Week 5: Early naval wars


A bit of housekeeping

We’re 1/3 of the way through the semester, so I’d like to hear how you’re doing. Please fill out this Google form to assess your work thus far in the class; please also use it to tell me how I can help you do better.

Early naval wars

Why does the United States want a navy during peacetime? After the Revolution, the navy was disbanded (the last ship was sold in 1785). But some in Congress wanted to start it up again.

We’re going to *attempt* to stage a Congressional debate this week about the question of whether the United States should have a peacetime navy. Slack might seem like a bad place to have this discussion, but in reality in the nineteenth century, debates happened both in person and in pamphlets–in other words, synchronously and asynchronously. So here’s how we’re going to do it.

First, you need to read this:

Dull, Jonathan R. “A New Navy Fights France and the Barbary States, 1783–1805.” In American Naval History, 1607-1865, 33–48. University of Nebraska Press, 2012. (Use your library skills to find an online version of this in our library!) (No response for this one; use the evidence you learn in this chapter to formulate your arguments!)

Then you’ll need to form some arguments!

In each group, I’m going to assign some members of your group to be pro-navy, and others to be anti-navy. In your group, you’re going to debate.

On Monday, the pro-navy Congresspeople have their opportunity to present arguments for why the United States (in 1793, let’s say!) needed a navy.

On Tuesday, the anti-navalists have their chance to present either new arguments or a rebuttal of the pro-navy arguments.

On Wednesday, both sides have a chance to rebut the other.

On Thursday, we’re going to take a poll where you cast a vote for pro- or anti-navy (and you may have been swayed by the opposition!).

A few facts you should know before formulating your position

  • In 1790, the British had the biggest and most powerful navy in the world.
  • In 1790, the United States was up to its ears in war debt from the Revolution.
  • In 1790, American commerce no longer had the protection of the Royal Navy for its commercial vessels.
  • In 1790, American ships were already gaining a reputation for being fast and durable.
  • In 1790, there were significant tensions between the United States and Britain, between the United States and France, and the United States and the Barbary States.


Get out the vote!

In our Slack #general channel, go cast your vote: Should the United States build a navy or not? (Again, no obligation to vote for the side you were on initially—vote your conscience.)

The First Barbary War

Listen to this podcast episode from Preble Hall, from the US Naval Academy Museum. (Bonus “points” if you can identify one of the at least three factual errors I make in this episode 🙄. This is what comes of talking on a podcast without my written notes in front of me.)

For your reflection this week, write a blog post about the connections between the First Barbary War and the other themes from this semester thus far (for example, the cost of war, or the arguments for or against having a navy). Then write about the importance of allies for the Americans both in this period of history, and even today.