How "a handful of bastards and outlaws fighting under a piece of striped bunting" humbled the omnipotent British Navy.
Before the ink was dry on the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of a permanent military had become the most divisive issue facing the new government. Would a standing army be the thin end of dictatorship? Would a navy protect American commerce against the Mediterranean pirates, or drain the treasury and provoke hostilities with the great powers? The founders--particularly Jefferson, Madison, and Adams--debated these questions fiercely and switched sides more than once. How much of a navy would suffice? Britain alone had hundreds of powerful warships.
From the decision to build six heavy frigates
, through the cliffhanger campaign against Tripoli
, to the war that shook the world in 1812
, Ian W. Toll tells this grand tale. According to Henry Adams, the 1812 encounter between USS Constitution
and HMS Guerriere
"raised the United States in one half hour to the rank of a first class power in the world."
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The USS Constitution, a 44-gun frigate, served from the undeclared naval war with France in 1797 through the War of 1812 and was nicknamed "Old Ironsides." After the Continental Navy was allowed to lapse, the U.S. Navy was reconstituted and has defend America for over two centuries.