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Back to Hypertext History: Our Online American History Textbook

Jeffersonian Republicanism

The Eagle, the Tiger, and the Shark

Period: 1800s

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In 1804, Jefferson was easily reelected, carrying every state except Connecticut and Delaware. His second term began, he later wrote, "without a cloud on the horizon.'' But storm clouds soon gathered as a result of war between Britain and France.

In May 1803, just two weeks after Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States, France declared war on Britain. The war lasted 12 years. In 1805, France defeated the armies of Austria and Russia and gained control of much of continental Europe. Napoleon then massed his troops for an invasion of England. But at the battle of Trafalgar off the Spanish coast, the British fleet captured 14,000 French and Spanish sailors. Britain was now master of the seas; but France remained supreme on the land.

As part of his overall strategy to bring Britain to its knees, Napoleon closed European ports to British goods and ordered the seizure of any vessel that carried British goods or stopped in a British port. Britain retaliated in 1807 by issuing Orders in Council, which required all ships to land at a British port to obtain a license and pay a tariff. United States shipping was caught in the crossfire. France seized 500 ships and Britain nearly 1,000.

The most outrageous violation of America's rights was the British practice of impressment. The British navy desperately needed sailors. Unable to get enough volunteers, the British navy seized impressed men on streets and in taverns. When these efforts failed to muster sufficient men, the British began to stop foreign ships and remove seamen alleged to be British subjects. By 1811, nearly 10,000 American sailors had been forced into the British navy. Some were actually deserters from British ships who made more money sailing on U.S. ships.

Outrage over impressment reached a fever pitch in 1807 when the British man-of-war Leopard fired at the American naval frigate Chesapeake, killing three American sailors. British authorities then boarded the American ship and removed 4 sailors, only 1 of whom was really a British subject.

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