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The Subscription Warships of 1798
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781557505088
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Era: American Revolution
  • Number of Pages: 288
  • Subject: U.S. Navy
  • Date Available: November 1999
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$38.95 List Price
$31.16 Member Price
Full Description:

The title of this book refers to the toast "millions for defense, not a cent for tribute" that became popular in America during the late 1790s as the country teetered towards open war with France. Incensed by demands for bribes from French diplomats and France's galling seizures of U.S. merchant ships, Americans were provoked to action, as this book recounts so vividly. The United States had no fleet in the 1790s, Congress having sold off the last Continental Navy warships more than ten years earlier. As war with France seemed imminent, private U.S. citizens decided to help build a Navy. Merchants from Newburyport, Massachusetts, took the lead by opening a subscription to fund a 20-gun warship to be built in ninety days, and they persuaded Congress to pass a statute that gave them government "stock": bearing six percent interest in exchange for their money. Their example set off a chain reaction down the coast with more than a thousand subscribers in ten port towns pledging money and actually beginning to build nine warships with little government oversight. Among the subscription ships were the frigates Philadelphia, later lost on the rocks off Tripoli; Essex, the first American warship to round the Cape of Good Hope; and Boston, which captured the French corvette Le Berceau but whose captain's career was destroyed in the aftermath.

This book explores--for the first time in any depth--the subject of subscribing for warships. Frederick Leiner explains how the idea materialized, who the people were who subscribed and built the ships, how the ships were built, and what contributions these ships made to the Quasi-War against France. Along the way, he offers significant insights into the politics of what is arguably the most critical period in American history.

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