*** war and social upheaval: important military organizations American United States Navy U.S. Navy

Important Military Organizations: United States Navy

U.S. Navy boys
Figure 1.--The American Civil War has been called 'the boys' war because so many boys were involved in the fighting. They are normally thought of in connection with the Army, beginning with drummer boys. (Bugles required older boys with larger lung capacity.) Older teens were actual combat soldiers. There were also young boys who joined the Navy. And here it was not just drummer boys. Small boys since cannons were first dragged aboard vessels--they served as powder monkeys. This is Henry Message, a U.S. Navy powder monkey. A powder monkey or powder boy helped man naval artillery as an important member of a warship's crew. This continued through the Civil War (1861-65). His duty was to bring gunpowder from the powder magazine deep in the ship's hold to the actual artillery pieces. Here a boy's small size was useful in navigating the narrow passages and cramped quarters of a naval vessel. Often the boys doing this were the youngest members of the crew, commonly 12 to 14 years old at the time of the Civil War.

America developed a substantial merchant marine during the colonial era. The Royal Navy saw the timber resources of America, especially the oak, as critical to Britain's national defense. Even so, the American Navy appeared during the Revolutionary War. Although it could not begin to compete with the vast Royal Navy, it did help to raise the cost of the War to the British. It was also the only naval force able to gain victories against the British in individual naval combat, a record it repeated in the War of 1812. The American Navy disappeared after the Revolutionary War and was not revived again until the war with the Barbary pirates at the turn of the 19th century. America did not begin to build a professional force until the Naval Academy in Annapolis was founded (18??). The Navy played a role in the Mexican War and the opening of Japan. The Navy's primary accomplishment in the 19th century was its part in blockading the Confederacy as part of the Federal Anaconda Plan during the Civil War. It was the American Navy that first deployed a modern iron vessel--the Monitor. American did not, however, begin building a modern navy until President Cleveland's Administration, a process subsequently furthered by President T. Roosevelt. After World War I, the British Royal Navy was no longer able to play its traditional role in controlling the seas. With Pearl Harbor (1941), a battered, but rapidly expanding American Navy took on that role and played a major role in the defeat of Japanese militarism and European Fascism and limiting the spread of Soviet Communism.

The British Royal Navy (16th -18th century)

The roots of the American Navy lay with the Royal Navy and England's maritime tradition. The Royal Navy was the strongest navy of the 18th century but not as dominate as it became after Trafalgar in the 19th century. What would become the Royal Navy was the Sea Dogs that raided Spanish Treasure fleets and finally defeated the Spanish Armada (1588). For more than a century the Royal Navy had the Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Spanish to contend with. The Dutch were defeated in the Dutch Naval Wars (1652-74). The Portuguese proved to be more allies than enemies. Than the Spanish were defeated in the War of Jenken's Ear (1739-48) and the French in the Seven Years War referred to in its American phase as the French and Indian War (1754-63). These involved real fleet engagements, not raids on lightly armed treasure ships, The British victories opened the way for the British to dominate India and seemingly left the British in control of North America, at least the French were pushed out. The British victories were in large measure determined by the Royal Navy's ability to prevent the French and Spanish from projecting power beyond Europe. There were two matters that the British were unaware of after their victory in the French and Indian War. First, their American colonies had been an important ally in their victory. And while the Colonials considered themselves English, many in England did not and were not prepared to grant them the rights of Englishmen. This would create a rival power that would challenge British control of North America. Second, sea-faring technology was not secret technology. The British merchant marine acquitted all the nautical know-how developed by the Royal Navy. And the American merchant marine thus became just as skilled as the British. American ship construction was somewhat more crude than the British, but they basically has the same technology. And the British provided American seamen (fishing and merchant vessels) by using letters of marque for actions against enemy vessels--mostly enemy merchant vessels. In sharp contrast, the French had weakened their navy by massacring many of their finest seamen -- the Protestants (Huguenots).

Colonial America

During the colonial era, the colonies depended on maritime trade given there was at first no capability to produce manufactured goods. As ships were needed to get American produce such as tobacco to Britain and other European markets. This at first meant ships from Britain, but gradually Americans began building and operating ships as well. Americans included Brits who had served on and or built ships in Britain. Thus Americans developed the technical skills need. Often not recognized is that at the time of the Revolution, the American colonies had one of the world's largest merchant marines. This developed because the colonies had the primary building material--timber. American deciduous forests were a vast repository of endless untouched forests. The oak in northeastern forests was especially prized. And the pine forests provided pitch and gum needed to waterproof the wooden ships being constructed. And this was at a time that Britain was running out of building material. A ship of the line requited a huge quantity of wood to build and by the time of the Revolutionary War, Britain had cut down most of its extensive oak forests. Timber became a major colonial industry. From an early point, sawmills were operating in the colonies. One report mentions over 20 sawmills in just he Northeast (1680). And Americans did not just rely on British technology. They developed the water sawmill and other innovations. The Royal Navy saw the timber resources of America, especially the oak, as critical to Britain's national defense. Given that one might have thought that Britain would have been more accommodating to colonial concerns, but they were not. And as a result the Royal Navy would have to fight the Napoleonic Wars having lost control of American footrests. .

American Merchant Marine

Britain's American colonies before the Revolutionary War had a very substantial merchant marine and ship building industry. It had one great advantage--an almost inexhaustible supply of timber from the great forests of the still only minimally touched native forests. This at a time that Europe, especially Britain was beginning t deplete its forests. America lacked the ability to produce some important elements such as high-quality sail and copper sheaving, but at the time of the Revolutionary War, the American colonies had a combined merchant marine larger than almost all of the great European powers. Of course Britain had by far the largest merchant marines, but the American merchant marine was on a par with the other great European powers such as France and Spain. There were several thousand American merchantmen, mostly small but sturdy vessels well suited for commerce. . American merchants chafed under restrictions imposed by the British. Pamphleteers like David Ramsey and Thomas Paine spread the idea that American merchants would benefit from being freed from the British Empire and free to trade with other countries. As a result, many shipowners engaged in smuggling, both to sell to non-British markets and import goods from them. British arrests of smugglers became one of the growing list of issues which were festering between Britain and the colonists. John Hancock in Boston, where the Revolution would first breakout was the colonies largest smuggler. There was little recognition at the time as to the benefits of access to British markets, especially the British Caribbean islands. Nor were the benefits of sailing under the British flag and protection of the Royal Navy fully understood. About two-thirds of American commerce was conducted with the British Caribbean colonies. Here the island economies were geared to produce sugar and other export products, not food. The islands sugar production was so valuable that they imported food to feed the large slave populations rather than grow it. 【Toll, p. 19.】

