What Was The Embargo Act of 1807?

The Embargo Act, signed on December 22, 1807 by the US Congress, imposed a general embargo upon both Great Britain and France.

The Embargo Act of 1807 was a general embargo which was enacted by the Congress of the United States of America. The law was meant to prohibit the American ships from trading and interacting with foreign ships in foreign ports. The law was mostly aimed at French and British ships and was enacted as a reaction to the seizure of the US ships, which were suspected to be having war contraband. The move was seen as a violation of US’s neutrality in the Napoleonic War. The Embargo Act of 1807 was passed as payback for the many seizures but mostly the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.


The Embargo Act of 1807 was signed by the then President Thomas Jefferson on December 22, 1807. President Jefferson urged the members of the Congress to consider a commercial war, rather than a physical war. The commercial war was meant to put the rival nations, Great Britain and France, into some sort of economic hardship which would force them to end their unfair treatment on the US ship. The law had a number of provisions and regulations that were to be followed. First, the American warships were exempted from the embargo provisions. The president was also given the mandate to make an exception for the vessels under his direction. The ships trading between the US would have bonds to ensure they abide by the legislation. The American Ships were not required to obtain any form of permission allowing them to sail in foreign ports.

Enforcement Efforts

Although the embargo was meant to protect the US and its vessels from foreign aggressors, the then Secretary of Treasury, Albert Gallatin, was completely against the embargo, foreseeing that it would be impossible to completely enforce it. He also correctly predicted that the embargo would lead to a negative publicity for the country. Soon after the enactment of the law, a loophole was discovered. The coasting vessels and fishing boats had been exempted from the embargo. To seal the loophole, the first supplementary act was passed by Tenth US Congress on January 8, 1808. The Congress also passes several other supplementary acts to the Embargo Act including one on March 12, 1808, which prohibited export of all goods whether by land or sea.

Consequences of the Embargo Act

The embargo, which was supposed to cause economic burden to the belligerent countries, brought even more burden to the United States. The American overseas trade was largely affected. In fact, it almost got crippled. The residents of the southern region were the most severely affected. They had to remain with their surplus farm produce since they could not easily export the products to international market. The British were not adversely affected since they could still access the United States through Canada. The British shipowners were also pleased with the reduced competition following the action of the US government.

Historical Significance and Legacy

The Embargo Act of 1807 was not as successful as was expected. In fact, it resulted in economic burdens to both the people of America and economy of the country. The Federalist Party received a large following after the passing of the law. Its support grew tremendously. In 1808, it acquired an increased representation in the Electoral College and in the Congress. The Embargo Act of 1807 also influenced the America’s declaration of war in 1812 and enactment of other embargoes.

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