Continental System

Continental System:

After signing the Treaty of Tilsit, the only remaining enemy of France was England, and supremacy over Europe could not be established without defeating England. It is a well-known fact that England is surrounded by sea and possesses an invincible fleet. Therefore, it was not easy for the French fleet and troops to defeat England. But Napoleon was confident of England’s defeat in a tactical battle. He was well aware that England existed on the continental trade and commerce. England could be compelled to capitulate only if her trade and commerce were destroyed. With the aim of undoing the economic system of England, Napoleon implemented a scheme known as the “Continental System”. It is also called the policy of business boycotts. As a matter of fact, it was a typical system under which the European countries had to carry out Napoleon’s ordinances and orders by organizing an economic boycott of England. By dint of economic boycott, Napoleon intended to ruin the prosperity of England and compel her to sign a humiliating treaty.

On November 21, 1806, Napoleon barricaded the British Isles by means of the Berlin ordinance and banned European trade with England and all her colonies. All the ports of Europe were put under an embargo for British ships. They were ordered to seize the trespassing ships with cargo. After that, Napoleon issued the Warsaw ordinance on January 25, 1807, and banned British trade on the sea-coasts of Prussia and Hanover.

In response to the above two steps of France, England issued ordinances called “Orders in Council” in January 1807, which enjoined that the ships of France and its allies would not be allowed to cross the regions dominated by England nor independent trade would be carried out with them. As a matter of fact, England took retaliatory measures against its enemies by issuing such orders. Holland Rose writes, “Napoleon’s embargo was merely a threat. But England stopped the imports of colonial goods to France in response to these threats”. In reply to the British proclamation, Napoleon issued an order on December 17, 1807, from Milan. The Milan ordinance was sterner than the Berlin ordinances. It was emphasized in the Milan ordinance that any ship of any country coming to the British port, should be seized and its cargo confiscated.

Continental system, a token of Napoleon’s queer prudence aimed at eliminating the commercial supremacy of England in order to establish France as a center of European commerce. The steps he took to implement his scheme, entangled him into terrible battles. His policy proved detrimental to him as well as to Europe. The strong army of England barricaded European ports so strictly that the connection of Europe with its colonies was severed. Export and import in Europe came to a standstill. Napoleon thought that the French industries would meet the demand of Europe but the French factories could not be modernized so soon, nor could every kind of article be manufactured in them. In addition to it, the French commodities and products were not of high quality and their price was very high. Owing to the continental system, European businessmen had to face the ordeals of heavy slump in business, and the people of Europe were thrown into misery. The scarcity of essential commodities to common people became intolerable and smuggling increased. The supply of goods started clandestinely through neutral countries but the prices of goods escalated tremendously.

European countries did not like the continental system. The states dominated by France were constrained to cooperate with her although they had to bear the brunt of great sacrifice and hardships. The majority of European countries were compelled to follow his continental system. Sweden, Holland, and the Papal States protested against the policy. Portugal refused to sever its old friendly relations with England. Napoleon in company with Spain launched an attack upon Portugal and annexed it to his state. On that occasion, Napoleon had said, “The decline of the Braganza dynasty testifies to the fact that whoever clings to the English, is doomed”. In this way, Napoleon made his friends discontented with his continental system. Napoleon’s younger brother who was posted in Holland said about the mentality of his elder brother, “He did not like to listen to any complaint or criticism of the struggle against England and he pursued his policy at the cost of spurning the laws of politics and economics”. In fact, Napoleon’s policy of decimating England was suicidal and beyond practical intelligence and political goals.

Undoubtedly, the continental system was a queer invention of Napoleon’s mind and if it had succeded, the trend of world history might have changed. His aim was to diminish the commercial supremacy of England from Europe and to make France a center of commercial activities. But it was Napoleon’s bad luck that his policy could not succeed and England retained its influence over international trade and sea routes.

Important Links:

Intellectual Enlightenment
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Economic Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Unsuccessful Attempt of the Royal Family to Flee the Country
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?
Importance of the French Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The Foreign Policy of Louis Philippe
Causes of the Revolution of February 1848
Napoleon Ascendency
Consulate Rule and Constitution of 1799
Reforms of Napoleon
Napoleon Concord With Pope
Napoleonic Code
The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799