Form 1808 to 1811, several thousand US citizens were impressed onto British ships. Along with being taken away from their families and jobs, a considerable proportion of these impressments victims ended up dying while serving in press- gangs. In British impressments of Americans, the US certainly had a worthwhile grievance, and one crystallized by the 1807 Chesapeake Incident, which occurred just off US shores.

Regarding the Chesapeake Incident in 1807, British officials quickly apologized, admitting that the British captain had violated international law by boarding a vessel from a sovereign navy. The apology did not appease most Americans, however. The War of 1812 would likely have started in 1807 except that Jefferson realized that the US Army and Navy were at the time inadequate for the task of fighting the British. Since France and Britain both needed US goods, especially raw materials (American cotton), Jefferson felt an embargo was a good way to retaliate against both Britain and France for the economic sanctions they had imposed against the US without endangering US sovereignty or individual lives.

The Embargo Act of 1807 seemed like a compromise between war and doing nothing. However, it greatly upset New Englanders, who relied heavily on transatlantic shipping for their livelihoods. The embargo probably hurt New England more than France or Britain. American smuggling rose dramatically. Ironically, just before the US declared war, Britain revoked the Orders in Council in June of 1812. Apparently the embargo had finally gotten to the British, but the young US had not waited long enough.

Jefferson later admitted the embargo had been a mistake. The embargo hurt the US badly, he said, but didn't have that much effect on England or France. Later, Jefferson wished he had worked on building up a better navy instead of wasting time on the embargo. However, the embargo did have one crucial positive result for American history. Because it kept British manufactured goods out, American factories did not have to compete with low-priced British goods flooding the market. American manufacturing got a serious boost during the embargo and War of 1812 period, accelerating the US industrial revolution.

Popular pages: The War of 1812 (1809-1815)