Continental Navy

The American Navy was born during the Revolutionary War. Rhode Island a state heavily involved in maritime commerce in the lead up to the Revolution appealed to the Continental Congress for the creation of a Continental Navy (August 1775). The Americans could not begin to compete with the vast Royal Navy, in the sense of conducting fleet engagements. They did, however, carry the war to sea. Massachusetts created a naval militia. The Continental Congress had mixed opinions about creating an actual Navy. Some thought it was a mistake to divert scarce resources, but Congress after 5 months of debate debate authorized the creation of a Navy and established a seven-member naval committee (October 1775). One of its prominent members was John Adams. The Continental Congress in terms of the funds available made very substantial investments in a Continental Navy. Congress than proceeded to buy, retrofit and construct some 34 ships ranging in size from 8 to 30 guns. By this time, George Washington had arrived to lead the Continental Army outside Boston and had begun acquiring ships. This was all dwarfed by the Royal Navy with hundreds of ships, including ships of the line with over a hundred guns. This meant that the Americans could not win a major fleet action at sea. The most important American battle at sea was the Battle of Valcour Island. The Americans lost the battle, but Benedict Arnold successfully delayed an invasion from Canada. Some complained that funds provided proved to be largely wasted. The Continental Navy proved not to be a professional force in the sense of the Continental Army, but largely a privateer force. The Continental Congress began issuing letters of marque, authorizing the taking of English merchantmen. Congress issued about 2,000 commissions. And this was not just in the colonies, but American agents issued them in Europe and the Caribbean. They would succeeded in capturing some 2,200 British merchant men. This not raised the cost of the War to the British, but earned funds for Congress. This was important because the whole idea behind colonies was for trade and profit. Thus the privateers did have an impact, especially as the war went on and the British has little success in ending it. The basic naval problem for the Americans was that there was no secure naval base in the Colonies. The British Royal Navy had the force to attack any American port at will. The Navy pleaded with Washington to protect its vessels in port. Washington understandably argued that the whole point of having a navy was to support the Continental Army, not visa versa. The Continental Navy, primarily through privateer.s preyed on British shipping. Even the huge Riyal Navy could not protect British shipping on the vast ocean expanses. The Continental Navy and privateers helped to raise the cost of the War to the British by raising insurance rates, an important accomplishment given the influence of merchants on the British Government. The Continental Navy was also the only naval force able to gain victories against the British in individual naval combat, something the French and Spanish rarely mastered. This was a matter of some embarrassment to the British. Ironically the greatest successes came not in American waters, but in European waters. Here American ships could sally forth from protected French ports and attack British shipping and then return to French ports where harbor guns prevented Royal Navy ships from pursuing them. There were no such protected American ports. It was here that John Paul Jones made a name for himself sinking larger Royal Naval vessels. It was the entry of the French, followed by the Spanish, into the War (1778) that made a difference at sea. It not only led to the costly seizure of more British merchantmen, but it meant that Britain did not have total control of the seas. The French victory in the Battle of the Chesapeake (also known as the Battle of the Capes) led to Lord Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown (1781). After the signing of the Treaty of Paris ending the War (1783), the cash-strapped Congress recalled the 7 surviving Continental Navy vessels and 323 privateers--essentially disbanding the Continental Navy. The remaining vessels were sold off.

Articles of Confederation (1781-89)

The Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation (1777), although it was not ratified by all 13 states until 4 years later (1781). Thus after the the Revolutionary War, the Articles became the constitution of the independent United States. The Articles created a weak association of essentially sovereign states. There was no executive or judiciary. The central government rested with Congress which was a kind of legislative committee with delegates from each state. A navy more than the army at the time was a costly undertaking. The Articles of Confederation gave the Congress the authority to create a navy, but no power to raise the needed funds through taxation. It could request money from the states, but could not compel payment. Under such a system, there was no way of financing an American Navy. Thus the navy was disbanded and the remaining vessels auctioned off (1785). Thus for a decade after the Revolution there was no American navy. And without the protection of the Royal Navy, America's substantial merchant marine soon found itself vulnerable to all manner of foreign predators.

Marine Commerce

British control of the sea during the Revolutionary War played havoc with American shipping. The end of the War and American Independence did not immediately bring the benefits that the proponents of independence had anticipated. The British Government issued an Order in Council barred American ships from British Caribbean ports (1783). This had a devastating impact on American shippers and merchants. Prices of the products formerly shipped to the Caribbean plunged. And ship sailings to the Caribbean sharply declined. And it was not long before it was noted that American ships no longer had the protection of the Royal Navy. The most notable problem here at first was in the Mediterranean where the Barbary Privates began to seize American ships and ransom the crews. Congress did not have the funds needed to pay the ransome. American prisoners languished in medieval Barbary prisons. They were not the only group to prey on American shipping, but they were the first and lurid tales of the treatment of captive Americans, especially the women, began appearing in American newspapers. Economic conditions improved with the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789) and the outbreak of war in Europe. The demand for American exports began to increase and the American merchant marine began to expand once again. But also problems escalated for a neutral nation without a navy to protect its substantial merchant marine which sailed around the world including India and China.

The Constitution (1789)

The problems associated with the Articles of Confederation resulting in a Constitutional Convention (1787). The Convention produced a new constitution with a far stronger national government. The proposed constitution was hotly debated. Americans split over what was to become future party lines. The group to be called Federalist led by Alexander Hamilton strongly supported the Constitution. The future Republicans led by Jefferson were profoundly suspicious of a strong central government. There was, however, considerable flexibility. The strongest figure in drafting the constitution and securing ratification was Jefferson's closest political ally--James Madison. The strongest combination of Hamilton and Madison worked together to secure ratification after an rancorous national debate. The Constitution as ratified created a Federal Government that was able to create and fund a navy. And a navy was mentioned in the document, but not with any specificity. Article I included a provision giving Congress the authority to 'provide and maintain a navy'. Congress was also given the authority to 'make rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces'. Article II made the president 'Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States'. With such provisions it might have been expected that a navy would be created quickly after Congress convened. This did not prove to be the case and in fact the creation of a navy proved to be the most divisive issue faced by the early Congresses.

Revenue Marine (1790)

The Federal Government at first had few sources of income. The only reliable source was fees on imports. Only without a navy to prevent smuggling, very limited income was being collected. President Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton to be the first Secretary of the Treasury. And one of his first actions as Treasurer was to convince Congress to establish Revenue Marine. This avoided the contentious issue of creating a navy. It became the Revenue Cutter Service and eventually the Coast Guard and is why the Coast Guard is organizationally part of the Treasury Department. It was an armed service and would guarantee the Federal Government its first reliable source of income. Throughout the 19th century, customs duties would be America's primary way of financing the Federal Government.

