Thomas Jefferson's Presidency Questions and Answers

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Thomas Jefferson Failures

What are some of Thomas Jefferson's failures?

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Thomas Jefferson is generally viewed as a very good or even great president. However, there were some shortcomings or failures during his presidency.

One of the failures is that Jefferson owned slaves and didn’t try to bring slavery to an end. It was inconsistent with his words in the Declaration of Independence about all men being equal. As president, Jefferson had the opportunity to try to do something about slavery, but he did nothing to try to end slavery.

Jefferson also wasn’t successful in dealing with Great Britain and France interfering with our trade. Great Britain and France were in a war, and they wanted to prevent American goods from reaching their enemy. As a result, each country seized our ships that were heading to their rival. Great Britain seized our ships heading to France while France seized our ships heading to Great Britain. Great Britain also impressed our sailors. Our response was to initially stop all trading with other countries by passing the Embargo Act of 1807. Jefferson was trying to avoid the United States getting dragged into this conflict between Great Britain and France. The Embargo Act of 1807 was a complete failure because our economy depended on trade. The Non-Intercourse Act was passed in 1809 that said we would trade with others, but not with Great Britain or France. We did leave the door open to trading with Great Britain or France if either country agreed to leave our shipping alone. However, so much of our trade was with Great Britain and France, this action also failed.

While Jefferson was mostly successful as our President, there were a few failures that existed.

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Jefferson is widely regarded as one of the most successful U.S. Presidents, however the Non-Importation Acts of 1806 and Embargo Act of 1807 were a couple of his policies that did not work the way they were intended. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy (Britain) had begun the nasty habit of impressing, or forcing into service, American merchants and sailors crossing the Atlantic. This not only wreaked havoc on American shipping, but thousands of Americans were kidnapped by the Royal Navy between 1806 and 1807. The Non-Importation Acts were passed in Congress, in an effort to hurt the British economy by banning the import of British goods. This came days after Jefferson personally requested Congress to issue a boycott of British goods in response to this aggression. However, this policy went largely unenforced, and British goods continued to be imported. A treaty eventually was signed between the U.S. and Britain, but it did nothing to improve the treatment of American ships and sailors by Britain.

The Embargo Act was largely a response to British aggressions, and the continued impressment of American sailors into British service. When multiple U.S. ships were fired upon by the Royal Navy in 1807, Jefferson called a special session of Congress to discuss the possibility of going to war with Britain or to sanction an embargo that would prohibit any foreign nation from receiving U.S. exports. This led to Congress passing the Embargo Act, which accomplished exactly that. The passing of the Embargo Act was a failure on the part of Jefferson because it did serious damage to the U.S. economy, led to an increase in smuggling, and posed serious risks to the neutrality of the U.S. in the Napoleonic Wars. The Embargo Act was repealed by Jefferson shortly before the end of his second term.