Galled however as was America by outrages such as these, she was hindered from resenting them by her strong disinclination to war, as well as by the profit which she drew from the maintenance of her neutral position. But the Orders in Council and the Milan Decree forced her into action, and she at once answered them by an embargo of trade with Europe. After a year's trial, however, America found it impossible to maintain the embargo; and at the opening of 1809 she exchanged the embargo for an Act of Non-Intercourse with France and England alone. But the Act was equally ineffective. The American Government was utterly without means of enforcing it on its land frontier; and it had small means of enforcing it at sea. Vessels sailed daily for British ports; and at last the Non-Intercourse Act was repealed altogether. All that America persisted in maintaining was an offer that if either Power would repeal its edicts, it would prohibit American commerce with the other. Napoleon seized on this offer, and after promising to revoke his Berlin and Milan Decrees he called on America to redeem her pledge. In February 1811, therefore, the United States announced that all intercourse with Great Britain and her dependencies was at an end.
The effect of this step was seen in a reduction of English exports during this year by a third of their whole amount. It was in vain that Britain pleaded that the Emperor's promises remained unfulfilled, and that the enforcement of non-intercourse with England was thus an unjust act, and an act of hostility. The pressure of the American policy, as well as news of the warlike temper which had at last grown up in the United States, made submission inevitable; for the industrial state of England was now so critical that to expose it to fresh shocks was to court the very ruin which Napoleon had planned.
During the earlier years of the war indeed the increase of wealth had been enormous. England was sole mistress of the seas. The war gave her possession of the colonies of Spain, of Holland, and of France; and if her trade was checked for a time by the Berlin Decree, the efforts of Napoleon were soon rendered fruitless by the vast smuggling system which sprang up along the southern coasts and the coast of North Germany. English exports had nearly doubled since the opening of the century. Manufactures profited by the discoveries of Watt and Arkwright; and the consumption of raw cotton in the mills of Lancashire rose during the same period from fifty to a hundred millions of pounds. The vast accumulation of capital, as well as the vast increase of the population at this time, told upon the land, and forced agriculture into a feverish and unhealthy prosperity. Wheat rose to famine prices, and the value of land rose in proportion with the price of wheat. Inclosures went on with prodigious rapidity; the income of every landowner was doubled, while the farmers were able to introduce improvements into the processes of agriculture which changed the whole face of the country. But if the increase of wealth was enormous, its distribution was partial.
During the fifteen years which preceded Waterloo, the number of the population rose from ten to thirteen millions, and this rapid increase kept down the rate of wages, which would naturally have advanced in a corresponding degree with the increase in the national wealth. Even manufactures, though destined in the long run to benefit the labouring classes, seemed at first rather to depress them; for one of the earliest results of the introduction of machinery was the ruin of a number of small trades which were carried on at home, and the pauperization of families who relied on them for support. In the winter of 1811 the terrible pressure of this transition from handicraft to machinery was seen in the Luddite, or machine-breaking, riots which broke out over the northern and midland counties; and which were only suppressed by military force. While labour was thus thrown out of its older grooves, and the rate of wages kept down at an artificially low figure by the rapid increase of population, the rise in the price of wheat, which brought wealth to the landowner and the farmer, brought famine and death to the poor, for England was cut off by the war from the vast corn-fields of the Continent or of America, which now-a-days redress from their abundance the results of a bad harvest.
Scarcity was followed by a terrible pauperization of the labouring classes. The amount of the poor-rate rose fifty per cent.; and with the increase of poverty followed its inevitable result, the increase of crime.
The natural relation of trade and commerce to the general wealth of the people at large was thus disturbed by the peculiar circumstances of the time. The war enriched the landowner, the farmer, the merchant, the manufacturer; but it impoverished the poor. It is indeed from these fatal years which lie between the Peace of Luneville and Waterloo that we must date that war of classes, that social severance between employers and employed, which still forms the main difficulty of English politics. But it is from these years too that we must date the renewal of that progressive movement in politics which had been suspended since the opening of the war. The publication of the Edinburgh Review in 1802 by a knot of young lawyers at Edinburgh marked a revival of the policy of constitutional and administrative progress which had been reluctantly abandoned by William Pitt. Jeremy Benthamgave a new vigour to political speculation by his advocacy of the doctrine of Utility, and his definition of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" as the aim of political action.
In 1809 Sir Francis Burdett revived the question of Parliamentary Reform. Only fifteen members supported his motion; and a reference to the House of Commons, in a pamphlet which he subsequently published, as "a part of our fellow-subjects collected together by means which it is not necessary to describe" was met by his committal to the Tower, where he remained till the prorogation of the Parliament. A far greater effect was produced by the perseverance with which Canning pressed year by year the question of Catholic Emancipation. So long as Perceval lived both efforts at Reform were equally vain; but on the accession of Lord Liverpool to power the advancing strength of a more liberal sentiment in the nation was felt by the policy of "moderate concession " which was adopted by the new ministry. Catholic Emancipation became an open question in the Cabinet itself, and was adopted in 1812 by a triumphant majority in the House of Commons, though still rejected by the Lords.