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Naval War with France (Undeclared)

1798 - 1801
  • Naval War with France (Undeclared)

    When England went to war with France in 1793, the Washington administration claimed American neutrality despite a treaty negotiated the following year with England that limited American trade with the French. Over the next several years, French privateers responded by seizing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of American merchant shipping. The Adams administration attempted to effect a settlement with France in 1798, hoping to persuade the revolutionary government to withdraw its authorization of the privateering. At the same time he called for other military preparations, President Adams ordered the completion of three warships that had been under construction since 1793--the United States, the Constellation, and the Constitution.

    French Foreign Minister Talleyrand demanded $250,000 in gifts and $6 million in loans before he would even meet with the American delegation. This notorious incident became known as the "XYZ Affair." Charles Pinckney's famous response expressed the American point of view perfectly: "[N]o; no; not a sixpence...." On receiving word of the attempted extortion, "Congress commissioned 1,000 privateers to capture or repel French vessels, established the Department of the Navy, levied $2 million in taxes, and passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to restrict domestic dissent." During 1798 and '99, American naval vessels fought more than ten engagements against ships of the French navy, losing only one. In some of these, Acting Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and Captain Thomas Truxton distinguished themselves. After Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France in November 1799, the Adams administration reopened negotiations with the French government, which came to a successful conclusion a few months later.

    American Casualties, Naval War with France

    Branch of ServiceKilled in ActionWounded in Action
    Navy    14    31
    Marines      6    11