Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy
Ian W. Toll
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"A fluent, intelligent history...give[s] the reader a feel for the human quirks and harsh demands of life at sea."―New York Times Book Review
Before the ink was dry on the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of a permanent military became the most divisive issue facing the new government. The founders―particularly Jefferson, Madison, and Adams―debated fiercely. Would a standing army be the thin end of dictatorship? Would a navy protect from pirates or drain the treasury and provoke hostility? Britain alone had hundreds of powerful warships.
From the decision to build six heavy frigates, through the cliff-hanger campaign against Tripoli, to the war that shook the world in 1812, Ian W. Toll tells this grand tale with the political insight of Founding Brothers and the narrative flair of Patrick O'Brian.
magnitude of the failure. “In looking over the long list of vessels belonging to the United States taken and destroyed, and recollecting the whole history of the rise and progress of our navy, it is difficult to avoid tears,” he told a congressional committee in 1780. Vast funds and huge commitments of manpower had been exhausted in the construction, arming, and victualling of warships that never inflicted any serious blow against the enemy. Robert Morris said there was no use keeping a navy
votes.) In contrast to those of his predecessor, Madison’s inaugural ceremonies had a distinct military flavor. At dawn on March 4, 1809, the deep baritone reverberations of the big shore guns at the Navy Yard rumbled through the capital. Cavalry militia companies from Georgetown and Washington escorted the president-elect’s carriage from his house on F Street down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill, arriving at exactly noon. An estimated ten thousand people had gathered, easily the largest
gunboats, while failing to reinforce the oceangoing navy. “I lament…the total Neglect and absolute Refusal of all maritime Protection and Defence,” he lectured Jefferson in a letter dated June 28. “Money, Mariners, and Soldiers would be at the Public Service, if only a few Frigates had been ordered to be built. Without this our Union will be a brittle China Vase, a house of Ice, or a Palace of Glass. I am, Sir, with an affectionate Respect, yours.” The numerical superiority of the Royal Navy was
sea in three days. The next morning, Constitution was towed up the channel by her cutters. She anchored in President Roads, just below the fort at Castle Island. Almost immediately, a small flotilla of lighters began transferring provisions and casks of fresh water to the ship. Just before noon, Hull went ashore at Boston’s Long Wharf. As he walked up State Street, he was cheered by crowds of Bostonians who had heard reports of the Constitution’s escape. At the Exchange Coffee House (which
Channel, with only four Fathoms at the Top of High Water; and about a third of the Way over from the Isle there is a single Rock with no more than ten Feet Water. The squadron passed through safely, and the pilots disembarked into their boats for the return passage to New York. East of Marsh Island (not far from the modern-day site of La Guardia Airport), the United States and her consorts skirted the shoals known as the Stepping Stones and Executioner’s Rocks, and entered the safer waters of