delanceyplace.com 07/18/06 - jefferson stubs his toe

In today's excerpt - Thomas Jefferson, for whom economic policy was always an achilles heel, attempts to punish Britain through trade policy, and as many before and since finds that approach does not work. This passage also shows the difficulty encountered by any smaller country, (in this case America) in attempting to stand up to the unreasonable acts of one of the world's leading powers (in this case Britain), an observation equally relevant today:

"[In 1807], the USS Chesapeake, on its maiden voyage, was attacked by the British frigate Leopard when it refused to allow a search for supposed deserters from the English navy. Three Americans were killed and eighteen wounded. The Chesapeake was searched and four sailors were removed. In retaliation, Jefferson ordered all British warships out of American ports and summoned Congress to an early session to address the crisis. He asked the legislature to enact an embargo on all foreign trade, an action that would surely cripple American commerce since it forbade all American ships to leave for foreign ports and outlawed foreign ships from departing U.S. ports with American goods. The Senate passed the measure on the very day the President asked for it, but in the House, John Randolph, the Quids and the remaining Federalists voiced their protest, claiming the action was unconstitutional. ...

"But the embargo proved to be a disaster for the nation. And it did not adversely affect England or France one iota. American shippers howled their pain as their commerce all but disappeared. Large coastal cities like Portsmouth, Boston, New York and Philadelphia suffered tremendous losses, and the New England states seemed close to rebellion. The Federalist Party was resuscitated by the furor. Some of its members ranted about nullifying the embargo within their states and even seceding from the Union. Southern states also suffered as their crops rotted on the wharves. ...

"As one of his final acts in office, Jefferson signed a Non-Intercourse Act, which repealed the embargo and reopened trade with all nations except France and England. It also authorized the President to reinstate trade with either of those belligerents if they first agreed to respect neutral rights. It was a face-saving retreat from a much-maligned embargo."


author:

Robert V. Remini

title:

The House: The History of the House of Representatives

publisher:

HarperCollins Publishers

date:

Copyright 2006 Robert V. Remini

pages:

86-88
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