CONTINENTAL SYSTEM, a plan de vised by Napoleon to exclude Great Britain from all intercourse with the continent of Eu rope and thus compelling her to acknowledge the maritime law as established at the Peace of Utrecht. The history of the continental system began with the famous decree of Berlin of 21 Nov. 1806, by which the British Islands were declared to be in a state of blockade; all com merce, intercourse and correspondence were prohibited; every Briton found in France, or a country occupied by French troops, was de clared a prisoner of war; all property belonging to Britons was accounted fair prize, and all trade in British goods was entirely prohibited. No vessel coming directly from Great Britain or British colonies, or which had been there since the publication of the edict, was to be admitted into any harbor, and all vessels at tempting to avoid this edict by false declara tions were to be confiscated, with all their goods, as British. The reasons assigned for this decree were, that Great Britain did not acknowledge the international law aocepted by civilized nations, but treated every individual belonging to the country of the enemy as if found in arms; made even the crews of mer chantmen prisoners of war; extended the right of conquest over merchantinent and private property, and the right of blockade over places and harbors not fortified; over the mouths of rivers; nay, over whole coasts and countries. But many of these measures had always been taken, in maritime ways, even by France her self, as long as she had the means. One great reason for this and all the subsequent decrees of Napoleon was that he considered Great Britain his inveterate enemy and the enemy of the political doctrines which took their rise from the Revolution.
Great Britain immediately directed reprisals against the Berlin decree, first by an order in council of 7 Jan. 1807, by which all neutral ves sels were prohibited to sail from one port to another belonging to France, or one of her allies, or to a nation so much under her con trol that British vessels could not have inter course with it. Every neutral vessel which should violate this order was to be confiscated with her cargo. A second decree of 11 Nov. 1807 was much more oppressive to commerce. By this all harbors and places of France and her allies in Europe and the colonies, as like wise every country with which Great Britain was at war, and from which the British flag was excluded, were subjected to the same restric tions as if they were closely blockaded; all com merce in the manufactures and productions of such countries was prohibited, and vessels en gaged in such commerce were to be confiscated, as also all those vessels whose certificates showed that they were built in the enemy's country. Another order in council declared the
sale of vessels by the enemy to neutrals un lawful, and the intended transfer of property void.
Hardly were these orders promulgated when France made counter-reprisals. By a decree of Milan of 17 Dec. 1807, aggravated by a decree of the Tuileries 11 Jan. 1808, every vessel, of whatsoever flag, which had been searched by a British vessel, and consented to be sent to Great Britain, or had paid any duty whatever to Great Britain, was to be declared denationalized, and to have become British property; and in every case such denationalized vessel, as also those which had broken the blocicade declared against the Ionian Islands, or had sailed from a British harbor or British colony, or those of a country occupied by the British, or which were destined for any such ports, were declared good prize. By the Treaty of Tilsit (1807) Russia consented to close her ports to English commerce. In order the more effectually to annihilate the British commerce, the tariff of Trianon, re specting colonial goods, was proclaimed 3 Aug. 1810. This was extended by another decree of 12 September of the same year, and both were followed by the decree of Fontainebleau, 18 October of the same year, directing the burning of all British goods. These decrees were to be executed with more or fewer modifications in all countries connected with France. The con sequence was that the price of colonial goods rose enormously; a regular smuggling trade was carried on at different points; for instant* at Heligoland, which was sometimes so crowded with persons concerned in this business that a ducat was paid for a barrel to sleep in; thou sands of substitutes for colonial goods, particu larly for coffee and sugar, were invented, and a variety of manufactures grew up on the Com tinent which were the germs of very extensive and flourishing branches of industry. The sys tem was abolished immediately after the fall of Napoleon. But its continuance on the English side was one of the causes of the War of 1812. Consult Mahan, 'The Influence of Sea Power on the French Revolution and Empire) (Bos ton 1894) ; Thiers, (Histoire du consulat et de l'empire) (Paris 1845-62) Cime, (Etude sur les tarifs de douane et les iraites de commerce) (Paris 1875) ; Adams, Henry, 'History of the United States) (New York (1889-91).