French Revolution (1790s)

The French Revolution overthrowing the French monarchy (1789) had a major impact on the new American Navy. The fighting at first led to land battles on the Continent. It eventually led to war between Britain and France which meant naval warfare. This left American merchantmen in the middle. Ships headed to Britain were seized by the French and those headed to France were seized by the British. Both naval vessels and privateers preyed on American shipping. The Jay Treaty reduced Revolutionary War antagonisms with Britain and established a solid base base upon which America could build a prosperous national economy (1794). The Jay Treaty reduced incidents with the British and thus French depredations on American shipping emerged as the major threat to American commerce. This further heightened the Federalist/Republican split because of ideological differences in the French Revolution. After an extended debate, Congress authorized nearly $0.7 million to build or purchase six frigates. This was an enormous sum at the time for the basically bankrupt American Republic. Building and outfitting the ships was a huge undertaking and it would be 4 years before the first of the frigates were ready for service. At the time America was at peace, although being provoked at sea by both the French and British. The frigates were enormous tourist attractions in the United States with guards even charging admission which they apparently used to buy liquor. 【Toll】

Reviving the American Navy (1794)

From the beginning of the American republic a navy proved to be perhaps the most contentious issue considered by Congress during the Washington Administration and was an early issue upon which the emerging Federalist and Democratic Republican Parties split. The Federalists wanted a Navy to protect American merchant shipping, much of it operated from New England and to protect affronts to the honor of the new nation. The Republicans saw a standing military as a threat to the Republic and were opposed to the very substantial outlays which they saw farmers having to pat to finance the investments of wealthy Northeastern merchants and bankers. Up until this time, the American maritime trade was primarily an Atlantic trade, with only imitated activity in the Mediterranean. Then Portugal which had been bottling up the Barbary Pirates by paroling the Straits of Gibraltar, signed a peace treaty with Algeria. This allowed the Corsairs to begin plundering Atlantic shipping and taking Americans for ransom. This finally gave naval advocates in America the justification they needed. Congress passed an Act to Provide Naval Armament (March 27, 1794). As a result of wars between Britain and France, American ships were also being seized and seamen impressed. At thirst the major problem was the French who were bitter that America did not honor its treaty if alliance and join them in their war with Britain. The Americans temporarily defused the issues with Britain as a result of the Jay Tray (1794). But this only incensed the French. The result was the Quasi War (1798).

The Six Frigates (1797)

A tribute Treaty with Algiers temporarily reduced the immediate needs for the frigates. The Republicans as a result pressed to cancel the frigate project. President Adams championed the cause of the frigates and is thus seen as the father of the U.S. Navy. The first three were finally launched (1797). A compromise was reached to finish the first three and they were launched (1797). The incendiary XYZ Affair (1798) eventually convinced Congress to finish the remaining three and outfit a number of smaller ships. Outfitting the frigates as well as the Quasi War with France was beyond the capabilities of the War Department which was composed primarily of men with varied backgrounds. As a result, President Adams moved to create the Navy Departments (1798). It would be the first new ministry and Benjamin Stoddert was selected as the first Secretary of the Navy. Stoddert was a Revolutionary War veteran. The six frigates would go on to play an important role in the early history of the Republic. The initial impetus was to deal with the Barbary Pirates, but they were first employed in the Quasi War with France, primarily in the Caribbean. Ironically although Republican leaders Jefferson and Madison led the fight against the frigates, as presidents both would make the greatest use of them.

The Quasi War (1798-1800)

The United States even before the Constitution was ratified had signed an alliance with France (1788). While the American Republic had no navy, it did have a very substantial merchant marine and with the French Revolution (1789) and war in Europe, very substantial profits were to be had. The Royal Navy and the French Navy began interdicting American trade. The issue of neutral rights soon became a major issue. The problems with Britain were temporarily resolved with the Jay Treaty (1794). The Treaty while preventing a disastrous war with Britain was very controversial in America. While it was essentially a commercial treaty, the French took issue with the Treaty, seeing it as a violation of the 1788 Treaty and tantamount to an alliance with Britain and an act of betrayal given the aid that France had given to America during the Revolutionary War. French authorities began issuing letters of marque to French privateers who along with French naval vessels proceeded to take American ships. The French seized over 300 American merchantmen (1794-97). The Quasi War was the independent American Republic's first foreign military confrontation. It was fought with France, America's ally in the Revolutionary War. It was an undeclared naval war which is why it was called the Quasi War, but it was very real. The dates are a little ambiguous. Actual fighting onl began only after the U.S. Navy's new frigates came on line (1798). Thus when President Adams assumed office, he inherited a very dangerous situation that could have easily led to a full scale war with France. The revelations of the XYZ affair and the shipping losses changed many minds in America about the benefits of a navy. Three frigates authorized by the 1794 Act had been nearing completion, President Adams rushed the completion and began the construction of the remaining three along with several smaller vessels. The War was fought entirely at sea, mostly in the Caribbean. The Quasi War proved to be a signal success for the fledgling U.S. Navy and its new frigates. The U.S. Navy captured numerous French privateers and defeated French warships, only losing one vessel. The Adams Administration pursued a policy of vigorously waging the undeclared war while diplomatically seeking peace with France. The dating of the War to 1798 is rather a misnomer. The French began seizing large numbers of American ships (1794). There was no war at this time because there was no American Navy. The 1798 date is when the Navy Department was created to run the war with France and American naval ships went into combat (1797). With the six frigates began coming on line and the United States had a navy to respond to the French depredations. The U.S. Navy was small, but it was much better trained and armed than the rag-tag Continental Navy that preceded it. Secretary of the Navy Stoddert decided to take the fightvto thecFrench in thec Caribbean, concentrating the limited amrican firces there. The Americans had some 25 ships with more than 40 guns per ship. Of course the French, at war with Britain, were in no position to concentrate its navy in the Caribbean for the fight. Many Federalists influenced by Hamilton wanted an open war. The Republicans felt that the undeclared war made peace unobtainable. In the end, President Adams was proven correct. The new Navy effectively protected American shipping and helped to change minds in the French Government. The French were locked in a major war with the Royal Navy and were already outnumbered. Losing ships to the Americans was not helpful in the more important struggle with Britain. The French lost two frigates and several dozen privateers. The star of the war was USS Constellation. She captured the French frigate, L'Insurgente (1799). This was the first major victory by an American-designed and -built warship. The following year she fought the French frigate Vengeance. Vengeance was not captured, but in the battle with Constellation, she was severely damaged and had to be intentionally grounded. The American Navy lost only one ship. In addition, American merchant ships were needed to keep the French Caribbean islands, threatened by the Royal Navy, supplied. The issues were resolved peacefully by the Treaty of Mortefontaine (1800).

Barbary Pirates (1801-05)

The American Navy disappeared after the Revolutionary War and was not revived again until the Unite States built the six frigates. They were first tested with the Barbary pirates at the turn of the 19th century. The Barbary pirates began seizing American merchant vessels after independence. After the Revolution, the Americans had lost the protection of the Royal Navy. The pasha and his emissaries asserted that the Holy Koran not only allowed, but made it the 'right and duty' of Muslims 'to make war" upon the infidels that 'they could find and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners". Of course it helped that there were profits to be made in these attacks. All three early presidents were appalled by these attacks. President Washington was furious, and swore,"would to Heaven we had a navy to reform those enemies to mankind, or crush them into non-existence." 【Oren】 This was one reason Congress created the Navy so that it could protect American merchants and missionaries. and it was President Jefferson who is often depicted as an idealist and pacifist that ordered the new Navy into the Mediterranean. America at first without a navy had to handle the problem with diplomacy and tribute. As a result of these demands and than the Quasi War, America had a navy. And when the Bashaw of Tripoli made outrageous demands followed up with attacks on American shipping, President Jefferson decided to use it..

