A legislative measure enacted by Congress in 1807 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson that banned trade between U.S. ports and foreign nations.
The Embargo Act was intended to use economic pressure to compel England and France to remove restrictions on commercial trading with neutral nations that they imposed in their warfare with each other. Napoleon decreed under his Continental system that no ally of France or any neutral nation could trade with Great Britain, in order to destroy the English economy. In retaliation, England caused a blockade of the northern European coastline, affecting nations that had remained neutral in the dispute between France and England. These vindictive measures hurt neutral American traders, prompting Congress to take action to safeguard the economic interests of the United States. The first enactment was the Nonimportation Act of 1806 (2 Stat. 379), which prohibited the import of designated English goods to stop the harsh treatment of American ships caught running the blockade. The Embargo Act of 1807 (2 Stat. 451) superseded this enactment and expanded the prohibition against international trade to all nations. A later amendment in 1809 (2 Stat. 506) extended the ban from American ports to inland waters and overland transactions, thereby stopping trade with Canada, and mandated strict enforcement of its provisions.
The American public opposed the act, particularly those segments dependent upon international trade for their livelihoods. This opposition eventually led to the enactment of the Non-Intercourse Act (2 Stat. 528 ), which superseded the stringent provisions of the Embargo Act. Under that act, only trade with England and France was proscribed, but the measure was ineffectual.
Subsequently, in 1810, Nathaniel Macon proposed a measure, called Macon's Bill No. 2, which Congress enacted despite solid Federalist opposition, that empowered the president to resume commerce with the warring nation that lifts its restrictions on neutral trade.
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