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Embargo acts.

The British Orders in Council (Nov. 6, 1793) and a reported speech of Lord Dorchester (Guy Carleton) to a deputation of the Western Indians, produced much indignation against the British government. Under the stimulus of this excitement Congress passed (March 26, 1794) a joint resolution laying an embargo on commerce for thirty days. The measure seemed to have chiefly in view the obstructing the supply of provisions for the British fleet and army in the West Indies. It operated quite as much against the French. Subsequently (April 7) a resolution was introduced to discontinue all commercial intercourse with Great Britain and her subjects, as far as respected all articles of the growth or manufacture of Great Britain or Ireland, until the surrender of the Western posts and ample compensation should be given for all losses and damages growing out of British aggression on the neutral rights of the Americans. It was evident from the course that the debate assumed and from the temper manifested by the House that the resolution would be adopted. This measure would have led directly to war. To avert this calamity, Washington was inclined to send a special minister to England. The appointment of John Jay (q. v.) followed.

On the receipt of despatches from Minister Armstrong, at Paris, containing information about the new interpretation of the Berlin decree and also of the British Orders in Council, President Jefferson, who had called Congress together earlier than usual (Oct. 25, 1807), sent a message to that body communicating facts in his possession and recommending the passage of an embargo act— “an inhibition of the departure of our vessels from the ports of the United States.” The Senate, after a session of four hours, passed a bill—22 to 6—laying an embargo on all shipping, foreign and domestic, in the ports of the United States, with specified exceptions and ordering all vessels abroad to return home forthwith. This was done in secret session. The House, also with closed doors, debated the bill three days and nights, and it was passed by a vote of 82 to 44, and became a law Dec. 22, 1807.

Unlimited in its duration and universal in its application, the embargo was an experiment never before tried by any nation—an attempt to compel two belligerent powers to respect the rights of neutrals by withholding intercourse with all the world. It accomplished nothing, or worse than nothing. It aroused against the United States whatever spirit of honor and pride existed in both nations. Opposition to the measure, in and out of Congress, was violent and incessant, and on March 1, 1809, it was repealed. At the same time Congress passed a law forbidding all commercial intercourse with France and England until the Orders in Council and the decrees should be repealed.

Bonaparte's response to the Embargo Act of 1807 was issued from Bayonne, April 17, 1808. He was there to dethrone his Spanish ally to make place for one of his own family. His decree authorized the seizure and confiscation of all American vessels in France, or which might arrive in France. It was craftily answered, when Armstrong remonstrated, that, as no American vessels could be lawfully abroad after the passage of the Embargo Act, those pretending to be such must be British vessels in disguise.

Feeling the pressure of the opposition to the embargo at home, Pinckney was authorized to propose to the British ministry a repeal of the Embargo Act, as to Great Britain, on condition of the recall [232] of her Orders in Council. Not wishing to encounter a refusal, Pinckney sounded Canning, the secretary of foreign affairs, who gradually led the American


minister into making a formal proposition. To this Canning made a reply (Sept. 28, 1808) in writing, unsurpassed in diplomatic cunning and partially concealed sarcasm. It also contained sound views on the whole subject of the orders and decrees. Canning insisted that, as France was the original aggressor, by the issuing of the Berlin decree, retaliation (the claimed cause of the embargo) ought, in the first instance, to have been directed against that power alone; and England could not consent to buy off a hostile procedure, of which she ought never to have been made the object, at the expense of a concession made, not to the United States, upon whom the operation of the British orders was merely incidental, but to France, against which country, in a spirit of just retaliation, they had been originally aimed. The Berlin decree had been the beginning of an attempt to overthrow the political power of Great Britain by destroying her commerce, and almost all Europe had been compelled to join in that attempt; and the American embargo had, in fact, come in aid of Napoleon's continental system. This attempt, Canning said, was not likely to succeed, yet it was important to the reputation of Great Britain not to show the least sign of yielding while the slightest doubt existed of its unequivocal failure, or the smallest link in the confederacy against her remained undissolved. The disconcerted American ambassador, evidently piqued at the result of his proposition, advised his government to persevere in the embargo. The embargo was far less effectual abroad than it was supposed it would be, and the difficulty of maintaining it strictly at home caused its repeal in March, 1809. The decided support of the embargo given by both Houses of Congress was supplemented by resolutions of the legislatures of Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. An enforcement act was passed (January, 1809), and, to make it efficient, the employment of twelve additional revenue cutters was authorized; also the fitting out for service of all the ships-of-war and gunboats. This enforcement act was despotic, and would not have been tolerated except as a temporary expedient, for the Orders in Council were mild in their effects upon American trade and commerce compared with that of this Embargo Act. It pretty effectually suppressed extensive smuggling, which was carried on between the United States and Canada and at many sea-ports, especially in New England. But the opposition clamored for its repeal. At the opening of 1814 there were expectations, speedily realized, of peace near; also of a general pacification of Europe. These signs were pointed to by the opposition as cogent reasons for the repeal. These considerations had weight, added to which was the necessity for increasing the revenue. Finally, on Jan. 19 (1814), the President recommended the repeal of the Embargo Act, and it was done by Congress on April 14. There were great rejoicings throughout the country, and the demise of the Terrapin was [233] hailed as a good omen of commercial prosperity. The Death of the embargo was celebrated in verses published in the Federal Republican newspaper of Georgetown, in the District of Columbia. These were reproduced in the New York Evening post, with an illustration designed by John Wesley Jarvis, the painter, and drawn and engraved on wood by Dr. Alexander Anderson. The picture was redrawn and engraved by Dr. Anderson, on a reduced scale, in 1864, after a lapse of exactly fifty years. The lines which it illustrates are as follows:

Terrapin's address.

Reflect, my friend as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I:
As I am now, so you may be—
Laid on your back to die like me!
I was, indeed, true sailor born;
To quit my friend in death I scorn.
Once Jemmy seemed to be my friend,
But basely brought me to my end!
Of head bereft, and light, and breath,
I hold Fidelity in death:
For ‘Sailors' Rights’ I still will tug;
And Madison to death I'll hug,
For his perfidious zeal displayed
For ‘Sailors' Rights and for Free-trade.’
This small atonement I will have—
I'll lug down Jemmy to the grave.
Then trade and commerce shall be free,
And sailors have their liberty.
Of head bereft, and light, and breath,
The Terrapin, still true in death,
Will punish Jemmy's perfidy—
Leave trade and brother sailors free.

Death of Terrapin, or the embargo

Passenger's reply

Yes, Terrapin, bereft of breath,
We see thee faithful still in death.
Stick to't— “ Free-trade and Sailors' Rights.”
Hug Jemmy—press him—hold him—bite.
Never mind thy head-thou'lt live without it;
Spunk will preserve thy life-don't doubt it.
Down to the grave, ta atone for sin,
Jemmy must go with Terrapin.
Bear him but off, and we shall see
Commerce restored and sailors freely
Hug, Terrapin, with all thy might—
Now for “Free-trade and sailors' right.”
Stick to him, Terrapin! to thee the nation
Now eager looks—then die for her salvation.
Floreat Respublica.

Banks of Goose Creek, City of Washington, 15th April, 1814.

The continued aggressions of the British upon American commerce created a powerful war party in the United States in 811, and a stirring report of the committee on foreign relations, submitted to Congress in November, intensified that feeling. Bills were speedily passed for augmenting the army, and other preparations for war were made soon after the opening of the year 1812. The President was averse to war, but his party urged and threatened him so pertinaciously that he consented to declare war against Great Britain. As a preliminary measure he sent a confidential message to Congress (April 1, 1812) recommending the passage of an act laying an embargo for sixty days. A bill was introduced to that effect by Mr. Calhoun, of South Carolina, which prohibited the sailing of any vessel for any foreign port, except foreign ships with such cargoes as they might have on board when notified of the act. The bill was passed (April 6), and was speedily followed by a supplementary act, (April 14) prohibiting exportations by land, whether of goods or specie. The latter measure was called the land embargo. It was vehemently denounced, for it suddenly suppressed an active and lucrative trade between the United States and Canada.

It was ascertained that the British blockading squadron in American waters was constantly supplied with provisions from American ports by unpatriotic men; [234] also that British manufactures were being introduced on professedly neutral vessels. Such traffic was extensively carried on, especially in New England ports, where magistrates were often leniently disposed towards such violators of law. In a confidential message (Dec. 9, 1813) the President recommended the passage of an embargo act to suppress the traffic, and one passed both Houses on the 17th, to remain in force until Jan. 1, 1815, unless the war should sooner cease. It prohibited, under severe penalties, the exportation, or attempt at exportation, by land or water, of any goods, produce, specie, or live-stock; and to guard against evasions even the coast trade was entirely prohibited. This bore heavily on the business of some of the New England sea-coast towns. No transportation was allowed, even on inland waters, without special permission from the President. While the act bore so heavily on honest traders, it pretty effectually stopped the illicit business of “speculators, knaves, and traders, who enriched themselves at the expense of the community.” This act, like all similar --ones, was called a “terrapin policy” ; and illustrative of it was a caricature representing a British vessel in the offing, some men embarking goods in a boat on the shore, and a stout man carrying a barrel of flour towards the boat, impeded by being seized by the seat of his pantaloons by an enormous terrapin, urged on by a man who cries out, “D—n it, how he nicks 'em.” The victim exclaims, “Oh! This cursed Ograbme!” —the letters of the last word, transposed, spell embargo. This act was repealed in April, 1814.

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