Sunday, December 22, 2013

'Tis the Season for Opinons: Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807

President Jefferson addressing a group of disgruntled men, as he defends the policy of his Embargo which, combined with the Non-Intercourse Act, was intended to bring about a suspension of foreign commerce. Circa 1808, from LOC.gov

In a December 20 op-ed posted on Forbes.com, commentators Mieke Eoyang and Gabriel Horwitz proclaimed our founding fathers would be "horrified" by the NSA's collection efforts. Specifically, that our third President would be "dismayed" that our government "was doing things that could hurt our competitiveness and our ability to set the terms of global trade."

Perhaps in hindsight, yes. But with the Embargo Act, signed into law on December 22, 1807, Thomas Jefferson did his part to both expand government and limit our global competitiveness.

A ban on trade between the United Kingdom and France was intended as a diplomatic response to these militarily-superior nation's flagrant refusal to honor US neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars. Instead of economic harm to our enemies, however, the policy inflicted a devastating burden on the U.S. economy, while managing only to postpone the war until 1812.

According to historian Leonard Levy, Jefferson's doctrinaire approach to enforcing the embargo violated his own commitment to limited government. It also had the pernicious effect of undermining American citizens' faith that their government could execute its own laws fairly, and strengthened the conviction among America's dissenters that her republican form of government was inept and ineffectual.

After just 15 months, the embargo was revoked on March 1, 1809, in the last days of Jefferson's presidency.

An opinion piece from the time, taken from the Library of Congress, reveals that expanded government--even when enacted by a cherished founding father!--is an idea whose unpopularity stands the test of time. Below one citizen expressed his frustration in an aa bb rhyming pattern. (Oh that all op-eds could be written in verse.)

A Poem about General Washington with Some Remarks on Jeffersonian Policy
Reprinted by Nathaniel Coverly, Boston 1807

But we must all forbear to sigh
Since WASHINGTON was born to die,
He ever was his country's friend
But Washington must have an end
And must it be since he is dead,
That all our happiness is fled;
Behold the dismal change of late,
See JEFFERSON in chair of state.

He took to presidential chair,
And then soon after we did hear,
Of his great doings, and his fame
He sent to France and fetch'd Tom Paine,
To give him counsel and advice
To buy Louisiana with great price,
For want of money sold our ships
I'm sure we all know how he nips

Gunboats--he then went and built
To save men's blood from being spilt
Poor things indeed we all do know,
That ne'er defend us from the foe,
He then exerted all his wits
And laid an embargo on our ships,
And for fear that we should trade
'Gainst Canada embargoes laid.

Great Washington our friend is dead
And Jefferson reigns in his stead,
Much reason then to mourn and sigh,
But Jefferson must die
A man he is a frail one too
At sad experience now doth shew
Then will forsake out present head
And chase a better in his stead.

Banker's Notes would like to wish all of you a very Happy Holidays, and say a big THANK YOU for blessing me by joining the Banker's Notes family this year.

With gratitude,
Cara

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Flannery O'Connor

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