Our greatest trouble during Jefferson’s rule was brought about by the war between France and Great Britain. The British did not want the French to have any food from abroad, and, hoping to starve them, said that no vessels should be allowed to enter French ports. The French, to take their revenge, then promptly decreed that no vessels should enter British ports To make sure these orders should be obeyed, French ships stopped all American vessels to ask where they were going. The British did the same, and, moreover, seized any men on board who were born in England, for they said: “Once an Englishman, always an Englishman.”
This, as you know, is not our way of looking at things. Americans declared that they had a right to trade with any country they pleased, and that a foreigner who had lived a certain number of years in the United States became a citizen of the country, if he chose to be so. Several quarrels on this subject had already arisen, when the British frigate Leopard suddenly chased and fired upon the American frigate Chesapeake.
The American vessel, unprepared for war, was forced to strike her colors, after three men had been killed and eighteen wounded. Then the British boarded the vessel and carried off three American sailors, saying they were deserters from the British navy. This insult, added to many others, — for the British had seized about four hundred American ships and six thousand American sailors, “made Jefferson justly angry.
Still, he decided not to declare war, for we had only twelve war ships to oppose to Britain’s thousand. Our President, therefore, merely ordered all British vessels to leave American waters, and by his advice Congress forbade our ships visiting any foreign port. This law was called the “embargo,” but most people preferred to spell that word backward, and said it was the “O grab me” Act.
It put an end to commerce, and thereby caused such a loss to our people that it had to be repealed at the end of about a year. Instead, a law was passed allowing our ships to trade with every country except Great Britain and France. As we had depended upon the French and British for goods not made in our country, manufactories were now started to supply them, and thus our land developed new industries.