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The Reestablishment of the Navy, 1787-1801
Historical Overview and Select Bibliography


Needs and Opportunities for Research and Writing

The contents of this bibliography highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the scholarship on the navy of the Federalist era. Scholars have written extensively on the politics of the reestablishment of the navy; on leading policy makers, including presidents, cabinet members and congressmen; on naval officers; on early shipbuilding; and on the operations of the Quasi-War. No doubt, there is still room for future scholars to find new things to say about each of these subjects. On the naval shipbuilding program, for instance, over the course of this century scholars have debated the relative roles of Josiah Fox and Joshua Humphreys as designers of the 1790s frigates, and writers have explored several technical aspects of naval ship design. Yet, we lack a full-length biography of Humphreys and a study of naval shipbuilding as an industry during the Federalist era. Both would be valuable and original contributions.

Several other significant aspects of naval history in the Federalist Era remain neglected. Almost untouched as a subject of scholarship is the economic influence of the reestablishment of the navy on the nation as well on specific regions and town. What impact did naval shipbuilding and the navy's demand for supplies, ordnance, and munitions, as well as sailors, have on the economy? The composition of the enlisted force and related questions-- recruitment, discipline, provisioning, and living conditions-- need to be studied. Topics in naval medicine want their historians. Relations between the American and British naval forces during the Quasi-War, the European reaction to the reestablishment of the American navy, and the navy's relations with civil authorities during the Quasi-War deserve further investigation. How the new federal courts applied international, admiralty, and prize law in cases involving the navy, as well as how naval personnel understood those forms of law, are worthy topics. The records of the courts, civil and military, are rich but underused sources of information about the early navy. It is generally agreed that the navy during the War of 1812 played a significant role in strengthening American nationalist sentiment, but did the navy have a similar function in the Federalist period? Studies of naval iconography in popular culture, including broadsides, ballads, prints, decorative motifs on furniture and architecture, parades, and the toasts offered at naval banquets might provide answers.