Continental System, the scheme of Napoleon I. for excluding Great Britain from commercial intercourse with the continent of Europe, and compelling her to acknowledge the maritime law established at the peace of Utrecht. By the Berlin decree of Nov. 21, 1806, the ports of France and its allied states were to be closed against all vessels coming from England or from English colonies; all commerce and correspondence prohibited; all English goods and merchandise seized; and every English subject found in the countries occupied by the French or their allies made a prisoner of war. The retaliatory measures adopted by the English government caused Napoleon to make the blockade still more stringent. The British retaliated by an order in council, Jan. 7, 1807, which prohibited neutral vessels from entering the ports of France under pain of confiscation; and a second order in council, Nov. 11, 1807, placed the harbors of France and her allies, and of all countries with which Great Britain was at war, under the same restrictions.
Napoleon, by a decree issued at Milan, Dec. 17, 1807, and another, from the Tuileries, Jan. 11, 1808, declared that any vessel which had been searched by an English ship, had been sent on a voyage to England, or had paid duty to the British government, should be treated as British, and become lawful prize of war. On Aug. 3, 1810, the tariff of Trianon for colonial goods was established, followed by the decree of Fontainebleau, Oct. 18, 1810, ordering the burning of all British goods. Denmark, Russia, Austria, and Sweden were successively forced to join this hostile league against Great Britain; so that, with very few exceptions, all the ports of Europe were closed against British vessels. Though it was impossible to enforce such a system with any completeness, Napoleon refused to give it up, and his declaration of war against Russia in 1812 was chiefly occasioned by his indignation at seeing the ports of that empire reopened to English commerce. The system was finally abandoned only with the fall of the French emperor in 1814.