Congress. Two of these ships, the Constitution
and the Constellation, are still afloat! In building
them, Humphreys broke sharply with current
naval ideas. He displayed virtues of great value
to any nationa friendliness to innovation and
a willingness to experiment.
Enemies other than the Barbary pirates soon
harassed the defenseless United States. Both
France and England, then engaged in a war, began
to plunder American merchantmen. While a treaty
with Great Britain relieved the conflict with that
country, our relations grew worse with France,
who charged us with treaty violations. The capture
of men and ships continued as French privateers
began operating near American harbors.
The actions of the French privateers aroused
Congress to take immediate and vigorous action.
In 1798 Congress established the Navy Depart-
ment and appointed Benjamin Stoddert of
Georgetown, Maryland, as the first Secretary of
the Navy. Again, as had happened during the
revolutionary war, a fleet had to be created with
war already in progress. Our small Navy,
therefore, was immediately expanded as numerous
naval officers were appointed for active duty.
Recruiting officers in the main ports along the
Atlantic coast began a drive to enlist seamen.
Although no official war was declared,
Congress authorized the Navy to retaliate. The
Navy was ordered to seize any armed French
vessels within the jurisdictional limits of the
United States or on the high seas. The quasi-war
with France had begun.
This naval war,
waged mainly in the
Caribbean, was so costly to France that the French
Directory was ready to sue for peace by 1801.
Thomas Truxtun, another naval leader who
endowed the Navy with great traditions, was
largely responsible for this American victory.
Care for your men; see that each
understands his duties; exact instant
obedience; superintend everything; practice
daily with the guns.
Captain Truxtun (fig. 2-4), an expert seaman
and a strict disciplinarian, devised this simple
philosophy for attaining victory over an enemy.
The fame of this outstanding officer is derived
principally from his defeat of the French ships
Insurgence and Vengeance. However, he is best
remembered for his basic philosophy about the
relationship between officers and their men, as
shown by the example he set.
Enlisted men, looked upon during this time
as fighting mechanisms rather than as human
beings, were often punished savagely and without
justice. Captain Truxtun began to change that
image. He insisted his officers treat their men
courteously but firmly and that the men respect
and obey their officers. Concerned officers and
respectful enlisted personnel in todays Navy still
follow Captain Truxtuns example.
In language that could not be misunderstood,
Captain Truxtun wrote the following to his
It is not to be expected that the
Lieutenants of Ships are to remain idle and
indifferent spectators of what is going on,
but on the contrary it is absolutely
necessary that they overlook the duty of
every department on board.
An officer in carrying on his duty
should be civil and polite to everyone, for
civility does not interfere with discipline.
An officer is never to lose sight of the
humanity and care that is due to those who
may really be sick or otherwise stand in
need of his assistance.
Truxtuns attitude toward his men resulted
from his experience during the revolutionary war
as a successful privateer captain working closely
with the Navy. He could not help noticing and
regretting that many naval officers, slack and
indolent, cared too little about a taut ship. As a
captain of the Constellation during the war with
France in 1799, he found an opportunity to
instill his own miliary spirit in his crews.
A dramatic act of bravery during Captain
Truxtuns command of the Constellation showed
the respect and loyalty he had earned from his
men. The battle against the Vengeance began at
2000 and lasted until 0100. During that battle, a
teenaged midshipman lived up to what the Navy
calls the highest traditions of the naval service.
When a sailor told Midshipman James Jarvis that