|Part of the French Revolutionary Wars and the War of the Second Coalition|
From top to bottom: USS Constellation vs L'Insurgente; U.S. Marines from the 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. After the toppling of the French crown during the French Revolutionary Wars, the United States refused to continue repaying its debt to France on the grounds that it had been owed to a previous regime. French outrage led to a series of attacks on U.S. shipping, ultimately leading to retaliation from the U.S.
The war was called "quasi" because it was undeclared. It involved two years of hostilities at sea, in which both navies attacked the other's shipping in the West Indies. The unexpected fighting ability of the U.S. Navy, which destroyed the French West Indian trade, together with the growing weaknesses and final overthrow of the ruling Directory in France, led Talleyrand to reopen negotiations. At the same time, President Adams feuded with 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.
The Kingdom of France, a crucial ally of the United States in the American Revolutionary War after early 1776, had loaned the U.S. large amounts of money and in 1778 signed a treaty of alliance against Great Britain. However, Louis XVI of France was overthrown in 1792 during the French Revolution, with the French monarchy being abolished. As a result, in 1794 the U.S. government reached an agreement with Great Britain in the Jay Treaty, 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 Revolutionary War. It also encouraged bilateral trade, but it outraged the Jeffersonian Democrat Republicans, who were pro-France.
The United States had already 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 using the argument that the debt was owed to the previous government, not to the French First Republic, French outrage led to a series of responses. First, French privateers began seizing U.S. ships trading with Great Britain and bringing them in 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. In his annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, President John Adams reported on France's refusal to negotiate a settlement 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 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 the navy had been abolished at the end of the Revolutionary War and its last warship sold in 1785. The United States had only a flotilla of small revenue cutters and a few neglected coastal forts.
Increased depredations by French privateers led to the rebirth of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps to defend the expanding U.S. merchant fleet. 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, and construction of the frigate Congress resumed.
Congress rescinded the treaties with France on 7 July 1798. That date is now considered the beginning of the Quasi-War. This was followed two days later with the passage of the Congressional authorization of attacks on French warships in U.S. waters.
The U.S. Navy operated with a battle fleet of about twenty-five vessels, which patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean, hunting down French privateers. Captain Thomas Truxtun's insistence on the highest standards of 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 of Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Enterprise 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 recaptured by the Experiment. Boston forced Le Berceau into submission. Silas Talbot engineered an expedition to Puerto Plata harbor in Hispaniola. On 11 May 1800, sailors and marines from Constitution under Lieutenant Isaac Hull captured the French privateer Sandwich in the harbor and spiked the guns of the fort.
The U.S. Navy lost only one ship to the French, Retaliation, which was later recaptured. 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 the Retaliation while her consorts were away and forced commanding officer Lieutenant William Bainbridge to surrender the out-gunned schooner. The Montezuma and Norfolk escaped after Bainbridge convinced the senior French commander that those U.S. warships were too powerful for his frigates and persuaded him to abandon the chase. Renamed the Magicienne by the French, the schooner again came into U.S. hands on 28 June, when a broadside from Merrimack forced her to haul down her colors.
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 the 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, the Pickering, and her entire crew were lost at sea in a storm. Preble next commanded the frigate 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.
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.
Conclusion of hostilities
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 was embodied in the Treaty of Mortefontaine of September 30, 1800. It affirmed the rights of Americans as neutrals upon the sea and abrogated the alliance with France of 1778. The treaty failed to provide compensation for the $20,000,000 "French Spoliation Claims" of the United States. The treaty and the Convention of 1800 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. In truth, this alliance had only been viable between 1778 and 1783.
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