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Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
USS Constellation
From top to bottom: USS Constellation vs L'Insurgente; U.S. Marines from the USS Constitution board and capture the French Privateer before spiking the cannons of the Spanish fort
Date 1798–1800
Location Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean

Convention of 1800[1][2]

  • Peaceful cessation of Franco-American alliance
  • End of French privateer attacks on American shipping
  • American neutrality and renunciation of claims against France

 United States


Commanders and leaders
John Adams
George Washington
Alexander Hamilton
Benjamin Stoddert
Paul Barras
Napoléon Bonaparte
Edme Desfourneaux
Victor Hugues
André Rigaud
A fleet of 54 including:
18 Frigates
4 Sloops
2 Brigs
3 Schooners
5,700 Sailors
and Marines
365 privateers
Unknown fleet size
Unknown number of Sailors and Marines
Casualties and losses

Before U.S. military involvement:

  • 28 killed
  • 42 wounded
  • 300+ merchantmen and their cargoes captured
  • 22 privateers captured
  • Over 2000 merchant ships captured in total

After U.S. military involvement:

  • 1 ship captured
    (later recaptured)[3]
  • 54+ killed
  • 43+ wounded


  • Unknown


  • Hundreds killed or wounded
  • Several French privateers and warships captured or destroyed


  • Unknown
  • 1 fort captured

The Quasi-War (French: Quasi-guerre) was an undeclared war fought almost entirely at sea between the United States of America and the French Republic from 1798 to 1800. After the toppling of the French crown during its revolutionary wars, the United States refused to continue repaying its debt to France on the grounds that it had been owed to a previous regime. French outrage led to a series of attacks on American shipping, ultimately leading to retaliation from the Americans and the end of hostilities with the signing of the Convention of 1800 shortly thereafter.


The Kingdom of France had been a crucial ally of the United States in the American Revolutionary War since the spring of 1776, and had signed in 1778 a treaty of alliance with the United States of America against Great Britain. But in 1794, after the French Revolution toppled that country's monarchy, the American government came to an agreement with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Jay Treaty, that resolved several points of contention between the United States and Great Britain that had lingered after the end of the American Revolutionary War. It also contained economic clauses.

The United States had already declared neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and revolutionary France, and American legislation was being passed for a trade deal with Britain. When the U.S. refused to continue repaying its debt using the argument that the debt was owed to the previous government, not to the French First Republic, French outrage led to a series of responses. First, French privateers began seizing American ships trading with Britain and bringing them in as prizes to be sold. Next, the French government refused to receive Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the new U.S. Minister, when he arrived in Paris in December 1796. In his annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, President John Adams reported on France's refusal to negotiate a settlement and spoke of the need "to place our country in a suitable posture of defense."[4] In April 1798, President Adams informed Congress of the "XYZ Affair", in which French agents demanded a large bribe before engaging in substantive negotiations with United States diplomats.

Meanwhile, the French Navy was inflicting substantial losses on American shipping. On 21 February 1797, Secretary of State Timothy Pickering told Congress that during the previous eleven months, France had seized 316 American merchant ships. French marauders now cruised the length of the Atlantic seaboard virtually unopposed. The United States government had nothing to combat them, as the Navy had been abolished at the end of the Revolutionary War and its last warship was sold in 1785. The United States had only a flotilla of small revenue cutters and a few somewhat neglected coastal forts.[5]

Increased depredations by French privateers led to the rebirth of the United States Navy and the creation of the United States Marine Corps to defend the expanding American merchant fleet. Congress authorized the president to acquire, arm, and man not more than 12 ships of up to 22 guns each. Several merchantmen were immediately purchased and refitted as ships of war,[6] and construction of the frigate Congress resumed.

Congress rescinded the treaties with France on 7 July 1798; that date is now considered as the beginning of the Quasi-War. This was followed two days later with the passage of the Congressional authorization of attacks on French warships in American waters.

Naval engagements

The U.S. Navy operated with a battle fleet of about 25 vessels, which patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean, hunting down French privateers. Captain Thomas Truxtun's insistence on the highest standards of crew training paid dividends when the frigate Constellation captured the French Navy's frigate L'Insurgente and severely damaged the frigate La Vengeance. French privateers generally resisted, as did La Croyable, which was captured on 7 July 1798, by the Delaware outside of Egg Harbor, New Jersey.[7] The Enterprise captured eight privateers and freed 11 American merchant ships from captivity. Experiment captured the French privateers Deux Amis and Diane. Numerous American merchantmen were recaptured by the Experiment. The Boston forced Le Berceau into submission. Silas Talbot engineered an expedition to Puerto Plata harbor in the Colony of Santo Domingo, a possession of France's ally Spain, on 11 May 1800. Sailors and marines from Constitution under Lieutenant Isaac Hull captured the French privateer Sandwich in the harbor and spiked the guns of the Spanish fort.

