Thomas Jefferson's Presidency

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What was peaceable coercion during Thomas Jefferson's presidency?

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In 1803, Britain and France under Napoleon re-ignited their hostilities, and American shipping became caught in their battles. Both Britain and France seized American merchant ships, and Britain forced over one thousand American sailors per year into the British Navy in a process called "impressment." In 1807, the British frigate the Leopard attempted to stop the American ship the Chesapeake so that the British ship could carry out a search. Instead, the American ship resisted, and the British killed three Americans and injured others in return.

As a result, Jefferson followed a policy of "peaceable coercion," designed to force Britain and France to cede to American demands through the Embargo Act of 1807. This act stopped the U.S. from exporting goods to Britain and France and other nations; Jefferson though Britain and France's reliance on American goods would force them to agree to his demands. Instead, Britain and France were able to acquire some of these goods from Latin America, and "peaceable coercion" was largely a failure. The act mainly hurt American producers, and it was very unpopular. Jefferson later replaced it with the Non-Intercourse Act, which allowed American manufacturers to export goods to all countries except Britain and France. 

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The term “peaceable coercion is most often connected to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.  It was President Jefferson’s approach to trying to get European countries to respect the rights of the United States and its shipping.

In 1807, France and Great Britain were at war.  They had been in conflict with one another for some years due to the French Revolution.  Their conflict came to include the United States.  This was because each side was trying to prevent the US from trading with the other side.  The US was therefore unable to exercise its right to trade as a neutral country.

President Jefferson knew that the US was not really strong enough to fight an all-out war with either of the European powers.  Therefore, he decided to try to use “peaceable coercion” to force them to respect US rights.  He used the Embargo Act to do this.  Congress passed a law ending all trade with foreign countries.  This was supposed to force (coerce) the British and French to stop blocking American shipping and it was supposed to do so without the use of military force (peaceable).

Thus, “peaceable coercion” was President Jefferson’s strategy of using economic pressure to force France and Britain to respect the US’s right to trade as a neutral country.

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