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This Day In History: The Naval Act Of 1794 Was Passed By Congress

March 27, 2017

This day in history, the Naval Act of 1794 was passed by Congress to reactivate and establish a permanent naval force in the United States of America.

The bill, presented to the House of Representatives on January 20, authorized the construction of six frigates, including Constitution. In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, Massachusetts had its own navy. The establishment of a national navy was an issue of debate among the members of the Continental Congress. Supporters argued that a navy would protect shipping, defend the coast, and make it easier to seek out support from foreign countries. Detractors countered that challenging the British Royal Navy, then the world’s preeminent naval power, was a foolish undertaking.

It was determined that it was necessary to protect American interests at sea even though many felt it was too expensive to maintain and would provoke European powers.

Only in 1793 when Algiers Muslim Pirates had captured eleven additional merchant ships was a proposal finally taken seriously. Opposition to the bill was strong and a clause was added that should peace be established with Algiers the construction of the ships was to cease.

In March 1796, as construction of the frigates progressed, a peace accord was announced between the United States and Algiers. Construction on the six frigates was halted until 1796 when Congress passed an act on April 20 allowing for the construction and funding to finish three of the ships: Constellation, United States and Constitution.