The United States established a permanent army as one of the first measures of the new federal government in 1789. A country that proclaimed itself to be a new-style republic might have been expected to favor a militia to avoid the kind of corruption associated with European monarchies, “standing armies,” military adventurism, and taxes, but militias had fallen into disrepute in the War of American Independence. A country with imperial ambitions, and a country confronted by indigenous inhabitants of territory it claimed, needed a permanent army.
What, then, could justify establishing a permanent navy? This the young United States did in 1794, initially to counter French interception of American merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean, and soon thereafter to counter Barbary interception of American merchant ships in the Mediterranean Sea. While the army was designed to operate in the continental west, the navy — and, as of 1798, its attendant marines — would come to operate everywhere else in the wider world.
The U.S. Navy entered the Pacific Ocean for the first time only in 1813, and then only on the whim of a maverick naval commander, not as a matter of national policy. Yet by 1821 it had added a forward “Pacific Squadron” to patrol the ocean on an ongoing basis. By the time it added an “East India Squadron” in 1835, the U.S. Navy was patrolling the entire globe. Much smaller in size than the formidable British navy, the American navy nevertheless became a global force.
Some American authors sought to thrill popular audiences with accounts of “Indian wars” in the unruly North American west, but other authors enchanted them with stories of navy battles and cruises. Rarely battling actual navies after 1815, American navy squadrons cruised the globe to punish perceived transgressions by indigenous peoples against American diplomats and merchant ships. When not writing popular novels, James Fenimore Cooper tracked the growing capacity of the U.S. Navy to send squadrons and expeditions throughout the world by the 1840s.
Native Americans in North America and indigenous peoples around the world were in these accounts to be mistrusted. In some cases, the navy was there to rescue Americans from volatile political situations: the world was a domain of volatility surrounding Americans. In other cases, the navy was there to punish indigenous peoples for seemingly unprovoked depredations against Americans: the world was a domain of violence directed at Americans. Virtue and necessity was assigned to American military actions.
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The Naval Temple: Containing A Complete History of the Battles Fought by the Navy of the United States. From its Establishment in 1794, to the Present Time.... Boston: Published by Barber Badger, 1816.Flush from the excitement of the War of 1812, Badger recounted heroic narratives like the first navy foray into the Pacific in support of what he perceived to be an underfunded United States Navy.
W. S. W. Ruschenberger. A Voyage Round the World; Including an Embassy to Muscat and Siam in 1835, 1836, and 1837. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea and Blanchard, 1838.Accompanying a navy expedition aiming to secure commercial treaties with Oman and Thailand, Ruschenberger wrote in support of missionaries paving the way for American global commerce.
Walter Colton. Deck and Port; or, Incidents of a Cruise in the United States Frigate Congress to California. With Sketches of Rio Janeiro, Valparaiso, Lima, Honolulu, and San Francisco. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co.; Cincinnati: H.W. Derby and Co., 1850.In this account of his travels as navy chaplain, Colton opined that the institution of slavery seemed more humane in South America compared to the United States.
John Frost. Thrilling Adventures Among the Indians: Comprising The Most Remarkable Personal Narratives of Events in the Early Indian Wars, as well as of Incidents in the Recent Indian Hostilities in Mexico and Texas. Philadelphia: J.W. Bradley, 1851.In contrast to his sensationalist title, Frost chose stories that sometimes sympathized with Native Americans and sometimes criticized the “American people.”
James Fenimore Cooper. History of the Navy of the United States of America. Continued to 1853. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1853.Cooper depicted the United States Navy as steadily acquiring the capacity to send squadrons as well as expeditions throughout the globe by the 1850s.
Fitch W. Taylor. A Voyage Round the World, and Visits to Various Foreign Countries, in the United States Frigate Columbia. New Haven: H. Mansfield; New York: D. Appleton, 1859.Taylor’s rich descriptions along the route of his circumnavigation included breathless accounts of punitive United States Navy bombardments of indigenous villages.
Jacob K. Neff. Thrilling Incidents of the Wars of the United States: Comprising the Most Striking and Remarkable Events of the Revolution, the French War, the Tripolitan War, the Indian War, the Second War with Great Britain, and the Mexican War. New York: Robert Sears, 1860.Robert Sears specialized in publishing pictorial books for family audiences; this one was devoted not always to military triumphs but certainly to heroics.