In the years of increasing tension between England and the United States which led up to the War in 1812, the government recogni zed the need for a naval force of some kind .
But President Thomas Jefferson and his successor, James Madison, had not really wanted fri gates, or anything bigger than gunboats.
In fact , timber that had been set aside for big ships was di verted to build swarms of these smaller craft which typically carried two 24-pounder guns.
They were not very seaworthy and one shot could sink them. When America rushed into the War of 1812, these craft did nothing to prevent the English fleet from working its will on the American coast and shipping.
The War of 181 2 was launched, over the strenuous objecti ons of the maritime states, as a land war to take Canada- ‘ ‘ a mere matter of marching, ” as Jefferson put it.
But the marching quickly went the other way as American outposts fell ;
and despite the victories of the Constitution and the United States, the British remained masters at sea .
However, fresh from the Constitution’s shattering victory over the Guerriere ,
Isaac Hull and two fellow captains protested the ” parade” of British ships-of-the-line off their coasts
and urged the building of a mixed fl eet of ships-of-the-line and big fri gates.
The former would at least have the effect of forcing the British to concentrate their ships in battle squadrons and loosen their grip so the big frigates could slip away to sea and wreak their havoc .
Earl y in 18 13, Congress responded with an act authorizing six 44-gun frigates
and-mirabile dictu!-four 74-gun ships-ofthe-line , two-decked third rates nimble enough to get away from any three-decked second rates of I 00 guns.
To help pay for this program, many of the gunboats were sold off. But the new fri gates never got to sea. They were bottled up by the British blockade , which remained the dominant fact of the whole war.
The ships-of-the-line were completed too late for service in the war.
The land war was eventually resolved by decisive American naval victories under Perry on Lake Erie and McDonough on Lake Champl ain ,
and by Andrew Jackson’s repulse of the British attack on New Orleans after the peace had actuall y been signed.
On the Atl antic, the Royal Navy upheld a Pax Britannica lasting from 1815 to 1914,
effectively underwriting the Monroe Doctrine promulgated in 1824, which barred a heavil y armed ,
reactionary Europe from intervention against the North and South
American republics which had gained independence from their mother countries in this period.
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