24 years in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War on this day in history, the struggle for liberty’s careful preservation continued.
President Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress enforced the Embargo Act of 1807 out of a duty to protect the country. The law’s necessity arose during the conflict between Britain and France. While attempting to retain a neutral stance as a growing nation, American trade ships were being helplessly pillaged at the hand of the French navy.
The complexity and chaos of the dilemma progressed further when the British followed suit with the French rivals and began accosting American barges as well. Trade became further restricted as Britain demanded all American ships undergo a tedious registration in their harbors before commerce between other nations went on.
The tyrannical side of the British continued to resurface as they claimed they had a reserved right to the capture and examination of American sailors. They fallaciously argued that the traders were British deserters; however, the American government held a clear perception of their preposterous actions as a severe case of impressment.
Minor retaliation came from the United States, but in mid-1807, the final crowning blow was exacted with an engagement that is now known as the Chesapeake-Leopard affair. Just after embarking off the ports of Norfolk, Virginia, the USS Chesapeake was paid an unwelcome visit by a searching HMS Leopard. The HMS Leopard opened fire on the American frigate and quickly stormed the ship by surprise. Four Americans were murdered, 17 were wounded, and four were falsely apprehended.
Throughout the entire battle, the USS Chesapeake, under command of Admiral James Barron, had only fired a single shot. Jefferson was forced to act fast amidst cries of a military response, and instead passed the Embargo Act in subsequent months. The Act was a desperate measure to halt the turmoil, as it enforced an utter shutdown of U.S. trade with all other nations.
While it was put forward to protect the young country, the situation failed to pan out as Jefferson had predicted. Economic repercussions were faced, and two days before the end of his second term in 1809, Jefferson opened up trade to all countries with the subtle exclusion of Britain and France. James Madison took the oval office afterwards, and made a bold restriction to trade with the British in 1811.
The Embargo Act would ultimately go down in history as one of the primary factors leading up to the War of 1812, wherein America would fight for the preservation of the liberty which we had so desperately and bravely established.
“Liberty once lost is lost forever.” – John Adams