The Establishment of the
Department of the Navy
The United States Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, established during the War of Independence by the Continental Congress on 13 October 1775, which date we observe as the Navy Birthday. After the War of Independence, the ships of the Continental Navy were sold off, and the seamen and officers let go.
The Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1789, empowered Congress "to provide and maintain a Navy." In the year 1794 Congress first acted on that power, in response to international crises, by authorizing the procuring and manning of six frigates.
Three of those frigates, USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution, were completed and launched in 1797.
From 1794 until 1798, administration of the naval affairs of the United States was the responsibility of the Department of War.
On 30 April 1798, Congress established the Department of the Navy. They did this in order to meet the need for an executive department responsible solely for, and staffed with persons expert in, naval affairs, on the eve of the commencement of armed hostilities with the naval forces of France, the conflict known as the Quasi-War.
Benjamin Stoddert, a Maryland merchant who had served as secretary of the Continental Board of War during the American Revolution, became the first Secretary of the Navy.