The Unknown Quasi War

Quasi-War - Wikipedia

The United States and France once fought a brisk little war, fought entirely at sea. It’s been largely forgotten, although it was important indevelopment of the US Navy. 

The war grew out of political turmoil in which American diplomats in France were presented with a difficult situation. Several French diplomats suggested that a secret financial deal might be made. Known as the XYZ Affair. This was the era of French revolutionary government, before Napoleon took power. 

Politics in France was complicated, rough and full of intrigue. A frugal US Congress, angry over French demands, was convinced that a Navy would be worth it. An undeclared war broke out, with privateers on both sides preying on merchant shipping—French privateers took hundreds American ships. 

Britain and France were at war. The Royal Navy kept most of the French navy bottled up in French ports, with the French forces in the Caribbean (based on French and Spanish islands, Spain then allied with France) rather small. The big problem for Americans were the many privateers based in the Caribbean. One little-known aspect is that British and American naval cooperation was rather close. British convoys accepted American merchant ships, and American convoys sometimes included British ships.

Called the Quasi-War, it lasted from 1798 to 1800. The naval actions were fought mostly in the Caribbean. The most famous battle was that of the USS Constellation, a 38 gun frigate, and the French frigate L’Insurgente, a battle won by the American ship. The war ended when Napoleon seized power.

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