Commercial Warfare

Commercial Warfare

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Commercial Warfare

In the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, continuing through Madison’s term, the United States initiated a policy to retaliate against the seizure of ships by the British and French. These three dominant nations entered a period between 1806-1810, known as Commercial Warfare. The Commercial War was a response by Americans to maintain their right of neutral commerce. The Acts by the United States, the Decrees by the powerful Napoleon I, and the Parliamentary orders, throughout the period of Commercial Warfare directly led to the start of the War of 1812, and helped build the commercial future of the United States.

The Peace of Amiens did not last long after it’s signing on March 27, 1802, to end the European wars between the allied France and Spain, and Great Britain, with the United States now neutral due to the coup of the French monarchy. Neither France, nor Britain upheld the treaty, and hostilities were reassumed. In 1805, Britain seized and condemned the US vessel Essex, engaging in trade with French West Indies. A year later, it was reported that Britain had seized over 120 American vessels. In April of 1806 Congress passed a non-importation act excluding trade with many British products.

Britain and France engaged in decrees and counter-decrees against one another between 1806 and 1807. In May 1806 Britain established a naval blockade on the entire northern coast of Napoleon’s empire. Napoleon’s Berlin Decree in November 1806 declared a state of blockade on the British Isles, and disallowing any commerce with England. Britain retaliated in January and furthermore in November, condemning all ships engaging in trade with France, and to only give warning to those who’s engagement was prior to the Order. Napoleon countered with the Milan decree, stating that any nation’s ship that has traded with, searched by, or in anyway engaged with Britain, is denationalized, and was then considered to be flying the British flag.

The United States, while mostly standing by, as its interdependent commerce was being virtually destroyed, took actions in 1807. The United States trade was highly dependent upon the nations of France and Great Britain, but by the Decrees and Orders of Council, the United States was refused trade with each nation. In 1807, the United States established an Embargo Act, preventing all trade. The Embargo Act had been a costly miscalculation.

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The act was intended to force Britain and France to allow neutral trade. The United States lost millions of dollars, and it’s diplomatic reasoning was unsuccessful as well. The Embargo Act was soon replaced in March 1809, by the Non-Intercourse Act.

The Non-Intercourse Act was a step back on restrictions on trade enforced by the Embargo Act. Now the Embargo was only placed on France and England. Trade was reopened to the world. As a result the United States economy began to improve. An important clause in the agreement was that if either nation was to prevent the invasion of United States vessels the embargo would be dropped. With assurances from the British Minister Erskine that the Orders of Council would be revoked, President James Madison was authorized to drop the embargo on Britain, and he did on April 19, 1809. Instead of dropping it’s Decree’s, France outraged by the release of the embargo on Britain, placed an embargo on the United States considering it an ally of Britain. The British Government disavowed Eskrine’s assurances to the United States. President Madison was thus forced to enforce the Non-Intercourse Act on both Britain and France.

The Non-Intercourse Act expired after it’s one-year term, and Nathaniel Macon, chairmen of the Foreign Affairs committee, prepared a bill to congress on the issue. The bill came to be known as Macon’s Bill No. 2. In the bill, he stated that if either Britain or France would revoke their seizure of American vessels, then the Non-Intercourse Act would be imposed on the other, if they pledged to cease within three days of the passing of the bill. If the other nation did not abolish their policy within three months of the other, only then would the Act be imposed. France conformed in writing, due to the possibility of continuing to hurt the British commerce, but continued to seize American ships. While England did nothing in the three-month period and embargo was reestablished on Britain. War between the Britain and America was inevitable, "The Second War for Independence” broke out in 1812, hence the name the War of 1812.
The five years of embargoes led the American people to learn how to survive as an independent nation in all meanings, in trade, in foreign policy and in domestic policy in wartime under the new Constitution. The United States won the War of 1812, and destroyed British ideologies of regaining her colonies. The United States regained trading rights in Europe and returned to prosperity, and was finally recognized as a world power. The Commercial War of the early 1800’s had an extremely large effect on the progress of the United States.
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