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During the conflict between Britain and France, the United States remained neutral. President Thomas Jefferson wanted to maintain the United States' neutrality in order to continue trading with Europe. Over the next four years, tensions with Britain and France ramped up as both countries refused to honor the US's neutral status. Both countries boarded American merchant ships, impressed sailors, and searched their cargo.
By 1807, the British had become increasingly bold and attacked
the American military ship, the USS Chesapeake, just of the coast of Virginia. The British ship was allegedly looking for British deserters, but this was part of Britain's effort to harass American shipping. Britain had already banned the United States from trading with France and its colonies.
The HMS Leopard fired on the Chesapeake and killed three American sailors. Additionally, the British board the ship and seized four American sailors. This attack differed from previous engagements because the Chesapeake was not a merchant ship, but a ship the United States Navy. This incident ratcheted up the potential for conflict between the United States and Britain.