For much of the first decade of the 19th century, American shippers enjoyed status as the primary neutral carrier between France and Britain, who were engaged in the Napoleonic Wars. At any one time, W.B. Giles estimated in 1808, one hundred twenty million dollars in American vessels and cargo were afloat and another fifty million was expected to be launched shortly. Eventually, both combatants began to molest American merchant marine ships. Britain also had another motive for attacking American ships - impressment. The vast British navy required a similarly vast workforce to keep a stranglehold on the oceans, and deny France use of the ocean. This need could not be provided by volunteer enlistment. British vessels often carried clubs and stretchers for the rather crude conscription tactic of impressment, and many U.S. ships were attacked for the sole purpose of spiriting off American sailors. It is estimated that over six thousand American citizens found themselves sailing under the Union Jack in this way.
It was followed by the Non-Intercourse Act, lifting all embargoes except for those on Britain and France, and Macon's Bill Number 2, lifting the remaining embargoes. Attempts to enforce them led to near-rebellion in New England, a traditional Federalist stronghold and one of the hardest regions hit by the elimination of foreign trade. Sometimes ridiculed as the O-grab-me (embargo spelled backwards), dambargo, or go-bar-'em act.
The Embargo Act also had some benefits, especially for America's infant domestic manufacturing industries.
It was a precursor to the War of 1812.