CHAPTER XX. THE STRUGGLE FOR COMMERCIAL INDEPENDENCE

WAR WITH TRIPOLI. - In his first inaugural Jefferson announced a policy of peace, commerce, and friendship with all nations; but unhappily he was not able to carry it out. Under treaties with Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, we had paid tribute or made presents to these powers, to prevent them from attacking our ships. In 1800, however, when Adams sent the yearly tribute to Algiers, the ruler of Tripoli demanded a large present, and when it did not come, declared war. Expecting trouble with this nest of pirates, Jefferson in 1801 sent over a fleet which was to blockade the coast of Tripoli and that of any other Barbary power that might be at war with us. But four years passed, and Tripoli was five times bombarded before terms of peace were dictated by Captain Rodgers under the muzzles of his guns (1805). [1]

GREAT BRITAIN AND FRANCE. - While our contest with Tripoli was dragging along, France and Great Britain again went to war (1803), and our neutral rights were again attacked. British cruisers captured many American ships on the ground that they were carrying on trade between the ports of France and her colonies.

Napoleon attacked British commerce by decrees which closed the ports of Europe to British goods, declared a blockade of the British Isles, and made subject to capture any neutral vessels that touched at a British port. Great Britain replied with orders in council, blockading the ports of France and her allies, and requiring all neutral vessels going to a closed port to stop at some British port and pay tribute. [2]

As Great Britain ruled the sea, and Napoleon most of western Europe, these decrees and orders meant the ruin of our commerce. Against such rules of war our government protested, claiming the right of "free trade," or the "freedom of the seas," - the right of a neutral to trade with either belligerent, provided the goods were not for use in actual war (as guns, powder, and shot).

OUR SAILORS IMPRESSED. - But we had yet another cause of quarrel with Great Britain. She claimed that in time of war she had a right to the services of her sailors; that if they were on foreign ships, they must come home and serve on her war vessels. She denied that a British subject could become a naturalized American; once a British subject, always a British subject, was her doctrine. She stopped our vessels at sea, examined the crews, and seized or "impressed" any British subjects found among them - and many American sailors as well. Against such "impressment" our government set up the claim of "sailors' rights" - denying the right of Great Britain to search our ships at sea or to seize sailors of any nationality while on board an American vessel.

THE ATTACK ON THE CHESAPEAKE. - Before 1805 Great Britain confined impressment to the high seas and to her own ports. After 1805 she carried it on also off our coasts and in our ports. Finally, in 1807, a British officer, hearing that some British sailors were among the crew of our frigate Chesapeake which was about to sail, only partly equipped, from the Washington navy yard, ordered the Leopardto follow the Chesapeake to sea and search her. This was done, and when Commodore Barron refused to have his vessel searched, she was fired on by the Leopard, boarded, searched, and one British and three American sailors were taken from her deck. [3]

CONGRESS RETALIATES. - It was now high time for us to strike back at France and Great Britain. We had either to fight for "free trade and sailors' rights," or to abandon the sea and stop all attempts to trade with Europe and Great Britain. Jefferson chose the latter course. Our retaliation therefore consisted of

  1. The Long Embargo (1807-9). 
  2. The Non-intercourse Act (1809). 
  3. Macon's Bill No. 2 (1810). 
  4. The Declaration of War (1812).

THE LONG EMBARGO. - Late in December, 1807, at the request of Jefferson, Congress laid an embargo and cut off all trade with foreign ports. [4] The restriction was so sweeping and the damage to farmers, planters, merchants, shipowners, and sailors so great, that the law was at once evaded. More stringent laws were therefore enacted, till at last trade along the coast from port to port was made all but impossible. Defiance to the embargo laws became so general [5] that a Force Act (1809) was passed, giving the President authority to use the army and navy in enforcing obedience. This was too much, and such a storm of indignation arose in the Eastern states that Congress repealed the embargo laws (1809) and substituted

THE NON-INTERCOURSE ACT. - This forbade commerce with Great Britain and France, but allowed it with such countries as were not under French or British control. If either power would repeal its orders or decrees, the President was to announce this fact and renew commerce with that power.

Just at this time the second term of Jefferson ended, [6] and Madison became President (March 4, 1809). [8]

THE ERSKINE AGREEMENT(1809). - And now the British minister, Mr. Erskine, offered, in the name of the king, to lift the orders in council if the United States would renew trade with Great Britain. The offer was accepted, and the renewal of trade proclaimed. But when the king heard of it, he recalled Erskine and disavowed the agreement, and Madison was forced to declare trade with Great Britain again suspended.