|Part of the War of the Second Coalition|
From left to right: USS Constellation vs L'Insurgente; U.S. Marines from USS Constitution boarding and capturing French privateer Sandwich
|Commanders and leaders|
| A fleet of 54 including:|
| Unknown fleet size|
Unknown number of sailors and Marines
|Casualties and losses|
After U.S. military involvement:
The Quasi-War (French : Quasi-guerre) was an undeclared war fought almost entirely at sea between the United States and France from 1798 to 1800, which broke out during the beginning of John Adams's presidency. After the French Monarchy was abolished in September 1792, the United States refused to continue repaying its large debt to France, which had supported the U.S. during its own War for Independence. The U.S. claimed that the debt had been owed to a previous regime. France was also outraged over the Jay Treaty and that the United States was actively trading with Britain, with whom France was at war. In response, France authorized privateers to conduct attacks on American shipping, seizing numerous merchant ships and ultimately leading the U.S. to retaliate.
The war was called "quasi" because it was undeclared. It involved two years of hostilities at sea, in which both navies and privateers attacked the other's shipping in the West Indies. Many of the battles involved famous naval officers such as Stephen Decatur, Silas Talbot and William Bainbridge. The unexpected fighting ability of the newly re-established U.S. Navy, which concentrated on attacking the French West Indian privateers, together with the growing weaknesses and final overthrow of the ruling French Directory, led the French foreign minister, Talleyrand, to reopen negotiations with the U.S. At the same time, Adams feuded with Alexander Hamilton over control of the Adams administration. Adams took sudden and unexpected action, rejecting the anti-French hawks in his own party and offering peace to France. In 1800 he sent William Vans Murray to France to negotiate peace; the Federalists cried betrayal. Hostilities ended with the signing of the Convention of 1800.
When the United States won its independence it no longer had Britain's protection and therefore had the task of protecting its own ships and interests at sea. There were few American ships capable of defending the American coastline while trying to protect its merchant ships at sea.The Kingdom of France was a crucial ally of the United States in the American Revolutionary War. In March 1778, France signed a treaty of alliance with the rebelling colonists against Great Britain and had loaned the new Republic large sums of money. However, Louis XVI of France was deposed in September 1792. The monarchy was abolished.
In 1794 the U.S. government reached an agreement with Great Britain in the Jay Treaty, which was ratified the following year. It resolved several points of contention between the United States and Britain that had lingered since the end of the American Revolution. The treaty encouraged bilateral trade, and enabled expanded trade between the United States and Britain, stimulating the American economy. From 1794 to 1801, the value of American exports nearly tripled, from US$33 million to US$94 million. But the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, who were pro-France, always denigrated the Jay Treaty.
The United States declared neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and revolutionary France, and U.S. legislation was being passed for a trade deal with Great Britain. When the U.S. refused to continue repaying its debt, saying that the debt was owed to the previous government, not to the French First Republic, French outrage led to a series of responses. First, France authorized privateers to seize U.S. ships trading with Great Britain, and taking them back to port as prizes to be sold. Next, the French government refused to receive Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the new U.S. Minister, when he arrived in Paris in December 1796, severing diplomatic relations.In President John Adams's annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, he reported on France's refusal to negotiate a settlement and spoke of the need "to place our country in a suitable posture of defense". Adams offered Washington a commission as lieutenant general on July 4, 1798, and as commander-in-chief of the armies raised for service in that conflict. In April 1798, President Adams informed Congress of the "XYZ Affair", in which French agents demanded a large bribe before engaging in substantive negotiations with United States diplomats.
Meanwhile, French privateers inflicted substantial losses on U.S. shipping. On 21 February 1797, Secretary of State Timothy Pickering told Congress that during the previous eleven months, France had seized 316 U.S. merchant ships. French marauders cruised the length of the Atlantic seaboard virtually unopposed. The United States government had nothing to combat them, as it had abolished the navy at the end of the Revolutionary War, and its last warship was sold in 1785. The United States had only a flotilla of small Revenue-Marine cutters and a few neglected coastal forts.
Increased depredations by French privateers led to the government in 1798 establishing the Department of Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps to defend the expanding U.S. merchant fleet. Benjamin Stoddert was appointed as Secretary of Navy.Congress authorized the president to acquire, arm, and man not more than twelve ships of up to twenty-two guns each. Several merchantmen were immediately purchased and refitted as ships of war.
Congress rescinded the treaties with France on 7 July 1798,and two days later Congress passed authorization for the U.S. to attack French warships in U.S. waters.
On 16 July Congress appropriated funds "to build and equip the three remaining frigates begun under the Act of 1794": USS Congress, launched at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 15 August 1799; USS Chesapeake, launched at Gosport Shipyard, Virginia, on 2 December 1799; and USS President, launched at New York, New York, on 10 April 1800. To make the most effective use of his limited resources, Secretary Stoddert established a policy that U.S. forces would be concentrated on attacks against French forces in the Caribbean, where France still had colonies, though at times he had to grant merchant ships' requests for escorts.
