Non-Importation Act (1806)


Legislation intended to stop England from violating the shipping rights of the United States through economic coercion.

The Non-Importation Act, passed by the United States in April 1806, had its intellectual foundations in the colonial protests that occurred in reaction to imperial policies and the belief that commercial discrimination by the United States could influence the course of British policy. In 1805, Britain changed its policy toward the “broken voyage”—which allowed ships to circumvent the British blockade by first stopping at an American port before continuing to their final des-tination—and began seizing American ships. Britain claimed that this action violated England’s notion of neutral shipping.

The United States viewed Britain’s acts as a violation of its rights, and in late January 1806, Congress began deliberating a response. Republican Representative Joseph Nicholson of Maryland proposed a measure that received majority support in Congress and would eventually develop into the Non-Intercourse Act. Rather than supporting a ban on all English imports, Nicholson proposed limiting nonimportation to goods that could be either produced in the United States or obtained from other countries. In the final act, this reasoning evolved into a long list of prohibited items that included hemp, flax, and certain woolen and metal goods. Also, Congress delayed the act, scheduling it to go into effect at the end of 1807.

The reason for this delay was Thomas Jefferson’s belief that the administration could use the threat of nonimportation to gain favorable treatment for American shipping from the British. However, over the next year, both Britain and France intensified their efforts to thwart the trade of neutrals with the other state, and both nations preyed on American shipping. These actions forced Jefferson to take more drastic measures; in 1807 the United States rejected the concept of limited nonimportation embodied by the Non-Importation Act (which was never put in place) and passed the Embargo Act of 1807, which prohibited U.S. trade with France and England.

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