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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 4318

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

[Sidenote: Effect on England.]

When Congress assembled in December, 1808, the effect of the embargo was manifest. English merchants engaged in the American trade protested, and asked the British government to withdraw its Orders in Council. Lord Castlereagh declared that the embargo was "operating at present more forcibly in our favor than any measure of hostility we could call forth, without war actually declared;" English trade to the amount of $25,000,000 was, indeed, cut off; but notwithstanding this loss, the total exports of England increased. "The embargo," says Henry Adams, "served only to lower the wages and the moral standard of the laboring classes throughout the British empire, and to prove their helplessness."

[Sidenote: Effect on France.]

The reception of the embargo by France was even more humiliating. On April 17, 1808, Napoleon issued a decree at Bayonne directing that all American vessels which might enter the ports of France, Italy, and the Hanse towns should be seized, "because no vessels of the United States can now navigate the seas without infracting the law of the said States." "The Emperor applauds the embargo," said the French foreign minister.

[Sidenote: Effect on the United States.]

In America the embargo, which was intended to cut off the profits of foreign merchants and the provisions needed in foreign countries, had crippled the shipping interests, had destroyed the export trade, and had almost ruined the farmers. Exports dropped in one year from one hundred and ten millions to twenty-two millions; import duties were kept up during 1808 by returning vessels, but in 1809 sank from sixteen millions to seven millions; shipbuilding fell off by two-thirds; shipping in foreign trade lost 100,000 tons; wheat fell from two dollars to seventy-five cents a bushel. The South, from which the majority in favor of the embargo had been drawn, suffered most of all: tobacco could not be sold, and Virginia was almost bankrupt.

[Sidenote: The embargo a failure.]

[Sidenote: The embargo repealed.]

The money loss did not measure the injury to the country. New England ingenuity was devoted

to new methods of avoiding the law of the land, and a passionate feeling of sectional injury sprang up. In the election of 1808 the Federalists carried all New England except Vermont, and had a few Southern votes; and the Republican majority in Congress was much cut down. The embargo had plainly failed, and the only alternative seemed to be war. Even Jefferson was obliged to admit that the embargo must end a few months later; "But I have thought it right," he wrote, "to take no part myself in proposing measures, the execution of which will devolve on my successor." It became known that Madison, the President-elect, favored the repeal of the embargo in June, and that Jefferson was only anxious that it should last out his administration. The discontent of New England was so manifest that a South Carolina member said: "You have driven us from the embargo. The excitement in the East renders it necessary that we should enforce the embargo with the bayonet, or repeal it. I will repeal it,-and I could weep over it more than over a lost child." On Feb. 2, 1809, the House, by a vote of 70 to 40, decided upon immediate repeal. The only question now was what policy should be substituted. On February 28 an agreement was reached: the embargo was replaced by a non-intercourse law which forbade British or French vessels to enter American ports; but there was no threat against the captors of American vessels.

[Sidenote: Jefferson humiliated.]

Throughout his whole administration Jefferson had never before been confronted with an offensive bill. He had been practically the leader in both houses of Congress, and until this moment his followers had never deserted him. He could not end his administration with a veto, and he signed the act, although it was a tacit condemnation of his whole policy with reference to neutral trade. The defence of the embargo was that it prevented war: but it had inflicted on the country the material losses and excited the factional spirit which would have resulted from war; and the danger of war was greater at the end than at the beginning of the experiment.


THE UNION IN DANGER (1809-1815).

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