- Continental System
- A policy of economic strangulation intended by Napoleon I (see Bonaparte, Napoleo n) to cause fatal disruption to British commercial activity and concomitant advantage to French trade and agriculture. Unable to defeat Britain by direct invasion, Napoleon set out this grandiose objective through the Berlin Decree of November 21, 1806, which declared the ports of continental Europe closed to British trade. The Continental System was partly a response to British Orders in Council of January 1807 and others thereafter, which applied sanctions on maritime trade with France. In reply, all British goods found in territories under French or French allied control were confiscated. After the Treaty of Tilsit with Russia in July 1807, Napoleon applied the system to Russian ports, from which considerable trade was carried on with Britain. In this respect the system began to have its intended effect. Napoleon issued the Fontainebleau Decree on October 13, 1807, followed by the First Milan Decree on November 23 to reinforce the Berlin Decrees. Harsher measures still came into force with a Second Milan Decree of December 1807, which authorized seizure of neutral vessels unless they could produce on demand a certifi- cate indicating place of origin. If evidence showed that at any point in their journey they had docked at a British port, they were to be seized along with their entire cargo. Napoleon’s Second Milan Decree stated that any neutral vessel that allowed British warships to stop and search it for contraband articles thereby lost its neutral status and could be confiscated as if it were British. Thus no vessel was free from the restrictions and depredations of either combatant; all nations, including the United States, found its maritime trade severely curtailed.The system was effective in its early stages, but when it became clear that Spain and Portugal were evading its stipulations, Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula, extending his conquests to an area over which he was never able to establish effective control and opening a theater of operations for the British. From 1810, moreover, Tsar Alexander began to flout the regulations, a course of action that ultimately led Napoleon to invade Russia two years later. The Continental System suffered from numerous flaws, not least that it was impossible for the French to monitor every continental port. The system proved unpopular with those over whom French rule extended, depressing economies and causing great resentment, especially in the Low Countries and the northern port towns along the Baltic.See also <
>; < >; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Bergeron, Louis. France under Napoleon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981;Broers, Michael. Europe under Napoleon, 1799-1815. London: Arnold, 1996;Ellis, Geoffrey J. Continental Blockade: The Case of Alsace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989;Ellis, Geoffrey J. The Napoleonic Empire. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1991;Heckscher, E. F. The Continental System: An Economic Interpretation. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964.GREGORY FREMONT-BARNES
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.