Caribbean Piracy (1800-26)

With the decline of Spanish power, piracy picked up in the Caribbean. Complicated by the Latin American Wars of Independence. Some newly independent countries began authorizing privateers. Presidents Madison and Monroe used both the new Navy and diplomacy to resolve the problem. USS Sea Gull She was the second U.S. Navy steamship and the first to serve actively as a warship. She was active off Cuba as part of the West Indies Squadron in the campaign against pirates (1820s). Both America and Britain abolished the slave trade (1807). he Caribbean piracy problem was sometimes used as an excuse to avoid significant American participation in the British campaign to end the Atlantic slave trade, something in which the Southern states had little interest.

War of 1812 (1812-15)

War continued to fester in Europe with the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon won a series of bloody military engagements that military strategists still study. The Battle of Trafalgar (1805) meant that he would be unable to invade Britain, but he gained control over much of Europe. As a result a trade war developed with the French Orders in Council and the Royal Navy blockade. The United States had allowed the Navy to decline after the Barbary War. American shipping was caught between the two again. but with the British dominant at sea, it was mostly the Royal Navy that stopped American vessels. Desperate for crews to man the the huge fleet needed to maintain the blockade, forced the British to impressed American seamen. They were also conducting raids in British ports to seize civilians. Some 10,000 Americans would eventually be impressed by the British. In Britain's defense, many Royal Navy sailors were deleting and joining American crews where wages were higher and living conditions more palatable. There were a range of causes of the War, but the impressment issue was the most incendiary. The U.S. Navy during the War of 1812 began with 25 ships (10 frigates and 24 small boats) along with 500 privateers. They were not able to conduct fleet engagements with the massive Royal Navy which was much larger than the Revolutionary War Royal Navy. The United States Navy repeated its Revolutionary War experience of some successful individual engagements achieved by USS Constitution, USS United States and USS Wasp. The Royal Navy was central to the British war plan. The Duke of Wellington advised a three prong strategy in which British forces could rely on support from the Royal Navy. This time an American naval force blocked the northern prong, a invasion from Cabana, in the Battle of Lake Erie. The central prong succeeded in burning Washington, but the failure to take Fort McHenry deniued them a needed land base. The southern prong was to take New Orleans, This port was vital to all of America beyond the Appalachians. Here American commerce depended ion the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans. The Royal Navy launched an amphibious invasion, but it met with disaster as a result of a hastily organized defense by Gen Andrew Jackson. As it turned out, the battle was fought after the Treaty of Ghent was signed ending the War (1815).

Ending the Slave Trade

Slavery was an issue that could not be resolved at the Constitution Convention (1787). There was agreement on a provision to end the slave trade. The new Constitution declared a provision to end the slave trade after a 20-year period. Congress did 20 years later passed the Slave Importation Act (1807). The Act prohibited the further importation of slaves. The British Parliament approve an even more restrictive act in the same year. At the time tens of thousands of slaves were being transported annually, many on British ships. These decisions did not end the slave trade. At the time the U,S. Navy was minuscule and President Jefferson saw no need to expand it. The Royal Navy for its part was fully engaged in the Napoleonic Wars. Nor was there any possibility of cooperation between Britain and America. The British were impressing America sailors, a practice that would eventually lead to the War of 1812. After the Napoleonic Wars, other countries also abolished the slave trade, including France, Spain, and Portugal. The slave continued because of the continued demand for slaves in the United States, the Caribbean, and Brazil and the high prices that could be obtained for slaves. The British deployed ships to patrol the African coast (1811). There was some support for the slave trade by sugar merchants, cotton mill owners, Liverpool slavers, and some politicians, but the British public strongly supported the effort. 【Vogel】 ] Cooperation with the United States did not occur, even after the War of 1812. Many Americans believed that the British demand of the right of search was nothing more than a disguised effort to disrupt trade with Africa. This impaired cooperative efforts until the Civil War (1861-65). It was not much the cooperation of the fledgling American Navy that was needed. It was the cooperation of port authorities in the United States, especially the southern ports, that was needed. And support for slavery in the South was not declining, the profitability of cotton was creating an increased demand for slaves and political support for slavery.

Naval Build-up (1820s-40s)

Congress as a result of the War of 1812 authorized a naval build-up (1816). This included 9 ships to have at least 75 guns and 12 new 48 gun frigates. Congress only slowly actually allocated money for vessel construction. The largest of these vessels would be the USS Pennsylvania. It was a three-decked ship of the line of the United States Navy, rated at 130 guns. She would be the largest United States sailing warship ever built--the equivalent of a first-rate Royal Navy ship of the line. Although authorized in 1816, she was not launched until 1837. She had a less than glorious, history, making only one cruise and spending the rest of her service life in Norfolk until destroyed during the Civil War.

Technological Advances (1800-60)

The foundation of the United States Navy coincided with the Industrial Revolution. Major technological changes began to affect maritime transport and naval engineering in the early-19th century. Robert Fulton (1765 – 1815) was an American engineer and inventor who is credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat--the North River Steamboat/Clermont). His boat traveled p and down the Hudson River with passengers and cargo from New York City to Albany. a round trip of 300 miles (480 km) in a record 62 hours. The success of steam engine would transform transport, both maritime and land transport. The first American effort to adopt new technologies was the USS Demologos, an ungainly and unsuccessful new ship. Steamboats became the main form of transport on American rivers driven by paddle wheels. This was particularly important in America because of the stretch of navigable rivers. The paddle wheel was, however, not ideal for oceanic transport and not suitable for naval vessels as it was an obvious target for naval gunners. Swedish-born American naval engineer and inventor, John Ericsson (1803-89) solved this problem with the screw propeller which put the propulsion system safely below the waterline (1836). It took naval engineers some time to adopt these these advances and the first such vessels were sail boats with auxiliary steam engines. This would be the case of many of the Federal Navy that implemented the Anaconda Plan and blockaded Confederate ports. It was not until well after the Civil War (1861-65) that steam power entirely displaced sails.

