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After winning a landslide reelection victory in 1804, Jefferson and the nation were caught between France and Britain in the two countries' seemingly endless war to control Europe. Jefferson was temporarily unpopular for keeping the United States out of an early war with the great powers; America couldn't trade with either power without facing the other's guns. Both sides grabbed American merchant ships and sailors. The British forced some 6,000 American sailors to join their navy between 1808 and 1811 alone.


Question: How was Jefferson's policy of avoiding war received by the public?

Answer: Jefferson was unpopular for neutrality toward Britain and France.

Too weak to fight, the United States passed the Embargo Acts (1807), which were meant to stop all trade with foreign nations. While the United States held its breath and turned blue, the British and French managed to do without American goods. American exporters either smuggled goods or went out of business; many saw the acts as attacking Americans to fight foreigners.

To the extent that they kept foreign goods out, the Embargo Acts helped infant U.S. industries grow without competition. Some traders actually liked the cops-and-robbers aspects of the smuggling business; it was exciting, and the profits were great if you didn't get caught. Just before Jefferson left office, Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act (1809), which limited the embargo to Britain and France.

James Madison steps in

James Madison (1809), friend and follower of Jefferson, took over as president of a nation still caught in the French/British nutcracker. The 15-year U.S. headache of foreign entanglement without any foreign alliances showed the impossibility of separating the United States from the world, as both Washington and Jefferson had wished. As a trading nation, America couldn't avoid the crossfire of belligerents.

Congress made an effort to address the situation: Macon's Bill No. 2 (1810). This bill said that, if either Britain or France would end its commercial blockade, the United States would restore its embargo against the nation that didn't stop blocking trade. In other words, America would take sides, but it was first come, first served. France promised to be good; Britain didn't. America was drawn closer to another conflict with Britain.

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