exports declined of US. The Embargo act brought some devastating impacts on the economy of the United States of America.

One good thing the Embargo act did was the increased reliance on domestic products but, this was not enough because of the decline and import and export and shortage of production material and the manufacturing was limited.

The Embargo Act Of 1807
The Embargo Act Of 1807

Effects on the Political Mood of the Time

The impacts of the embargo were not limited to the economy, it created dispute among Federalists and many Americans over the Embargo act and its negative impacts. Many congressmen stood against Jeffersonian politics. Finally, it led to Congress repealing of the Embargo act in 1809.


The Napoleonic wars pushed Britain and America to their limits and caused so much devastation to Europe and to itself. As far as the Embargo Act is concerned the US destroyed its economy with its own hands.  The embargo act affects on the import and exports, the increasing unemployment was the reason why did the embargo act failed.  Even after the economic war was over the impacts of the Embargo acts were not easy to deal with.