Antebellum Missions (1800-60)

The United States was an expanding nation with a rapidly growing population and economy. With the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the United States became a continental power which was tantalizingly close to reaching the Pacific Ocean. While the United States Navy was small, its' mission and responsibilities were not. After the slave trade was abolished (1807) it assisted the Royal Navy with anti-slavery patrols off West Africa. It assisted in actions against Native American tribes up the various Mississippi River tributaries. There were anti-piracy actions in the Caribbean. The country had a sizeable merchant marine that sailed around the world and needed some degree of protection. The famed China Clippers competed successfully with the Europeans in the China trade. The Navy played a key role in the Mexican War (1846-48). The war began inland on the Mexican-Texas border. The opening battles were fought in northern Mexico. President Polk decided to place the greatest effort in an amphibious landing at Veracruz, the primary Mexican port, and then drive overland to Mexico City. This was the same route Cortez took. It involved the greatest operation in the Navy's short history up to that point. Mexico did not have a substantial navy and the coastal fortifications at Veracruz although extensive were easily overwhelmed. The Navy played a key role in the Mexican War (1846-48). The war began inland on the Mexican-Texas border. The opening battles were fought in northern Mexico. President Polk decided to place the greatest effort in an amphibious landing at Veracruz, the primary Mexican port, and then drive overland to Mexico City. This was the same route Cortez took. It involved the greatest operation in the Navy's short history up to that point. Mexico did not have a substantial navy and the coastal fortifications at Veracruz although extensive were easily overwhelmed. There was also an active Pacific whaling fleet. This was part of the reason that Commodore Perry and his black ships opened Japan (1853). Given Britain's policies toward China such as the Opium War (1840), the Japanese had hope to keep all foreigners.

Naval Academy (1845)

Today it is difficult to imagine that a professional military was a controversial matter, but it was in the early republic. It was King George's professional army that almost won the Revolutionary War. It was the colonial militias that first stood up to the British regulars. Thus the Democratic-Republicans idealized the militia, you can see that in the second amendment. It is no accident that the Second Amendment has pride of place only to the First Amendment guarantying free speech and freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights. Republican leaders like Jefferson were very suspicious of a professional Army and Navy. Yet any even basic study of the Revolution shows that it was the Continental Army, not the militia that won the War. Prominent soldiers and officials with the establishment of the Republic began lobbying for the establishment of a military academy. This included many prominent Revolutionary leaders, including Washington, Knox, Hamilton, John Adams, among others. Those who served in the Continental Army were especially adamant. At the time, the United States was reliant on foreign expertise, especially engineers and artillery experts. The logic of the argument forced even President Jefferson to concede the issue. The President signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy (1802). He agreed only after after ensuring himself that those attending the Academy would be representative of a democratic society. It was from the beginning situated at West Point on the Hudson, an important fort during the Revolutionary War. For several decades there was no comparable naval academy, despite the fact that the Navy required even more technological training than the Army. A nautical school for officers was organized by Commodore Arthur Sinclair. He commanded the important Norfolk Navy Yard. Sinclair opened the 'Nautical School' on board the frigate USS Guerriere (1821). Some 40 and 50 midshipmen were attached to the ship. The curriculum was diversified with Naval Tactics, Astronomy, Geography, French, History, English Grammar, and International Relations. The school operated until 1828, when Guerriere was ordered for Pacific duty. [Barnett, p. 553.] The Navy used a ship, the brig USS Somers for a school at sea. After three of the students were hanged, it became obvious that a shore-based school was more appropriate. Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft organized the Naval School without Congressional funding (1845). It was opened at Fort Severn, an Army post in Annapolis, Maryland. It began with 50 midshipmen and 7 professors. The curriculum included mathematics and navigation, gunnery and steam, chemistry, English, natural philosophy, and French.

The Civil War (1861-65)

The U.S. Navy's primary accomplishment in the 19th century was its part in blockading the Confederacy as part of the Federal Anaconda Plan during the Civil War. Secretary of the Navy Giddeon Wells played a key role in this effort. The U.S. Navy had only 90 ships when President Lincoln was elected and this included many decrepit hulls. Wells expanded this force to 260 ships in the first year of the War as the blockade went into force (1861). Many more ships were needed, but it was a beginning. The Confederacy also organized a navy and many naval officers joined the Confederate Navy. What the Confederacy did not have was ships and the industrial capacity to build them in large number. The Confederacy began the War with no warships President Lincoln on April 19, 1861 proclaimed a naval blockade of southern ports. It became known as the Anaconda Plan. Although not immediately implemented by 1862 an expanding American Navy had virtually cut the Confederacy off from foreign markets for its cotton and other agricultural products and from foreign military supplies. This was critical because the South did not have the industrial capacity to match the North's manufacturing capacity. It also cut Britain and France off from supplies of raw cotton. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory planned to build blockade runners and ironclads in Confederate shipyards. Lack of capacity limited this effort which was dwarfed by the Federal vessel construction effort. The Confederate also ordered warships in Europe which preyed on Federal merchant shipping. The most famous of these was the CSA Alabama. Money forced the Confederacy to operate on credit in Europe which limited the number which could be built. Also U.S. diplomats attempted to disrupt the effort. Both the Federal and Confederate Navies rushed to deploy ironclads. It was the American Navy that first deployed a modern iron vessel--the Monitor. The CSA Virginia was a less innovative casemate design. The Confederacy could not compete worth the expanding industrial power of the North. The Federal Navy expanded to 700 ships and 60 ironclads, giving them control of the rivers and coasts of the South.

Decline (1865-70s)

The United States during the Civil War had built a massive fleet in only a few years, rivaling the Riyal Navy. There was not need for a navy of this size and it was rapidly reduced in size. In just a few years the Navy was down to it pre-war size, about 50 ships and 30 ironclads. And the ironclads were allowed to deteriorate as they were expensive to maintain. The Virginius Affair (1873-75) caused many Americans to reconsider allowing the Navy to deteriorate, especially when a relatively modern Spanish naval vessel showed up in New York harbor. The Virginius was a fast American ship hire by Cuban revolutionaries to run arms and supplies to Cuban revolutionaries in Spain. It was captured by the Spanish Navy and the Spanish after a perfunctory trial began shooting the crew, many of whom were American or British.

New Construction (1880s-90s)

The Unites States emerged in the late 19th century as a great industrial power, rapidly surpassing the industrial capacity of the great European powers. Europe with the unification and rise of Germany began a costly arms race, both a naval and army arms race. The United States had the financial and industrial capacity to build the largest army and navy in the world, but declined to do so. And while America did not participate in the army part of that arms race, the U.S. Navy insisted they needed to modernize, They got the money from Congress to upgrade some of the old ironclads and build five new battleships--the beginning if the modern American Navy. The new ships were Amphitrite-class monitor. The Navy had been constantly updating John Ericson's 1861 creation, the USS Monitor since 1861, but none of the many upgrades produced a truly ocean-going vessel. The Amphitrite-class monitor finally looked like a modern naval vessel and could make ocean voyages. The problem for the Navy was that after Congress was unnerved by the Virginius affair, concern quickly died down and Congress proved reluctant to fund actual construction. So the Navy, incredibly, did not get their hands on the new vessels until the 1890s. With the exception of these five ships, the rest of the Navy continued to be obsolete wooden vessels. As a result, when South American countries began ordering modern warships in Europe, President Arthur directed his Secretary of the Navy, William Hunt (1881-82) to begin modernizing the Navy. It was during the Cleveland Administration that real money began to be actually spent. This led to five protected )armored) cruisers and a battleship. The USS Texas was the first American battleship. The USS Maine was very similar, but designated and armored cruiser.

