The Founders on a Standing Navy: American Military Action Abroad (1783-1860)

Marion Smith /

In 1794, President George Washington requested and Congress authorized the building of six frigates, a type of warship widely used at the time. The presence of a standing U.S. Navy was deemed necessary in order to defend American citizens and commerce from European wars and the Barbary Coast pirates.

By 1794, it had become clear that the ongoing wars between Revolutionary France and England would continue to place American ships in harm’s way. The United States needed to protect American commerce and enforce its neutrality in the European wars. But this was not the most immediate reason for building a navy.

For those who believed that the U.S. could do without active naval war ships in peacetime or that future conflict could be averted through diplomacy alone, the events of November 1793 proved them wrong. In that month, Algerian Pirates captured 10 American ships and 110 U.S. citizens who they took back to the Barbary State of Algiers. (more…)