Trade Embargoes

Further Reading

Trade Embargoes: An American Perspective

Napoleonic Wars: A British/Canadian Perspective

A British/Canadian Perspective

By the early 19th century, the French Emperor Napoleon had conquered most European nations but he couldn't defeat Britain because her navy controlled the seas. Neither country was likely to win a decisive military contest, so in 1806, Britain initiated commercial warfare with France.

King George III issued an Order in Council which prohibited neutral vessels from entering ports on the French coast between Elbe and Brest unless they carried products of its own country or those of Great Britain. Napoleon responded with a decree that placed the British Isles under a similar blockade.

In January 1807, Britain issued another Order in Council to prevent neutral vessels from trading between ports in the possession of France or any of her allies. Several months later, this decree was followed up by an even more rigorous Order in Council which compelled neutral ships to call at British ports or be subject to a search by British authorities. Vessels that did not comply with these regulations were liable to seizure.

Britain was fully aware of the effect that these decrees would have on neutral trade, especially that undertaken by the Americans. However, offending the Americans seemed like a small price to pay in order to strangle the French economy.

Britain issued its final Order in Council in September 1811. Designed to promote trade between Canada and the West Indies, this decree prohibited the U.S. from selling salt fish to the West Indies and imposed severe tariffs on everything else brought into American ports.

Britain eventually realized that it could not afford to continue to restrict trade with the United States. After years of battling Napoleon, the British economy was in shambles, and British manufacturing industries were beseeching the British government to revoke the Orders in Council.

Britain agreed to withdraw the Orders once the French provided proof they were willing to repeal their own embargoes. On June 16 1812, the British Orders in Council were finally repealed. But this move came too late. The American Senate was then on the verge of approving a proposal to declare war on Britain; a proposal which was forwarded largely because of Britain's Orders in Council.