quasi awful


The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought entirely at sea between the United States and France from 1798 to 1800. In the United States, the conflict is sometimes also referred to as the Undeclared War with France, The Pirate Wars, or the Half-War.


The Kingdom of France had been a major ally of the United States in the American Revolutionary War, but the new government of Revolutionary France viewed the Jay Treaty, a 1794 agreement between the United States and the Kingdom of Great Britain, as a violation of France’s 1778 Treaty of Alliance with the United States. The Jay Treaty resolved several points of contention between the United States and Great Britain that had lingered since the end of the war, but also contained economic clauses, and seeing that the United States had already declared neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and France, and that American legislation was being passed for a trade deal with their enemy led to French outrage. The French government was also outraged by the U.S. refusal to continue repaying its debt to France on the basis that it had been extinguished with the establishment of a French Republic (as opposed to the Monarchy which preceded it).

The French began to seize American ships trading with their British enemies and refused to receive a new United States minister when he arrived in Paris in December 1796. In his annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, President John Adams reported on France’s refusal to negotiate and spoke of the need "to place our country in a suitable posture of defense." In April 1798, President Adams informed Congress of the "XYZ Affair", in which French agents demanded a large bribe for the restoration of relations with the United States.

The French inflicted substantial losses on American shipping. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering reported to Congress on June 21, 1797 that the French had captured 316 American merchant ships in the previous eleven months. The hostilities caused insurance rates on American shipping to increase at least 500 percent, as French marauders cruised the length of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard virtually unopposed. The administration had no warships to combat them; the last had been sold off in 1785. The United States possessed only a flotilla of revenue cutters and some neglected coastal forts.

Increased depredations by privateers from Revolutionary France required the United States Navy to protect the expanding merchant shipping of the United States. The United States Congress authorized the President to acquire, arm, and man no more than twelve vessels, of up to twenty-two guns each. Under the terms of this act, several vessels were purchased and converted into ships of war.

July 7, 1798, when Congress rescinded treaties with France, can be considered a semi-official beginning of the Quasi-War. The act was followed two days later with Congressional authorization to attack French vessels.

Naval engagements

The U.S. Navy operated with a battle fleet of roughly 25 vessels. The Navy patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean, seeking out French privateers. Captain Thomas Truxtun’s insistence on the highest standards of crew training paid handsome dividends as the frigate USS Constellation captured L'Insurgente and severely damaged La Vengeance. Often, French privateers resisted, as was the case with the privateer La Croyable, who was captured on July 7, 1798, by USS Delaware outside of Egg Harbor, New Jersey. The USS Enterprise captured eight privateers and freed 11 American vessels from captivity. The USS Experiment captured the French Deux Amis and the Diane. Numerous American merchantmen were likewise recaptured by the Experiment. The USS Boston summarily forced Le Berceau into submission. Silas Talbot engineered an expedition in the Puerto Plata harbor in St. Domingo, a possession of France's ally Spain, on May 11, 1800, in which sailors and marines of the USS Constitution under Lieutenant Isaac Hull cut out the French privateer Sandwich from the harbor and spiked the guns in the Spanish fort.

Of all of the vessels operating under command of the U.S. Navy, only one vessel was captured by—and later recaptured from—French forces: USS Retaliation. Retaliation was the captured privateer La Croyable, recently purchased by the U.S. Navy. Retaliation departed Norfolk on October 28, 1798, with Montezuma and Norfolk and cruised in the West Indies protecting American commerce. On November 20, the French frigates L’Insurgente and Volontaire overtook Retaliation while her consorts were away on a chase and forced commanding officer Lieutenant William Bainbridge to surrender the out-gunned schooner. However, Montezuma and Norfolk escaped after Bainbridge convinced the senior French commander that those American warships were too powerful for his frigates and induced him to abandon the chase. Renamed Magicienne by the French, the schooner again came into American hands on June 28, when a broadside from USS Merrimack forced her to haul down her colors.

Revenue cutters in the service of the Revenue-Marine, predecessor of the Coast Guard, also assisted in capturing two others. The cutter USRC Pickering, commanded by Edward Preble, made two cruises to the West Indies and captured ten prizes, one of which carried 19 guns throwing 150 pounds of iron compared to Pickering’s 14 guns and total iron weight of only 56 pounds, and was manned by some 250 sailors, more than three times Pickering’s strength.

Sources differ with regards to American losses. One contends that by the war's end in 1800, the French had seized over two thousand American merchant vessels. Another claims that the United States lost only one. (This and similar discrepancies may be explained if one is counting naval losses and another merchant ships.)

Although they were fighting the same enemy, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy did not cooperate operationally, nor did they share operational plans or come to mutual understandings about deployment of their forces. The British did sell the American government naval stores and munitions. In addition, the two navies shared a system of signals by which each could recognize the other’s warships at sea and allowed merchantmen of their respective nations to join their convoys.

Conclusion of hostilities

By the autumn of 1800, the United States Navy and the Royal Navy, combined with a more conciliatory diplomatic stance by the government of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, produced a reduction in the activity of the French privateers and warships. The Convention of 1800, signed on September 30, 1800, ended the Quasi-War but news of this did not arrive in time to help John Adams avert failing in his bid for a second term.

See also


Further reading

  • Alexander De Conde: The quasi-war: the politics and diplomacy of the undeclared war with France 1797–1801. New York: Scribner’s, 1966
  • Frederick C. Leiner: Millions for Defense: The Subscription Warships of 1798. US Naval Institute Press, November 1999
  • Nathan Miller: The US Navy: An Illustrated History. New York: American Heritage, 1977
  • Ian W. Toll: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of The U.S. Navy. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006
  • Captain Thomas Haggard commanded the American armed ship Louisa of Philadelphia, which successfully engaged French and Spanish privateers August 20, 1800 off Tarifa.

External links

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