After his Navy was destroyed at Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon realized that if his empire was ever going to be secure, he would have to defeat Britain. With his navy gone, Napoleon knew a direct assault on island (Britain) was for the time impossible, so he decided to wage economic war against the "nation of shopkeepers", as he called the British. His plan to bring Britain to its knees was called the Continental System
In November 1806 he issued the Berlin Decrees, which declared that Britain was in a state of blockade and that no vessel coming directly from Britain or her colonies would be allowed into any port under French control.
However, so long as Russia refused to implement the Continental System, British goods could still get access to Europe via the Baltic Sea and Adriatic Sea. This therefore accounts for the clause in the Treaty of Tilsit, signed between France and Russia in 1807, where the Czar promised to implement the Continental System.
The Continental System had some success in hurting British trade and economic interests. By some estimates, British trade declined by as much as fifty percent. It also benefited the some parts of the French manufacturing sector by acting essentially as a protective tariff, making British imports unavailable or unaffordable in France and its territories. This stimulated the growth of some local manufacturing and many French capitalists and industrialists made large profits as a result of the embargo on British goods. However it also killed off many trade based industries and deeply hurt the economies of major French ports such as Marseilles. Moreover, the Continental System could not be strictly enforced.
Causes of the Failure of the Continental System
1. It was an impossible scheme. Every country was not expected to bear the innumerable stresses by following this scheme.
2. French navy was not so powerful to control the vast sea.
3. Most of the European countries including France depended British goods and they could not possibly live without these goods. But after the supply of these articles was stopped, people had to face great difficulties and they began to oppose this scheme vehemently.
In 1807 Napoleon himself purchased fifty thousand overcoats from Great Britain through Holland at the time of the battle of Eyleau.
4. The smuggling of goods became widespread in the entire Europe and Napoleon could not check this black marketing due to his weak navy.
5. Portugal and Spain also did not join this scheme and extended their cooperation to England.
6. Napoleon lost the sympathy of people. They began to hate for his selfish and tyrannical rule. Napoleon failed to cope with the rising tide of public opinion.
Continental system and downfall of Napolean
Napoleon’s ambition to implement the continental system dragged him to the peninsular war which he called “an ulcer that destroyed me”. The Portuguese and Spaniards turned and united against him at the battle of Trafalga. This defeat proved to the world that Napoleon could be defeated, over 20,000 of his soldiers surrendered and it also weakened Napoleon’s military strength. This led to the downfall of Napoleon in 1815 .
The Moscow campaign(1812)
The continental system entangled Napoleon into disastrous Moscow campaign which was the turning point in his military and political career in France and Europe. He experienced the heaviest military loss in the history of the world. It led to his downfall in that; He lost over 580,000 troops which weakened Napoleon military that is why he was defeated by the 4th and 5th coalitions
Hazen writes: "The continental system was a great blunder on the part of Napoleon.
So we can say continental system played an important role in the downfall of Napoleaon.