Impressment and Search was a policy followed by Great Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries that allowed the British Royal Navy to force American sailors to work on British ships. The problem began when the Merchant Marine of the United States began to flourish. In order to help buisiness go smoothly, the Merchant Marine of the United States hired British sailors to work on the American ships. However, the British Navy also needed sailors, so British captains would stop American ships in order to search for "deserters from the Royal Navy." In actuality, only ten percent of the conscripted sailors were British subjects. Any sailor who spoke English was in danger of being seized, regardless of nationality. This caused friction between the United States and Great Britain.
The United States tried to remedy the problem through diplomacy several times, but the British government would not listen. Although America had no problem with British citizens being taken, it was a problem for American sailors to be accused of being British deserters. Also, the American government believed that British sailors could become American citizens, thereby gaining protection from the British press gangs. Great Britain, however, disagreed. According to the British, any person born in the British Empire had no power to become a citizen of another country. Eventually, the American government issued certificates to sailors proclaiming the sailor to be an American citizen. This method of protecting Americans failed, as the Royal Navy claimed that many of the certificates were sold to British citizens.
In the June of 1807, the Leopard, a British frigate, attacked the USS Chesapeake in American waters. After a fight, the Chesapeake captain surrendered, and the British captured four men, only one of whom was British. The Royal Navy then charged all four men with desertation and executed them on the spot. This started a series of arguments between the United States and Great Britain that culminated in the War of 1812. It was not until 1815 that the policy of Impressment and Search was abandoned.