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THE ATTACK ON THE FRIGATE CHESAPEAKE.
Several English men-of-war were, at this time, lying CHAP. in Chesapeake Bay; of the number was the frigate Leopard, of fifty guns. When it was known that the 1807. Chesapeake was about to put to sea, the Leopard passed out a few hours before, and when some miles from the coast, she neared and hailed the Chesapeake, under the pretense of sending despatches to Europe. A lieutenant came on board with a demand for the English seamen.
22. Commodore Barron refused the demand, on the ground there were no such men on board. This refusal brought a broadside from the Leopard, which killed three men and wounded eighteen others. As the attack was entirely unexpected, and Barron unprepared, he struck his colors, after firing a single gun. The four men were taken from the Chesapeake, and the Leopard passed on to Halifax, while the Chesapeake returned to Norfolk, her crew deeply mortified and thirsting for revenge.
The indignation of the whole people was intense. The insults of impressing men from merchantmen were as nothing, compared with firing into a national vessel. The President immediately issued a proclamation, in which
Jaly he complained of the outrage, and ordered the British men-of-war out of the American waters, but as he had not the power to enforce the order it was disobeyed, and the people were enjoined not to have intercourse with the British vessels. He also called a special session of Congress, and a messenger was sent to England, with instructions to the American minister to demand satisfaction for the outrage. But a fast-sailing vessel had already left Halifax with the intelligence. The British government immediately disavowed the act, and sent, soon after, a special messenger to arrange the difficulty.
In the mean while France and England vied with each other in issuing and enforcing decrees, which, in their effect, would ruin all neutral commerce. English orders in council required any vessel bound to a port in France Nov
CHAP. to touch at some English port, and there obtain a license
to proceed on the voyage. Any vessel that did not com1807. ply with this despotic decree was forbidden to export
French merchandise, unless the cargo was first brought to
an English port and paid duties before it was shipped to Dec. a neutral country. A month later Bonaparte retaliated
by another decree, dated at Milan, by which every vessel that complied with the British decree, was declared to be forfeited. Thus American commerce was preyed upon by both parties.
As a scheme of retaliation, and to bring the belliger
ents to terms, Congress, on the recommendation of the Dec. President, laid an embargo, which prohibited American
commerce with France and England. A measure lauded by its advocates as the only means to save to their country American seamen and cargoes, and at the same time
compel France and England to repeal their offensive deNov.
crees. The effect, however, was just the reverse. Bonaparte was delighted with the embargo, because it diminished just so much of England's income, her means to carry on the war against himself; on the other hand, Great Britain was not dependent on American produce, the trade to Spain and Portugal, and their colonies, had both been recently opened to her merchants, who were very willing that their enterprising rivals should remain at home to experiment on political theories. The embargo itself was exceedingly unpopular in the United States. The intelligent portion of the people was unable to see what benefit could be derived from their ships rotting in the ports, their seamen out of employment, the industry of the country prostrated, and the millions of surplus property now worthless for want of a market.
Some years before Jefferson had expressed the sentiment that the United States "should practise neither commerce nor navigation, but stand with respect to Eu
OPPOSITION TO THE EMBARGO.
rope precisely on the footing of China.” Had the people CHAY. submitted implicitly to the embargo, the system of nonintercourse with other nations would have been complete ; 1807. as it was, on the recommendation of the Executive, Congress found it necessary to pass stringent laws to enforce its observance. The President was authorized to call out the militia and employ ships as revenue cutters to prevent cargoes of American produce leaving the country. When it became known that this enforcing act had really become a law, public feeling, in many places, could be no longer restrained. Many of the papers announced its passage in mourning columns, under the motto, “Liberty is dead.” General Lincoln, of revolutionary memory, resigned the collectorship of the port of Boston rather than enforce the law; and great numbers of custom-house officers in other places did the same. In the agricultural portions of the country, the effect of the embargo was not so immediate as in the commercial. The planters and farmers, implicitly trusting in the wisdom of the Executive, stored up their cotton, tobacco and grain, hoping for a market when the belligerents would be pleased to repeal their hostile decrees.
Some good grew out of this evil. The tens of thousands thrown out of employment by the effect of the embargo and kindred measures, were compelled by the iron hand of necessity to seek a livelihood by other means, and their attention was somewhat directed to domestic manufactures.
Opposition to the embargo still continued ; in Congress violent debates were held from day to day upon the exciting topic. At length even the planters and farmers began to waver in their faith, and to see as well as the New Englanders that it was a futile measure ; that instead of bringing the French and English to terms it was the subject of their ridicule, while it was becoming more and more ruinous to the nation.
Madison, who had been elected President, plainly in
timated his wish that the obnoxious measure should, in 1807. some way, be got rid of; and three days before the close
of Jefferson's term the arbitrary act, forced upon the country without a moment's warning, and which brought ruin upon thousands in loss of property and of employment, was, to the joy of the nation, repealed.
Thus drew to a close Jefferson's administration. Nonimportation acts, so effective in colonial times, were futile under other circumstances—a fact which the advocates of the non-intercourse theory were some time in learning. There was as much diversity in estimating Jefferson's character as there was in relation to his policy. His admirers lauded him as the embodiment of political wisdom and republican simplicity. An enthusiastic believer in the power of the masses to govern themselves, he was an advocate for the rights of humanity, not merely in name but in sincerity, and as such deserves to be held in honor.
Condition of the Country.--Erskine's Negotiation.—Depredations upon
American Commerce.-Bonaparte's Rambouillet Decree.-Affair of the Little Belt.-The Census.- Indian Tronbles.-Tecumseh and the Prophet.—Battle of Tippecanoe.--The two Parties.—The Twelfth Congress.-Henry Clay.—Jokin C. Calhoun.—Threatening Aspect of Foreign Relations.—John Randolph.-Debates in Congress.-Another Em. bargo.—War declared against Great Britain.—Opposition to the War. -Riots at Baltimore.—Operations in the North-west.-Surrender of Hull.-Impressment of American Seamen.— Failures to invade Canada.
The incoming administration was virtually pledged CHAP. to continue the foreign policy of its predecessor, though that policy had not yet accomplished what its sanguine 1809. friends anticipated. The prediction of the Federaliststhe conservative party of those days—that such measures would lead to a war with England, seemed to be near its fulfilment. The prospect was gloomy indeed. The nation was totally unprepared for such an event. Neither army nor navy to command respect ; no munitions of war worthy the name; the defences of the seaboard almost worthless ; the revenue, owing to the embargo and nonintercourse acts, much diminished and diminishing more and more. The President and his cabinet desired to relieve the country of these pressing evils.
To accomplish this end, negotiations were commenced with Erskine, the resident British Minister. The youthful Erskine was a generous and noble-hearted man; a