Alfred Thater Mahan (1890s)

-Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) was an American naval officer and historian who was a exponent of sea power influencing both American naval strategy and political leaders. Mahan was the son of a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He decided, however, to pursue a naval career. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis (1859), just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Beginning with Civil War duty, he would serve nearly 40 years of active duty. He fought in the American Civil War, later served on the staff of Adm. J.A.B. Dahlgren. He progressed steadily in rank. Stephen Luce, president of the newly established Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island invited him to lecture on naval history and tactics. He served as the College’s president (1886-89). He then published his Naval War College lectures in book form -- The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890). His thesis was the paramount importance of sea power in national strength. The 1890s was a time of great technological advancement in naval construction an armaments and an era of an arms race. His nooks had an impact on the great powers. Britain of course already was committed to sea power, Mahan is believed to have influenced Admiral Tirpitz who convinced Kaiser Wilhelm to build a high-seas fleet. While Mahan was tight om hos historical analysis for America and Britain, it led Germany down the wrong path and this contributed to its defeat in two world wars. Mahan's second book, The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793–1812 (1892) stressed the interdependence of the military and commercial control of the sea. He argued that control of seaborne commerce can determine the outcome of wars.

Spanish-American War (1898)

Spain lost its Latin American colonies in a series of revolutionary wars (early-19th century). They only retained their vhild on Cuba and Puerto Rico. Revolution flared in Cuba for several decades. American newspapers ran lurid articles about Spanish efforts to defeat the revolutionaries. The Spanish-American War was set off by American journalists after the newly constructed >USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. The American papers blamed it on Spain. We now know it was an internal explosion. President McKinley yielded to the public demand for War. The first combat test of America's new high-seas fleet was combat with the Spanish Navy in the Spanish American War. The United States had a small, but for the fitst time since the Civil War, some modern vessels. The Spanish fleet was composed of old obsolete vessels. The Spanish Atlantic squadron was destroyed in Santiago, Cuba. The Spanish Pacific fleet was destroyed in Manila Bay. Both naval engagements resulted in virtually no loss of American men and ships. Ground combat followed when the U.S. Army invaded Cuba and quickly secured the island.

Theodore Roosevelt (1898-1909)

Theodore Roosevelt first served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the McKinley administration as America moved toward War with Spain. He not only pushed the War, but resigned to form a regiment that fought in Cuba as the Rough Riders. His exploits in Cuba propelled him to be chosen as President McKinley's vice president. (Many Republican stalwarts wanted him out of New York where he had been elected governor.) And then unexpectedly after President McKinley was suddenly president. As president he was a strong proponent of naval power. No president has more to do with American naval power than President Roosevelt. He took two huge steps. First was a massive naval construction program. Second was construction of the Panama Canal. Naval power was probably the effort of his administration most important to Roosevelt. This may explain why the President made such frequent changes in his Secretaries of the Navy--he had six in all during his two terms of office, a presidential record. [O'Gara] Roosevelt initiated the construction of a major high seas fleet. This was done through a series of annual naval building programs which advanced the U.S. Navy at breathtaking speed. This time Congressional authorization resulted in immediate construction. The President Initially pushed through authorization for two first-class battleships (USS Connecticut and USS Louisiana), two armored cruisers (USS Tennessee and USS Washington), and two gunboats (USS Dubuque and USS Paducah) (1902). Congress authorized an even greater naval construction program (1903). It provided for no less than five first class battleships of 16,000 tons displacement each. This was the equal of any fighting ships afloat in any navy, including the British Royal and German Imperial Navies. Congress approved another first-class battleship and three fast cruisers (1904). Congress approved the construction of two more first class battleships (1905). After 1905 began to study recommendations more closely and debates ensued on the further expansion of the fleet, both in the numbers of ships and fleet composition. But by the end of the Roosevelt Administration, President Roosevelt had propelled the United States from a naval non-entity to the second largest navy in the world (measured in battleship strength), second albeit a far second, only to the British Royal Navy. Not only was the U.S. Navy the second most powerful, it was like the expanding German fleet, the most modern. It should be stressed that the battleship was considered the super weapon of the age. They were not only powerful, but very expensive. Thus the Roosevelt naval construction program, was a departure for the United States, a country which had up to that time been very parsimonious about naval spending. Roosevelt was well aware of the strategic need for a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The construction of the Panama Canal helped with America's strategic need to build a two-ocean navy. France has began work on a canal (1881). The project was led by the famed manager of the Suez Canal--Ferdinand deLesseps. He was not an engineer and the project failed. The French abandoned the project as a result of engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate due vto duseases like yellow fever. The United States with President Roosevelt's strong backing took over the project (1904). The Canal was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. American engineers mastered the technical challenges and American doctors dealt with the disease issues. The Canal opened (August 15, 1914), a few days after the breakout of World War I in Europe. The Canal was a huge shortcut, greatly reducing the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Shipping could now avoid the lengthy Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America through the hazardous Drake Passage id the Strait of Magellan. This was not only a boon to maritime commerce, but meant that in a time of crisis, the U.S. Navy could easily and quickly move it ships back and forth quickly. President Roosevelt final naval action was personally ordering the American Navy on a global cruise around the world--showcasing America's naval power to the world (December 1907-February 1909). The American public began calling it the Great White Fleet as the ships were painted white for the display of naval power. It consisted of 16 mostly brand new battleships and escorts. It was a formidable display of naval power. For whatever reason, the only stop in Europe was Spain. Looking back, a visit to Hamburg might have been efficacious. Notably the Fleet had to sail around the tip of South America as the Panama Canal was still under construction.

HMS Dreadnought (1909)

America's investment in naval power was not well times. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought (1909). It was a revolution in naval engineering. Studying the Battle of Tsushima where the Japanese destroyed the Russian fleet, there was the one overwhelming conclusion. The only guns of importance on a battleship were the big main guns. Prior to Dreadnought, battleships bristled with guns including many small caliber guns. Dreadnought armament was all its big guns. Dreadnought was the brainchild of First Sea Lord admiral Sir John 'Jacky' Fisher. It had two revolutionary features. First was an all big-gun armament with heavy-caliber and few light and medium guns with a centralized fire support system. Second was a modern steam turbine propulsion system. The U.S. Navy was moving in that direction, but Dreadnought was the first such vessel actually launched. Dreadnought was fired with coal, but soon after the Royal Navy shifted to oil. The United States at the time was the only important naval power that actually had domestic oil fields. In a single stroke, the British made every other battleship in the world obsolete. This was not exactly what the Royal Navy intended, because it also made much of the Royal Navy's huge fleet of pre-Dreadnought battleships obsolete. This actually aided Germany in developing a competitive high-seas fleet. And launched a massive naval arms race especially between Britain and Germany.

