Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Missoula, Montana and The Non-Intercourse Act

(Missoula, Montana is a funny name for a town.  Kind of like that person you think is weird and quirky and then you really meet them and discover they are as rich and deep and grounded as anyone you've ever known.  Yeah, Missoula is like that!)

"Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power."  -Thomas Jefferson (sixty-five years of age) looking forward to his retirement.

Relationships are tricky.  One person's push is another person's pull.  We yank. We cut our teeth on the sharp stabs of guilt.  We manipulate leverage.  We're people after all: flawed and weak, and wonderfully resilient.  Countries, on the other hand, are far more depraved.  
(Of course, you kid yourself.  You think..  I like it here.  The streets are straight and wide, the buildings are funky and old.  There are corner shops of absolute wonder and surprise and little pockets of random absurdity to discover.)

In 1804, across the Atlantic, Napoleon declared himself emperor of France, aiming to straddle the world like an Alexander Colossus.  Yet his main struggle was at sea, for only the British had a navy as powerful as the French, and must be defeated for his global conquest to be complete.  America stood in the middle, a friend to France due to their help in the Revolutionary War, but also with strong trade ties to Britain, a rocky relationship which was strained at best.  England wanted American to stop trading with France, France wanted American to stop trading with England, and both countries pirated and raided American vessels, seizing merchandise of timber, cotton, and corn, depriving American businesses of much needed income.  Diplomacy came to a halt when Britain imposed a blockade of the Atlantic coastline, hijacking American ships and sailors, and forcing them to work under British rule.
(The people you speak to in the restaurants and shops seem very well-rounded.  They bike and kayak and hike in the mountains and every bookstore you head into has an endless array of travel guides and outdoor manuals, and adventure seeker tips.)

Enter Thomas Jefferson, who in the last days of his presidency passed "The Embargo Act of 1807" which stated that no foreign ships were allowed to import or export goods to or from America. Jefferson believed this was a kind of logic that other countries would adhere to, and that U.S. patriotism would fully support his ideals of punishment and reconciliation.  Of course, it failed miserably:  Farm prices fell; ships lay idle; sailors became jobless; and smuggling ran rampant.  Embittered, Jefferson left office to retire to Monticello, alone with his thoughts.  
(Missoula is a beautiful little city in the middle of nowhere.  Isolated, yes, but strong!  The people are confident, muscular and tall, and the sky overhead is so wide and brilliantly open, that the traveler thinks... I can make a go of it here.  This is my kind of town.)

The job was then passed to James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, who passed the "Non-Intercourse Act of 1809" which reopened trade with both Britain and France but stated that the first country to agree to respect American neutrality of trade, America would immediately stop commerce with the other. 
(But... then you get back on the highway and begin to race away.  Mile after mile click off on the dial and the little buildings seem farther and farther off on the horizon.  You tell yourself... maybe I'm not coming back.  Missoula is better off without me.   I'll just love it from afar, and so, you do.)

 Napoleon, seized the opportunity, lifted restrictions, and America cut all ties with England.  For 19 months, Britain and the U.S. went without trade.  Food shortages, mounting unemployment, and inventories were lost.  With both sides suffering, on June 1, 1812, Madison asked Congress to vote, and war with England was declared.  

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