Stephen Decatur - Pre-commission


In the years leading up to the Quasi-War, an undeclared naval war with France involving disputes over U.S. trading and shipping with Britain, the U.S. Congress passed the 'Act to provide for a Naval Armament' on March 27, 1794; it was promptly signed by George Washington that same day. There was much opposition to the bill, and it was amended and allowed to pass with the condition that work on the proposed ships would stop in the event that peace with the Pasha of Algiers was obtained. Construction of the six new American frigates was progressing slowly when, because of a peace accord with Algiers in March 1796, work was halted. After some debate and at the insistence of President Washington, Congress passed an act on April 20, 1796, allowing the construction and funding to continue, but only on the three ships nearest to completion at the time: USS United States, USS Constellation and the USS Constitution.

In 1797, John Barry obtained Decatur's appointment as midshipman on the USS United States, under Barry’s command. Barry was a veteran and hero of the Revolutionary War and was Decatur's good friend and mentor. Decatur accepted the appointment on May 1 and was serving on board when United States was launched on May 10, 1797.

To ensure his son's success in his naval career, the senior Decatur hired a tutor, Talbot Hamilton, a former officer of the Royal Navy, to instruct his son in navigational and nautical sciences. While serving aboard the United States Decatur received what was the equivalent to formal naval training not only from Hamilton but through active service aboard a commissioned ship, which is something that distinguished the young midshipman from many of his contemporaries. He also had a talent for drawing ships and designing and building ship models and when time allowed would also pursue this hobby.

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