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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 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.