Although in early 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte, French military commander and emperor, had annexed most of continental Europe, he was on the brink of disaster. Britain, whom he dismissed as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, continued to fight Napoleon and paid European coalition members to field armies against him. Napoleon, determined to starve Britain of money and destroy its economy, implemented the Continental System: an embargo on trade with Britain, which prohibited Britain from trading with his empire and its allies. While this caused economic distress to the British economy and fomented internal discontent, it rebounded on Napoleon; the British counter-blockaded and used their naval superiority to prevent US ships from delivering goods to the continent. Napoleon’s demands for compliance with the Continental System ultimately backfired; the refusal of Portugal and Russia to cooperate triggered the Peninsular War (1807–14) and the ill-fated invasion of Russia in June 1812, which precipitated the Empire’s downfall, with coalition victories against Napoleon at Leipzig (1812) and Waterloo (1815).
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