Sailors in limbo, ships being seized and the United States's attempt to stay neutral as allies waged war were just a few reasons that the Embargo Act of 1807 was pulled together to solve a serious economic and humane issue. While it didn’t last long, it had a grim effect on a young country still pulling away from its former motherland and allies. The short-lived act crippled the economy and further exacerbated trade issues.

The 1807 Embargo Act was unpopular with U.S. businesses.
The 1807 Embargo Act was unpopular with U.S. businesses.

Effects of the Act

Simply put, the Embargo Act kept any and all vessels loaded with goods from taking off from U.S. ports and making their way to foreign ports. This left farmers and merchants in a lurch. They couldn't unload their abundance of crops, curries and items to buyers overseas. Prices began to plummet as the Embargo Act cramped sellers from continuing to do business with foreign consumers. The end result was an increase in smuggling, looting and unemployment among the poorest of the young country’s population. A bright side in all of this was the increase in American-made products and inventions as colonists and pioneers parlayed the loss of British products into a burgeoning business. Britain wasn't affected as much as the United States as it found a steady supply of its goods from Latin America and other eager countries looking to increase their coffers. The Embargo came to an end in March of 1809 as President Jefferson’s time in office was winding down. Congress replaced it with the less restrictive Non-Intercourse Act. This freed Americans to trade with other countries while still restricting open trade with France and Britain.

Factors Leading up to the Embargo

As Britain and France fought in the Napoleonic War, they turned to the neutral United States and its vulnerable ships as they sailed across the Atlantic and tied up to ports to unload their goods to trade. Britain used its naval superiority to block the passage of ships from the United States into European ports unless they docked and registered at British ports first. They detained sailors that had left Britain for America and put them to work on their navy vessels. This put a damper on trade as well as the stock of American sailors to take trade from one port to another. The French looted the ships, some of which were hampered by the loss of sailors to England, and used the war as a screen to take American goods.

Provisions Included in the Act

The Embargo Act of 1807 came into law as the year was winding down. Congress passed the law and President Thomas Jefferson quickly signed it on December 22 of that year, halting all trading in all ports along the American coast. While American ships were prohibited from leaving port to sail to foreign ports, the law did allow for President Jefferson to make exceptions. The Navy and revenue officers were engaged to enforce the embargo. Bonds were required between ships trading from U.S. ports to ensure that they were legitimate. Warships weren't affected.