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The Embargo Act – Part 2

May 27, 2015

In the 21st century there seem to be no public figures whose service would qualify them for Mount Rushmore, but even the four Presidents whose likenesses are carved into the Black Hills made mistakes. The Embargo Act of 1807 was Jefferson’s big mistake, and its enforcement caused Jefferson to take uncharacteristic action against liberty.

Jefferson began with the best intentions. He simply wanted to avoid war. War would increase the size, power, and authority of the Federal government. Jefferson believed in limited government, and in order to accomplish that, he had already reduced the size of the U.S. Navy. War would be expensive, and men would lose their lives, but if England and France could be persuaded by “peaceful coercion,” they might change their behavior toward American shipping.

Colonial resistance to the Stamp Act of 1765 had been very successful in its day. Perhaps an embargo was the sort of “peaceful coercion” that would force the European combatants to respect the United States. Jefferson asked Congress for legislation, and on December 22, 1807 he signed the Embargo Act. The economies of England and France were scarcely affected, but when American business chose noncompliance over bankruptcy, Jefferson had to increase the size of government to stop them. By his efforts to maintain limited government he had created the opposite situation.

Jefferson learned from his mistake. Shortly before the end of his second term in 1809 he asked Congress to repeal the Embargo Act.

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on Windows into History (Reblogging and Links) and commented:
    Suggested reading – this blog is well worth a look for anyone interested in the history of US presidents. Reblogged on Windows into History.

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