Causes of second war with England
As the end of his first term approached, Jefferson continued to enjoy widespread popularity. Louisiana was manifestly a great prize, the country was prosperous, and the President had tried hard to please all sections. His re-election was certain, and in his next term, which began in 1805, Jefferson made his second extraordinary use of federal authority in attempting to maintain American neutrality during the colossal struggle between Great Britain and France. Both forces had set up blockades and thereby struck heavy blows at American commerce. The British acted to cut off the rich carrying-trade of American vessels in products of the French West Indies and, by proclamation, declared "blockaded" the coast of Europe from Brest to the Elbe River. The French ordered the seizure of any American ship which submitted to British search or touched at a British port. The war soon reached a point where no American craft could trade with the broad region controlled by France without being liable to seizure by the British, and none could trade with Britain without danger from France. Under these conditions commerce was crippled.
Still another grievance aroused American feeling against Great Britain. To win the war, the British were building up their navy to a point where it had more than seven hundred warships, manned by nearly 150,000 sailors and marines. This wall kept Britain safe, protected her commerce, and preserved her communications with her colonies. Yet the men of her fleet were so ill-paid, ill-fed, and ill-handled that it was impossible to obtain crews by free enlistment. Many sailors deserted and found refuge on the pleasanter and safer American vessels. In these circumstances, British officers regarded as essential the right of searching American ships and taking off British subjects. When every sailor who spoke English had been a British subject, impressment seldom involved error. But now after the establishment of the United States as an independent nation, the case was different. It was humiliating for American vessels to lay to under the guns of a British cruiser, while a lieutenant and a party of marines lined up the crew and examined them. Moreover, many British officers were charged with being arrogant and unfair, and they impressed bona fide American citizens by the scores and hundreds-ultimately, it was alleged, by the thousands.
To bring Great Britain and France to a fairer attitude without war, Jefferson finally persuaded Congress to pass the Embargo Act, a law altogether forbidding foreign commerce. Its effects were disastrous. On the one hand, the shipping interests were almost ruined by the measure, and discontent rose high in New England and New York. Then the agricultural interests found that they too were suffering heavily, for prices tumbled when the southern and western farmers could not ship overseas their surplus grain, meat, and tobacco. In a single year American exports fell to one- fifth of their former volume. But the hope that the embargo would starve Great Britain into a change of policy failed. As the grumbling at home increased, Jefferson turned to a milder measure which conciliated the domestic shipping interests. Substituted for the embargo was a non-intercourse law which permitted commerce with all countries except Britain or France and their dependencies, and paved the way for negotiations by authorizing the President to suspend the operation of the law against either of these upon the withdrawal of its restrictions upon American trade. In 1810, Napoleon officially announced that he had abandoned his measures in spite of the fact that he continued to maintain them. But the United States believed him and thereafter limited its non-intercourse to Great Britain.
Jefferson finished his second presidential term and James Madison took office in 1809. Relations with Great Britain grew worse, and the two countries drifted rapidly toward war. The President laid before Congress a detailed report, showing 6,057 instances in which the British had impressed American citizens within three years. In addition, northwestern settlers had suffered from attacks by Indians which they believed had been encouraged by British agents in Canada. In 1812, war was declared on Britain.