Naval Technology

The United States Navy immediately began work on its own Dreadnoughts. The first were USS Deleware, USS Michigan, USS North Dakota, and USS South Carolina. But Dreadnought was not the only development in naval warfare. There were three revolutionary new technologies which led to while new classes of naval vessels.. First, two American bicycle mechanics, the Wright brothers, carried out the first heavier than air flight (1903). Militaries all over the world began assessing the still fragile craft for military uses. The U.M. Navy conducted the first flight trials off a ship (1910). It awarded the first contract for figuring out how to land planes (1911). This would lead to the modern carrier, but only after World War I. Second, the submarine was being developed as a whole new class of vessels. The U.S. Navy acquired it first real submarine--the USS Holland (1900). It would serve as the basis for the Plunger class sub and the first American sub fleet. It would, however, be the Germans who would push the development of submarines. The submarine would significantly impact World War I and actually draw America into the War. Third, the torpedo was invented in Britain, but was inaccurate (1866). Itvwas not until much later that an effective torpedo was developed (1888). This mean that a small ship if it got close enough could sink a battleship which up to that time had been seen as the ultimate weapon. This not only hace the submarine a real bite, but led to another new class of vessel--the destroyer. President Roosevelt's naval construction program has focused on the battleship. The most important U.S. Navy contribution to World War I would prove to be its destroyers.

Naval Construction Act (1916)

As Europe exploded into war, the United States made little effort to expand its very small army. The Navy was an entirely different matter. The U.S. Navy was one of the world's most powerful navies and on the brink of becoming the first navy to challenge the Royal Navy's dominance in more than a century. Naval analysts rank it third or fourth, behind Britain, France, and perhaps Germany--depending on the metrics used. The Wilson Administration hoped to avoid war. The Administration backed plans to significantly expand the Navy. There were several reasons for this. America was now the world's industrial powers with extensive foreign trade. The British Royal Navy blockade of Germany restricted the rights of neutral shipping to which the United states objected. The German sinking of the Lusitania had shocked Americans. And the Japanese declaration of 21 Points were a direct challenge to America's Open Door Policy. The U.S. Navy had 17 dreadnought and 23 per-dreadnought battleships. The Naval Construction Act of 1916 provided for a massive expansion of the Navy. It authorized the construction of 156 new ships. This included 16 capital ships (10 battleships and 6 battle cruisers). There were also to be numerous new cruisers. And 50 destroyers and 20 submarines. All of these new vessels were to be laid down (construction began) by mid-1919. The actual numbers are less significant than the fact that these would be modern vessels. This would have meant that by the early-1920s that the United States would have the most modern navy in the world. The British even if they won the War would not have been able to afford such a massive building program. As the United States was still not involved in the War, American naval planning focused on a war in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean. All this planning was with the Navy. Mo real consideration was given to preparing an army to fight in France. The only step taken with the army was to change state militias to the National Guard. There was not effort to expand the army or to equip it with modern weapons.

World War I (1917-18)

America's entry into World war I was the deciding factor in the War. Here it was the American infantry that broke the dead lock on the Western Front. The Royal Navy and French blockade of Germany played a major role in undermining the German and Austrian economies and civilian morale. This was largely accomplished before America entered the War. America had the third largest navy in the world, second only to the British and German navies. The 300 warships of the American Navy only added to the effectiveness of the Allied blockade, but were primarily deployed in the North Atlantic to guard the sea lanes between America and the Britain and France. Especially important was guarding the troopships that delivered the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France. A few Navy vessels were deployed in the Mediterranean, but the bulk of the Navy was deployed in the North Atlantic. Only a few Navy vessels were sunk during the War. The cruiser San Diego sunk by mines set by a German U-boat off New York. Two Navy destroyers protecting convoys were sunk by U-boats. It was German U-boats and the German decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare that brought America into the War. The German U-boat campaign proved unsuccessful because of the convoy system implemented by the Royal Navy and the invention of ASDAC (SONAR). The United States had a small submarine force of 30 ships. The U.S. Navy established its Submarine School at the main Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut (January 19, 1917). The American submarines would play little role in World War I, but the destroyer force would play a major role in World war II.

Command of the Sea

The naval arms race between Germany and Britain was a factor contributing to World War I. Germany was not the only industrial power capable of contesting control of the seas in the early 20th century. The other was the United States. And the British were concerned about growing American power. There was a serious confrontation between America and Britain over Venezuela (1890s). America for its part retained a historic objection to British empire building. It is not impossible that conflict could have occurred between America and Britain in the 20th century. When World War I broke out in Europe there were disputes between Britain which established a blockade on Germany and the other Central Powers and America which insisted on the rights of neutral shipping. This was an issue that had developed between America and Britain from the very foundation of the Republic (1790s). President Wilson's closest advisor, Col. House, advised him not to challenge Britain on the issue. This was a factor in President Wilson's decision to support a naval building program (1916). Incredibly reckless German policy with U-boats had the affect of overwhelming disputes with the British. After the War, President Wilson wanted to raise the issue of neutral shipping rights at the Versailles Peace Conference. The British managed to persuade them not to. Wilson who was primarily focused on the League of Nations reluctantly agreed. The Americans had not, however, forgotten about the issue. This led to a major decision by Britain. Britain during the 19th and early 20th century was the the dominant world naval power. World War I had brought Britain close to bankruptcy. The British could ill afford a naval building race with America. The United States not only had a larger industrial base, but it emerged from the War economically more prosperous than Britain. Thus the British had to decide whether to contest b=naval dominance with America are accept a rival naval power. This decision was addressed by the Committee of Naval Defense (winter 1920-21). Prime Minister Lloyd George later wrote that it was the most important and difficult that the Committee had ever considered. The conclusion they reached was difficult, but obvious, Britain no longer had the capability to control the seas. It could not out build the United States. This with little fanfare or publicity command of the seas began to shift from Britain to America. The British decided that rather than try to out build America, they would seek to negotiate arms control agreements.

Washington Naval Conference (1921-22)

The United States had anted to sponsor a general arms control agreement. The failure of the Senate to approve ratification of the Versailles Treaty, meant that France was left without American and British guarantees. The French Government thus made it clear that it would not support any limitations on its army. The United States thus decided to focus on naval arms limitations. After World War I, the British Royal Navy was no longer able to play its traditional role in controlling the seas. The German Navy was dismantled. The United States was concerned about the rising power of Japan, a World War I ally. American officials were especially concerned with Japan's designs on China. As part of the World War I settlement, Japan received several Pacific Island territories, former German bases. To prevent a naval arms race the United States sponsored the Washington Naval Conference. The resulting treaties were strongly resented by Japanese nationalists and the military.

