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   Chapter 103 RESISTANCE (1805-1807).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3942

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

[Sidenote: Prosperity of American trade.]

The wholesale seizure of American property was exasperating to the last degree. The disdainful impressment of American seamen, and still more the unofficial blockade of the ports, would have justified war. Yet notwithstanding the loss of American shipping, trade continued to prosper, and vessels engaged in foreign commerce increased; freights were so high that an annual loss by capture of ten per cent could be made up out of the profits. The New Englanders, therefore, who suffered most were not most anxious for war, nor could Jefferson bear to give up his policy of debt- reduction and of peaceful trade. Toward France, indeed, he showed remarkable tenderness, because that power controlled Spain, from which Jefferson was eagerly seeking the cession of West Florida.

[Sidenote: Gunboat system.]

Some American policy must be formulated. War seemed to Jefferson unnecessary, and he therefore attempted three other remedies, which in a measure neutralized each other. The first was to provide some kind of defence. To build new vessels seemed to him an invitation to the English navy to swoop down and destroy them. To fortify the coasts and harbors properly would cost fifty millions of dollars. He proposed, therefore, to lay up the navy and to build a fleet of gunboats, to be hauled up under sheds in time of peace, but if war came, to be manned by a naval militia and to repel the enemy. Between 1806 and 1812 one hundred and seventy-six gunboats were built. They never rendered any considerable service, and took $1,700,000 out of Gallatin's surplus.

[Sidenote: Pinkney treaty.]

The second part of Jefferson's policy was to negotiate with England for a new treaty. The conditions upon which he insisted were impossible, and Pinkney and Monroe, therefore, in December, 1806, made the best terms they could: there was no article against impressment; they surrendered the principle that free ships make free

goods; they practically accepted the rule of 1756. The treaty was so unacceptable that Jefferson never submitted it to the Senate; and thenceforward to the War of 1812 we had only such commercial privileges as England chose to grant.

[Sidenote: Non-importation act.]

The only remaining arrow in Jefferson's quiver was the policy of commercial restriction. On April 18, 1806, an act was Passed by which, after November 15, the importation of manufactured goods from England and English colonies was forbidden. Even this was suspended on December 29.

[Sidenote: "Leopard" and "Chesapeake."]

[Sidenote: The Americans aroused.]

The effect of these feeble efforts to secure fair treatment was seen on June 27, 1807. The only excuse for the impressment of American seamen was that sailors from the British men-of-war were apt to desert when they reached an American port, and frequently shipped on board American vessels. The chief reason was the severity of naval discipline and the low wages paid by the British government. The American frigate "Chesapeake," about leaving Norfolk for a Mediterranean cruise, had several such deserters on board without the commander's knowledge. When outside the capes the British frigate "Leopard" suddenly bore down on her, hailed her, and her captain announced that he was about to search the ship for these deserters. Commander Barron was taken by surprise; his guns were not ready for action, his crew was not yet trained. He refused to permit the search, was fired upon, and was obliged to surrender. Four men were taken off, of whom three were American citizens, and the "Chesapeake" carried back the news of this humiliation. The spirit of the nation was aflame. Had Jefferson chosen, he might have gone to war upon this issue, and would have had the country behind him. The extreme point which he reached was a proclamation warning British armed vessels out of American waters; he preferred a milder sort of warfare.

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