The present volume is the first of a projected series of early documentary material on American naval history. Its preparation and publication is in accordance with Congressional authorization, obtained at the instance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It is expected that ultimately the set will comprise a large number of volumes authoritatively recording from colonial times, many aspects of our early naval experiences, which have heretofore been but imperfectly known because of widely scattered and largely inaccessible source material.
The Navy Department's archives, together with other conveniently available naval collections, are at present very incomplete prior to the year 1798, which marks the beginning of the first extensive naval operations after the adoption of the Constitution. It was therefore decided to start the series with that period, in which began the Quasi-War with France, and to work forward chronologically as practicable in subsequent volumes; but also with the intention of proceeding with the collection of material in earlier dates and of publishing the same later on. Single volumes will bear no serial number so that the title, together with the dates of the events covered, will conveniently place any one of them in the series regardless of the time of its publication.
The Quasi-Naval War with France, which extended over a period of nearly three years (1798-1801), had its origins in extensive and long continued depredations upon American shipping. After the sale in 1785 of the Frigate Alliance, the last survivor of the Revolutionary Navy, our seaborne commerce had no naval protection whatever and was frequently interfered with by the armed ships of the Barbary Powers, Spain, England and France.
The hostile actions of the former were kept within partial bounds for a number of years through diplomacy and tribute, while reliance upon diplomatic effort alone had to serve with the others. Early in 1794, upon the recommendation of President Washington, Congress passed an act for the construction of six frigates with a view to providing protection for American seaborne commerce, especially in the Mediterranean where at the moment the depredations upon it were most severe.
When a treaty of peace was concluded with Algiers in 1795 the shipbuilding program came to a halt under the terms of the law, but the completion of three of the ships was authorized by Congress in the following year (April 1796). Construction continued at a slow rate and no other naval preparations were made until the Spring of 1798 when growing French spoliations rendered it imperative that some active defensive measures be taken afloat.
Following a report from the Secretary of State summarizing the condition of affairs Congress on 27 March 1798 provided for the early fitting out of the three frigates approaching completion (United States . . .