The U.S. Navy now operated with a battle fleet of about 25 vessels, which patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean hunting down French privateers. Captain Thomas Truxtun's focus on crew training paid dividends when the frigate Constellation captured the French Navy's frigate L'Insurgente and severely damaged the frigate La Vengeance. French privateers generally resisted, as did La Croyable, which was captured on 7 July 1798, by Delaware outside Egg Harbor, New Jersey.
By 1 July 1799, under the command of Stephen Decatur, USS United States had been refitted and repaired and embarked on its mission to patrol the south Atlantic coast and West Indies in search of French ships which were preying on American merchant vessels.
Enterprise also captured eight privateers and freed eleven U.S. merchant ships from captivity, while Experiment captured the French privateers Deux Amis and Diane. Numerous U.S. merchantmen were liberated by Experiment. Boston forced the Le Berceau into submission.
In April, 1800 Silas Talbot investigated an increase in merchant ship traffic near Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, and discovered that the French privateer Sandwich had taken refuge there. On 8 May the squadron captured the sloop Sally, and Talbot devised a plan to capture Sandwich by using the familiarity of Sally to allow the Americans access to the harbor.First Lieutenant Isaac Hull led 90 sailors and Marines into Puerto Plata without challenge on 11 May, capturing Sandwich and spiking the guns of the nearby Spanish fort.
The U.S. Navy lost only one ship to the French, Retaliation. She was the captured privateer La Croyable, recently purchased by the U.S. Navy. Retaliation departed Norfolk on 28 October 1798, with Montezuma and Norfolk, and cruised in the West Indies protecting U.S. commerce. On 20 November 1798, the French frigates L'Insurgente and Volontaire overtook Retaliation while her consorts were away; commanding officer Lieutenant William Bainbridge surrendered the out-gunned schooner.
Bainbridge was allowed to remain on board Retaliation, and after ten days of detention was allowed to go ashore to Guadaloupe and negotiate terms of prisoner exchange with French General Desferneaux. The Governor promised to free officers and crew if Bainbridge, acting as a U.S. representative, would agree to declare Guadaloupe as neutral during the remainder of the war, with the hopes of commercial trade with the United States. Bainbridge, however, protesting the inhumane treatment of U.S. prisoners, maintained that his authority extended no further than to arrange for their exchange. Negotiations ultimately failed and Bainbridge was threatened with imprisonment if he did not comply with the wishes of the governor. Bainbridge, with his commitment to duty as a naval officer, again refused to co-operate. The governor, after further deliberations, and with earnest designs of forming his own cartel for purposes of trade with the United States, finally agreed to the release of prisoners and prepared a dispatch for Bainbridge to present to President Adams, assuring him of the neutrality of Guadaloupe. He released Retaliation to the command of Bainbridge with the stipulation that if their arrangement was not honored, Bainbridge and all released prisoners would be put to death if captured again. Bainbridge sailed for the United States and presented the Guadaloupe Governor's offer. Adams presented the offer to Congress, which accepted it, resulting in the passage of the Retaliation Act allowing the United States to capture and punish any French citizens aboard any French vessels. Bainbridge was ultimately promoted to the rank of Master and Commander and assigned to Norfolk for immediate service.
Montezuma and Norfolk escaped after Bainbridge convinced the senior French commander that those U.S. warships were too powerful for his frigates, and he should abandon the chase. The French renamed Retaliation as Magicienne, but on 28 June Merrimack fired a broadside and forced her to haul down her colors, and took the former privateer back into U.S. control.
Revenue cutters in the service of the U.S. Revenue-Marine (the predecessor to the U.S. Coast Guard), also took part in the conflict. The cutter USRC Pickering, commanded by Edward Preble, made two cruises to the West Indies and captured ten prizes. Preble turned command of Pickering over to Benjamin Hillar, who captured the much larger and more heavily armed French privateer l'Egypte Conquise after a nine-hour battle. In September 1800, Hillar, Pickering, and her entire crew were lost at sea in a storm. Preble next commanded the frigate USS Essex, which he sailed around Cape Horn into the Pacific to protect U.S. merchantmen in the East Indies. He recaptured several U.S. ships that had been seized by French privateers.
U.S. naval losses may have been light, but the French had successfully seized many U.S. merchant ships by the war's end in 1800 – more than 2,000, according to one source.
Although they were fighting the same enemy, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy did not cooperate operationally or share operational plans. There were no mutual understandings about deployment between their forces. However, the British sold naval stores and munitions to the U.S. government, and the two navies shared a signal system so they could recognise the other's warships at sea and allowed their merchantmen to join each other's convoys for safety.
By late 1800, the United States Navy and the Royal Navy, combined with a more conciliatory diplomatic stance by the government of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, had reduced the activity of the French privateers and warships. The Convention of 1800, signed on 30 September, ended the Quasi-War. It affirmed the rights of Americans as neutrals upon the sea and abrogated the alliance with France of 1778. However, it failed to provide compensation for the $20,000,000 "French Spoliation Claims" of the United States. The agreement between the two nations implicitly ensured that the United States would remain neutral toward France in the wars of Napoleon and ended the "entangling" French alliance.This alliance had been viable only between 1778 and 1783.
