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Continental System,scheme of action adopted by Napoleon INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life
The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
..... Click the link for more information. in his economic warfare with England from 1806 to 1812. Economic warfare had been carried on before 1806, but the system itself was initiated by the Berlin Decree, which claimed that the British blockade of purely commercial ports was contrary to international law. It was extended by the Warsaw Decree (1807), the Milan DecreeMilan Decree,
issued Dec., 1807, by Napoleon I of France in an attempt to enforce the Continental System. Designed to strengthen the Berlin Decree, it authorized French warships and privateers to capture neutral vessels sailing from any British port or from countries occupied by
..... Click the link for more information. (1807), and the Fontainebleau Decree (1810), which forbade trade with Great Britain on the part of France, her allies, and neutrals. Napoleon expected that the unfavorable trade balance and loss of precious metals would destroy England's credit, break the Bank of England, and ruin English industry. Great Britain retaliated by the orders in councilorders in council,
in British government, orders given by the sovereign on the advice of all or some of the members of the privy council, without the prior consent of Parliament. Orders in council, first so named in the 18th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , which forbade nearly all trade between England and any nation obeying the Berlin Decree. One of the most dramatic results of the commercial warfare was the English bombardment of neutral CopenhagenCopenhagen, battle of,
1801, an important incident of the French Revolutionary Wars. In Dec., 1800, Denmark joined Russia, Sweden, and Prussia in declaring the armed neutrality of the northern powers in the French Revolutionary Wars and in announcing that they would not comply
..... Click the link for more information. (1807) and the seizure of the Danish fleet. The trade restrictions of the continental system led to a decline of the significance of Amsterdam; it never regained its former prominence. England had control of the sea, and large-scale smuggling thrived all along the European coast (with U.S. privateers taking a large part in the illegal trade). Napoleon himself issued special licenses for trade bringing in colonial goods on the payment of duties. Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812 was brought on by Russia's refusal to conform to the decrees, and the war between England and the United States, known as the War of 1812War of 1812,
armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain, 1812–15. It followed a period of great stress between the two nations as a result of the treatment of neutral countries by both France and England during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars,
..... Click the link for more information. , was to some extent a result of the economic warfare. But so difficult was the enforcement of the system that in his effort to impose it on Russia, Napoleon had to violate it in France. Whether the continental system delayed the introduction of the Industrial Revolution to France is much debated, though it did foster the development of beet sugar manufacture and machine spinning of textiles.
See F. E. Melvin, Napoleon's Navigation System (1919); E. F. Heckscher, The Continental System (1922); G. Ellis, Napoleon's Continental Blockade (1991).