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Teaching With Documents:
Launching the New U.S. Navy

Background

The United States won its independence from Great Britain with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but freedom of the seas was yet to be achieved. In the years following the Revolutionary War, Barbary pirates preyed on American vessels and held seamen for ransom. As a result of such foreign interference with essential trade, the new country's weak economy began to suffer, and a national debate ensued. Suspicious of centralized power and a standing military, followers of Thomas Jefferson thought it was wiser and cheaper to meet the demands for ransom, while Federalists believed that a national navy would win America international respect and ensure its freedom on the seas. Although the Constitution of 1787 strengthened the National Government and provided for the reestablishment of a national navy, congressional debate on rebuilding the Navy did not begin in earnest until the end of 1793. On March 27, 1794, Congress reestablished the Navy with authorization for six vessels. Finally, in 1797 the launching of the first three frigates, U.S.S. United States, U.S.S. Constellation, and U.S.S. Constitution, laid the foundation for the new United States Navy.

Related Web Site

Naval Historical Center

The Documents

Annual Address by George Washington
December 3, 1793

Senate Draft of an "Act to provide a Naval Armament"
March 18, 1794

George Washington's Message to the U.S. Senate
June 3, 1794

A Bill to Establish the Department of the Navy
April 11, 1798

John Adams's Message to the U.S. Senate
May 18, 1798

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

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