William Bainbridge was a Commodore in the United States Navy. During his long career in the young American Navy he served under six presidents beginning with John Adams and is notable for his many victories at sea. He commanded several famous naval ships, including USS Constitution and saw service in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. Bainbridge was also in command of USS Philadelphia when she grounded off the shores of Tripoli in North Africa, resulting in his capture and imprisonment for many months. In the latter part of his career he became the U.S. Naval Commissioner.
USS United States was a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy and the first of the six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794. The name "United States" was among ten names submitted to President George Washington by Secretary of War Timothy Pickering in March of 1795 for the frigates that were to be constructed. Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be the young Navy's capital ships, and so United States and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed and built than standard frigates of the period. She was built at Humphrey's shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and launched on 10 May 1797 and immediately began duties with the newly formed United States Navy protecting American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France.
USS Congress was a nominally rated 38-gun wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. James Hackett built her in Portsmouth New Hampshire and she was launched on 15 August 1799. She was one of the original six frigates whose construction the Naval Act of 1794 had authorized. The name "Congress" was among ten names submitted to President George Washington by Secretary of War Timothy Pickering in March of 1795 for the frigates that were to be constructed.Joshua Humphreys designed these frigates to be the young Navy's capital ships, and so Congress and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed and built than the standard frigates of the period.
Benjamin Stoddert was the first United States Secretary of the Navy from May 1, 1798, to March 31, 1801.
USS Maryland was a sloop in the United States Navy. She served during the Quasi-War with France.
USS Ganges was a man-of-war in the United States Navy during the Quasi-War with France.
Chesapeake was a 38-gun wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. She was one of the original six frigates whose construction was authorized by the Naval Act of 1794. Joshua Humphreys designed these frigates to be the young navy's capital ships. Chesapeake was originally designed as a 44-gun frigate, but construction delays, material shortages and budget problems caused builder Josiah Fox to alter her design to 38 guns. Launched at the Gosport Navy Yard on 2 December 1799, Chesapeake began her career during the Quasi-War with France and later saw service in the First Barbary War.
USS New York was a three-masted, wooden-hulled sailing frigate in the United States Navy that saw service during the Quasi-War with France.
The first USS Montezuma was a merchant ship built in Virginia in 1795. United States Navy acquired her during the Quasi-War with France and retained her name.
The first USS Norfolk was a brig in the United States Navy during the Quasi-War with France.
USS Retaliation was the French privateer Croyable, built in Maryland, that then operated out of Santo Domingo. Delaware captured her on 7 July 1798 off New Jersey. She then served in the United States Navy during Quasi-War with France. Two French frigates recaptured her on 20 November 1798. The French Navy took her into service as Magicienne. However, Merrimack captured her on 28 June 1799. She served in the US Navy in the Caribbean briefly, before arriving in Philadelphia in August. She was paid off there and sold on 29 November.
USS Pickering was a topsail schooner in the United States Revenue Cutter Service and then the United States Navy during the Quasi-War with France. She was named for Timothy Pickering, then the Secretary of State.
The first USS George Washington was a frigate in the United States Navy. She was named after President George Washington.
The second USS Delaware was a ship which served in the United States Navy during Quasi-War with France.
USS Merrimack, was a ship launched by an Association of Newburyport Shipwrights and presented to the Navy in 1798. She was the first ship of the Navy to be named for the Merrimack River. She saw action in the Quasi-War.
USS Trumbull, the third US Navy ship to bear the name, was an 18-gun sloop-of-war that took part of the so-called Quasi-War between the United States and France, between 1800 and 1801.
USS Constellation vs L'Insurgente, or the Action of 9 February 1799, was a single-ship action fought between frigates of the French Navy and the United States Navy during the Quasi-War, an undeclared war that lasted from 1798 to 1800. The battle resulted in USS Constellation's capture of L'Insurgente, after an intense firefight in which both sides exchanged heavy broadsides and musket fire.
The USS Constellation vs La Vengeance, or the Action of 1 February 1800, was a single-ship action fought between frigates of the French Navy and the United States Navy during the Quasi-War. In the battle the American frigate USS Constellation tried to take the French frigate La Vengeance as a prize. Both ships were heavily damaged. Although the French frigate struck her colors twice, she managed to flee only after the main mast of her opponent had fallen.
The Connecticut was a sailing frigate built by Seth Overton at Chatham, Conn. and launched 6 June 1799 at Middletown, Conn. She sailed 15 Oct. 1799 under the command of Captain M. Tryon for the Guadaloupe Station, and cruised in the West Indies for a year during the Quasi-War with France, protecting American commerce from French privateers. Connecticut's successful career was highlighted by the capture of four privateers and the recapture of seven American merchantmen. Arriving at New London, Conn., 18 Oct. 1800, Connecticut was sold at New York in 1801.
The Capture of La Croyable, or the Action of July 7, 1798, occurred when the French privateer schooner La Croyable was taken by the American sloop-of-war USS Delaware on 7 July 1798 during the Quasi War. The engagement resulted in the first capture of any ship by the United States Navy, which had been formed just months before the action.