The U.S. Navy lost only one ship to the French, the Retaliation, which was later recaptured. She was the captured privateer La Croyable, recently purchased by the U.S. Navy. The Retaliation departed Norfolk on 28 October 1798, with Montezuma and Norfolk, and cruised in the West Indies protecting American commerce. On 20 November 1798, the French frigates L’Insurgente and Volontaire overtook Retaliation while her consorts were away and forced commanding officer Lieutenant William Bainbridge to surrender the out-gunned schooner. Montezuma and Norfolk escaped after Bainbridge convinced the senior French commander that those American warships were too powerful for his frigates and persuaded him to abandon the chase. Renamed Magicienne by the French, the schooner again came into American hands on 28 June, when a broadside from Merrimack forced her to haul down her colors.

Revenue cutters in the service of the United States Revenue-Marine, the predecessor to the United States Coast Guard, also took part in the conflict. The cutter USRC Pickering, commanded by Edward Preble, made two cruises to the West Indies and captured 10 prizes. Preble turned command of Pickering over to Benjamin Hillar, who captured the much larger and more heavily armed French privateer l'Egypte Conquise after a nine-hour battle. In September 1800, Hillar, the Pickering, and her entire crew were lost at sea in a storm. Preble next commanded the frigate Essex, which he sailed around Cape Horn into the Pacific to protect American merchantmen in the East Indies. He recaptured several American ships that had been seized by French privateers.[8][9][10]

American naval losses may have been light, but the French had successfully seized many American merchant ships by the war's end in 1800—more than 2,000, according to one source.[11]

Although they were fighting the same enemy, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy did not cooperate operationally or share operational plans. There was no mutual understandings about deployment between their forces. However, the British did sell naval stores and munitions to the American government. In addition, the two navies shared a signal system so they could recognize the other's warships at sea and allowed their merchantmen to join each other's convoys for safety.

Conclusion of hostilities

By the autumn of 1800, the United States Navy and the Royal Navy, combined with a more conciliatory diplomatic stance by the government of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, had reduced the activity of the French privateers and warships. The Convention of 1800, signed on 30 September, ended the Franco-American War. Unfortunately for President Adams, the news did not arrive in time to help him secure a second term in the 1800 presidential election.

See also


  1. "Quasi War with France".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Military history - The Quasi War".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. America’s First Limited War, Lieutenant Colonel Gregory E. Fehlings, U.S. Army Reserve
  4. First State of the Nation Address by President John Adams Philadelphia, PA, 22 November 1797
  5. Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center The Reestablishment of the Navy, 1787-1801 Historical Overview and Select Bibliography
  6. Greg H., Williams (2009). McFarland, ed. The French Assault on American Shipping, 1793-1813: A History and Comprehensive Record of Merchant Marine Losses. p. 25. ISBN 07-86-45407-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Mooney, James L., ed. (November 1983). Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. 6. Defense Dept., Navy, Naval History Division. p. 84. ISBN 0-16-002030-1. Retrieved 27 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. The United States Coast Guard The Coast Guard at War
  9. USRCS Lost at Sea
  10. Love 1992, p. 68
  11. "America’s First Limited War", Lieutenant Colonel Gregory E. Fehlings, U.S. Army Reserve

Further reading

  • Allen, Gardner W. (1909). Our Naval War with France. New York: Houghton Mifflin Publishers.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Daughan, George C. (2008). If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy - From the Revolution to the War of 1812. Philadelphia: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-01607-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • De Conde, Alexander (1966). The quasi-war: the politics and diplomacy of the undeclared war with France 1797–1801. New York: Scribner's.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kingston, Christopher. "Marine Insurance in Philadelphia During the Quasi-War with France, 1795–1801." Journal of Economic History (2011) 71#01 pp. 162–184
  • Leiner, Frederick C. (1999). Millions for Defense: The Subscription Warships of 1798. Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-508-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Love, Robert (1992). History of the U.S. Navy Volume One 1775-1941. Harrisburg PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-1862-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nash, Howard Pervear. The forgotten wars: the role of the US Navy in the quasi war with France and the Barbary Wars 1798-1805 (AS Barnes, 1968)
  • Palmer, Michael A. Stoddert's war: Naval operations during the quasi-war with France, 1798-1801. Naval Institute Press, 1999
  • Toll, Ian W. (2006). Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of The U.S. Navy. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-05847-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Unger, Harlow (2005). The French War Against America: How a Trusted Ally Betrayed Washington and the Founding Fathers. Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 978-0-471-65113-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links