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Berlin decree, the.

In 1803 England joined the Continental powers against Napoleon. England, offended because of the seizure of Hanover by the Prussians, at the instigation of Napoleon, made the act a pretext, in 1806, for employing against France a measure calculated to starve the empire. By Orders in Council (May 16) the whole coast of Europe from the Elbe, in Germany, to Brest, in France, a distance of about 800 miles, was declared to be in a state of blockade, when, at the same time, the British navy could not spare vessels enough from other fields of service to enforce the blockade over a third of the prescribed coast. It was essentially a “paper blockade.” The almost entire destruction of the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, a few months before, had annihilated her rivals in the contest for the sovereignty of the seas, and she now resolved to control the trade of the world. Napoleon had dissolved the German Empire, prostrated Prussia at his feet, and, from the “Imperial Camp at Berlin,” he issued (Nov. 21, 1806) the famous decree in which he declared the British Islands in a state of blockade; forbade all correspondence or trade with England; defined all articles of English manufacture or produce as contraband, and the property of all British subjects as lawful prize of war. He had scarcely a ship afloat when he made this decree. This was the beginning of what was afterwards called “the Continental System,” commenced avowedly as a retaliatory measure, and designed, primarily, to injure, and, if possible, to destroy, the property of England. By another Order in Council (January, 1807) Great Britain restrained neutrals from engaging in the coasting-trade between one hostile port and another, a commerce hitherto allowed, with some slight exceptions. This was but the extension to all hostile ports of the blockade of the coast from the Elbe to Brest established by a former order. On Nov. 17, 1807, another British Order in Council was issued, which prohibited all neutral trade with France or her allies, unless through Great Britain. In retaliation for these orders Napoleon promulgated, Dec. 17, 1807, from his “Palace at Milan,” a decree which extended and made more vigorous that issued at Berlin. It declared every vessel which should submit to be searched by British cruisers. or should pay any tax, duty, or license money to the British government, or should be found on the high seas or elsewhere bound to or from any British port, denationalized and forfeit. With their usual servility to the dictates of the conqueror, Spain and Holland issued similar decrees.

In March, 1810, information reached the President of the United States that the French minister for Foreign Affairs, in a letter to Minister Armstrong, had said that if England would revoke her blockade against France, the latter would revoke her “Berlin decree.” Minister Pinkney, in London, approached the British minister on the subject, and, to aid in the peaceful negotiations, Congress repealed the nonintercourse and non-importation laws on May 1, 1810. For these they substituted a law excluding both British and French armed vessels from the waters of the United States. The law provided that, in case either Great Britain or France should revoke or so modify their acts before March 3, 1811, as not to violate the neutral commerce of the United States, and if the other nation should not, within three months thereafter, in like manner revoke or modify its edicts, the provisions of the non-intercourse and non-importation acts should, at the expiration of the three months, be revived against the nation so neglecting or refusing to comply. The French minister thereupon, on Aug. 5 following, officially declared that the Berlin and Milan decrees had been revoked, and would be inoperative after Nov. 1, it being understood that, in consequence of that revocation. the English should revoke the Orders in Council. Having faith in these declarations, the President issued a proclamation on Nov. 2, announcing this revocation of the French decrees and declaring the discontinuance, on the part of the United States, of all commercial restrictions in relation to France. But the French were playing false, and England suspected it, for she had many reasons for [336] doubting Gallic faith. So had the Americans, but still they were willing to trust France once again. They were deceived; the decrees were not revoked, and a later one, issued at Rambouillet, was only suspended. The English refused to rescind on the faith of only a letter by the French minister; and this attempt on the part of the Americans to secure peace and justice was futile. See embargo act, first; orders in council.

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