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Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
USS Constellation
Capture of the French Privateer Sandwich by armed Marines on the Sloop Sally, from the U.S. Frigate Constitution, Puerto - NARA - 532590.tif
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
Marine infantry
365 privateers
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


  • Several French privateers captured or destroyed


  • Unknown

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. In the United States, the conflict was sometimes also referred to as the Undeclared War with France, the Pirate Wars, and the Half-War.


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. 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. With the U.S. refusal to continue repaying its debt to France on the grounds that the debt had been owed to the French Crown, not to Republican France, French outrage at the U.S. led to a series of responses. French privateers began seizing American ships trading with Britain, and the French government refused to receive the new U.S. minister, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 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 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 had demanded a large bribe for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States.

The French Navy inflicted substantial losses on American shipping. On 21 February 1795, Secretary of State Timothy Pickering reported to Congress that France had seized 316 American merchant ships during the previous eleven months. Furthermore, French marauders cruised the length of the Atlantic seaboard virtually unopposed. The administration had no warships to combat them, the Navy having been abolished and its last vessel sold in 1785. The U.S. possessed only a flotilla of small revenue cutters and some neglected coastal forts.[5]

Increased depredations by French privateers led to the rebirth of the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps to protect 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 converted into ships of war,[6] and construction of the frigate Congress resumed.

7 July 1798, the date on which Congress rescinded treaties with France, is considered to be the beginning of the Quasi-War. This was followed two days later with the passage of the Congressional authorization to attack French warships.

Naval engagements[edit]

The U.S. Navy operated with a battle fleet of about 25 vessels. These patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean, seeking French privateers. Captain Thomas Truxtun's insistence on the highest standards of crew training paid dividends as the frigate Constellation captured the frigate L'Insurgente and severely damaged the frigate La Vengeance. French privateers usually 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.

Only one U.S Navy vessel was captured by French forces, the Retaliation, which was later re-captured. She was the commandeered privateer La Croyable, recently purchased by the U.S. Navy. 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, and he captured the much larger and more heavily armed French privateer l‍ '​Egypte Conquise after a nine-hour battle. In September 1800, Hillar, Pickering, and her entire crew were lost at sea in a storm. Preble commanded the frigate Essex, which he sailed around Cape Horn into the Pacific to protect American merchantmen in the East Indies; he recaptured several ships that had been seized by French privateers.[8][9][10]

American naval losses may have been light, but the French successfully seized many American merchant ships by the war's end in 1800—over 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, nor did they share operational plans or come to mutual understandings about deployment of their forces. The British did sell the American government naval stores and munitions. In addition, the two navies shared a system of signals by which each could recognize the other's warships at sea, and allowed merchantmen of their respective nations to join each other's convoys.

Conclusion of hostilities[edit]

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[edit]


  1. ^ "Quasi War with France". 
  2. ^ "Military history - The Quasi War". 
  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, November 22, 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. 
  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 June 27, 2011. 
  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[edit]

  • Allen, Gardner W. (1909). Our Naval War with France. New York: Houghton Miffn Publishers. ISBN 0-945726-58-9. 
  • 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. 
  • De Conde, Alexander (1966). The quasi-war: the politics and diplomacy of the undeclared war with France 1797–1801. New York: Scribner's. 
  • 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. 
  • Love, Robert (1992). History of the U.S. Navy Volume One 1775-1941. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-1862-X. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 

External links[edit]