Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

When our Navy dissappeared

May 26, 2011 by Rob Bender


Commodore Barry's statue is outside the formal entrance of Independence Hall. Photo by Flick user gamillos

As we celebrate Navy Week here in Philadelphia and all over the country, many Americans may not be aware of the origins of our Navy.

In 1794, President George Washington signed the “The Act to Provide a Naval Armament” (also known as the Naval Act).

It established the first Naval Force which eventually became the United States Navy, authorizing the construction of six Frigates and provided for the “number, pay, and rations of the officers and crews.”

According to the bill the first six Frigates would in the U.S. Navy were:


After the Revolutionary War, however, the Confederation government was in deep debt and could not afford to maintain a single warship. The last ship of the Continental Navy, the frigate Alliance, was sold in 1785, and its commander, Captain John Barry, returned to civilian life.

The Navy disappeared.

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Though there was much political discourse over the cost of the ships and whether a standing Navy was required for the United States. However attacks on U.S. shipping by Algerian Corsairs and subsequent interdictions by both the English and French on shipping provided the support which allowed the ships to be started and eventually completed; Barry was recalled to the Navy and in 1797 he was issued Commission Number 1 by President George Washington, backdated to June 4, 1794. His title was thereafter "Commodore." He is recognized as not only the first American commissioned naval officer but also as its first flag officer.

Barry's statue currently occupies the walkway to the formal entrance of Independence Hall and the most famous of the six frigates, the USS Constitution, remains in Commissioned service to our Navy.

Rob Bender is president of the Navy League Philadelphia Council.

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