British-American Trade Crisis (June 1825 -august 1827)

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John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)

British-American Trade Crisis (June 1825 -August 1827)

A long-standing dispute between the United States and Great Britain over trade between America and the British West Indies came to a head in the summer of 1825. Great Britain closed its islands in the Caribbean to American trade and the United States retaliated in kind in 1827. The dispute was blamed on President Adams and was an issue in his defeat for reelection in 1828.

The status of commerce between the United States and British colonies in the Caribbean had been a source of dispute between the countries on and off since the 1790s. The West Indies were a prime market for American farmers to sell foodstuffs, but Britain wanted to maintain control over trade in all its colonies. Therefore, the British tended to limit access to the West Indies through restrictive duties and regulations. In 1822, while Monroe was president, Britain had fully opened the trade between the United States and British Isles, it only agreed to open the West Indies trade somewhat. Monroe and then Adams pressed their diplomats in Britain to get the British government to agree to full reciprocity in both the domestic and the colonial trade. Both Monroe and Adams left American restrictions on trade with the British West Indies in place.

In retaliation for continued American commercial discrimination, the British government acted to restrict the trade from its end. On June 27, 1825 and on July 5, 1826, the British enacted new trade legislation that entirely closed the British West Indies to any and all trade with the United States. Adams dispatched Albert Gallatin on a special mission to London to negotiate a re-opening of the colonial trade, but the talks failed. (Gallatin did conclude two important boundary conventions with the British, however.) In March 1827, Adams invoked provisions of an 1823 trade act and closed United States ports to ships from the West Indies. As the tough negotiating stance with the British was Adams's policy, both as Secretary of State and as President, both politicians and voters affixed the blame for the trade crisis squarely on Adams. This set of poor diplomatic decisions was seized upon by Andrew Jackson's supporters. Adams's failure became yet another issue which contributed to his defeat in 1828.

James E. Lewis, Jr., John Quincy Adams: Policymaker for the Union (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 2001)

Lester H. Burne, ed., Chronological History of United States Foreign Relations, 1776 to January 20, 1981 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985).

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