On 18 June 1812, President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain. At that time, the United States faced the Royal Navy’s fleet of 600 warships with just 17 of its own, a fleet of small navy gunboats along with 14 cutters. The day war was declared, Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin sent a one-sentence circular to his customs collectors, writing, “Sir, I hasten to inform you that War was this day declared against Great Britain.”
Before this conflict, the revenue cutters already served a multi-mission role, including enforcement of U.S. trade laws and quarantine restrictions, interdicting smuggling, supporting the operation of lighthouses and, unofficially, rescue operations at sea. However, with the onset of war, they would expand this to include new combat-oriented missions.