The central claim is that at this level of government and mercantile practice, the Embargo was a clash of competing market moralities in the early republic. On the one hand, the Jefferson administration justified the Embargo as a moral police action with a familiar critique of commerce and European mercantilism. Only by withdrawing entirely from the corrupting forces of Atlantic market culture, argued Jefferson, could the United States morally readjust both the national economy the world economic order. Yet, in practice on the waterfronts of American ports, key commercial personae perceived the Embargo as an unjust restriction upon the wellspring of American prosperity. Most importantly, among the adherents of this critique were the federal customs employees responsible implementing the Embargo. Dismissing administrative orders from superior officers, the customhouses consistently accommodated local merchant communities by any number of methods of obfuscation, delay, or outright dishonesty. That is, these officials, merchants, captains and seamen, shared an understanding of the Atlantic market as a wellspring of possibility, rather than peril.
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