Inter-War Era (1920s-30s)

The U.S. Navy was affected by the end of World War I and the overall political and economic trends of the inter-War era. The American people turned away from the Democrats and Wilsonian Idealism. The vast majority of Americans not only wanted a return to peacetime pursuits, but were less interested in the progressive reform movement pf the early-20th century. There were a range of issues that America needed to address, almost all of which were domestic matters: adjusting to demobilization, farm problems, labor issues, immigration, prohibition, and a range of other issues. The euphoria of the World War I victory soon dissolved into disillusionment and rejection of war. Many Americans came to regret participation in World War I. Many were objected to the treaty-making process that followed the War. There was not only a rejection of the War, but a growing feeling that industrialists (arms makers which began to be referred to as the 'merchants of death') had drawn America into the War. The result was a rapid growth in isolationism with substantial pacifist overtones, Americans attempted to withdraw from international commitments. Wilson attempted to make the League of Nations the center piece of post-War policy. The U.S. Senate rejected the League and as a result the Treaty of Versailles (March 1920). Americans wanted no part of the responsibilities associated with world leadership. Republican Senator Warren G. Harding and Republican presidential candidate encapsulated what was on the minds of most voter called for 'a return to normalcy'. It was not even a word, but most Americans liked the sound of it. It would only later become all too apparent that try as it might like to isolate itself, the United States would not be able to isolate itself from the world. The U.S. Navy like the Royal Navy decommissioned many vessels in the inter-War years as part of the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaties. Thus the U.S. Navy had the task of meeting its responsibilities with a much smaller force. In contrast to the Army, the Congress approved substantial appropriations for naval construction, especially after Japan failed to accept continued limits on naval construction. Most naval strategists before the War believed that the backbone of the fleet was the big-gun battleships, but an increasing number of visionary thinkers began to see air power as the future.

Undeclared Naval War (1941)

The British often talk about standing against Hitler alone for over a year (1940-41). While true, they were in fact not entirely alone. President Roosevelt was inaugurated within weeks of Hitler becoming Chancellor and he was a sharp critic of the NAZIs from the beginning of his Administration. The primary interest of most Americans was to stay out of another European war. President Roosevelt understood that a NAZI victory in Europe imperiled the United States. Thus he pursued policies aimed at supporting the Allies (Britain and France) at the onset of the War and the British after the fall of France. America sold the British war material and when the British approached bankruptcy, he conceived Lend Lease to continue supplying them. The President turned over surplus World War I destroyers to help fight the growing U-boat menace. And finally the President committed the United States Navy to an undeclared war in the North Atlantic. This was done with out Congressional approval and without the full knowledge of the American people. Historians can only speculate about his reasoning. Surely part of it was the straight military objective of protecting the convoys. But many historians believe that he was trying to spark a war. The strength of isolationist thinking made it impossible for the President to get a declaration of war from Congress and even if he had, America would have entered the war a severely divided country. The President may have thought he could goad Hitler into declaring war. (In fact this did actually come about.) Or he may have thought German attacks on American ships would cause a national outrage leading to war. In fact the public response to the sinking of American ships was muted, probably reflecting the desire to avoid war.

Pearl Harbor (1941)

Isolationist sentiment in America disappeared over night when Japanese carrier-based aircraft struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States declared war against Japan in on December 8. FDR was not sure how to proceed against the NAZIs which he considered a greater danger. This dilemma was solved by Hitler when on December 11 he declared war on the United States--incredibly the only country on which he ever bothered to formally declare war. The Japanese attack was a stunning tactical victory. It may have been the greatest strategic error in the history of warfare. With one stroke the Japanese had turned a deeply divided country into a unified nation with one purpose, to defeat Japan and her Axis partners. America had an industrial capacity that was not fully appreciate in either Tokyo or Berlin. America was now infused with a burning capacity to wage war to even the most remote spot on earth. Americans who had wanted a Fortress America were to be fighting in far away places (including many that they had never even heard of) from flying the hump over the Himalayas, tropical jungles like Guadalcanal, frozen landscapes like Attu and Kiska, the Sahara Desert, volcanic islands like Iwo Jima, as well as more familiar places like Italy and France. Isolationist Americans waged and won the most expansive conflict in the history of warfare.

World War II (1941-45)

It was in World War II that the balance of naval power shifted from the British Royal Navy to the United States Navy. The United States Navy, although severely weakened by the Japanese carrier strike on Pearl Harbor, played a decisive role in the defeat of both Japanese militarism and European Fascism. The Pacific War was primarily a naval war. The battleships which naval planners thought would decide a Pacific war played only a minor part in the War. It was carriers that began the war and would play the key role in the War. It was American carriers that would destroy the Imperial Fleet and help seize the islands that would bring the war home to the Japanese people. Unexpectedly. it was the American submarine force that would play another critical role. American carriers cut Japan off from the resources of the empire it had seized. It was America that conducted the only successful submarine campaign of the War. Not only was the Japanese war economy starved of raw material, but by the end of the War, the Japanese people were facing starvation. The war in Europe is often seen as primarily an air and ground war. The most important battle of the war the Battle of the Atlantic. The U.S. Navy entered this battle even before America entered the War. Without victory here, none of the other Allied land and air battles were possible. And all of Europe would have fallen to either Soviet of NAZI totalitarian rule.

Cold War

Navy League of the United States

The Navy League of the United States was founded as the Unites States was emerging on the world scene as a great industrial powerhouse and naval power (1902). President Theodore Roosevelt encouraged the idea. The Navy League promoted the idea that the United States should have a powerful navy for national defense and to support its interests overseas. It spoke in favor of naval spending to Congresses reluctant to make military appropriations. The Navy League seems to have been more successful than groups promoting the U.S. Army, but this was probably because the Navy in conjunction with two broad oceans was seen as a defensive force in the era before air power emerged as a major force and isolationist sentiment prevailed. The Navy League is the foremost citizens organization supporting the various sea services: the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S.-flag Merchant Marine, both these services and and their members. Not only does the Navy League operate as a lobby group, but it also conducts a range of educational programs which promote the idea that the United States is a maritime nation whose national economic and security interests require a commitment to freedom of the seas. The three major missions of the Navy League is to: 1) promote the morale of active-duty personnel and their families; 2) inform Congress and the American public on the importance of strong sea services; and 3) support youth through programs such as the Naval Sea Cadet Corps, Junior ROTC and Young Marines that acquaint young people to the importance and values of our sea services.


Barnett, Lelia Montague. "Commodore Sinclair and The Nautical School," Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine. (October 1920) Vol. 54, No. 10.

O'Gara, Gordon Carpenter. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of the Modern Navy (Princeton University Press: 1943)

Oren, Michael B. Power, Faith, and Fantasy (2007).

Toll, Ian W. Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy (Norton, 2006).

Vogel, Robert. Without Consent or Contract (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989).


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