The Peace of Ghent and the Future of the U.S. Navy
The War of 1812 came to an end on December 24, 1814, with the Treaty of Ghent. Without addressing the maritime issues that had led to war, the treaty essentially returned Anglo- American relations to their pre-war status. Although neither nation could claim victory, one definitive winner in the conflict was the U.S. Navy, which had proven its importance in times of peace as well as war.
Following the war, the United States entered a period later known as the "Era of Good Feelings." The hallmarks of the period were territorial expansion, a growing nationalism, and economic resurgence. Exports to Europe rose from less than $7 million in 1814 to more than $93 million in 1818. In that same year, a naval mission was dispatched to Japan in an attempt to open trade to Asia.
During the war, Congress had committed $10 million to the construction of a peacetime fleet. The passage of the "Act for the Gradual Increase of the Navy" in 1816 led to the eventual construction of nine ships of the line and twelve heavy frigates. These ships never saw action, as the early part of the nineteenth century was marked with relatively small conflicts requiring smaller and quicker ships. By the time the United States was again involved in a large-scale conflict, the ships had become technologically obsolete.
In the years between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the navy's primary purpose was the protection of trade. During the 1820s and 1830s, Congress redirected funds to the construction of the smaller sloops needed for thwarting the pirates who were disrupting trade in the Caribbean. During this period, naval officers were expected not only to command their ships, but also to serve as diplomats in far-flung nations.
As both naval architecture and weapons technology advanced, the navy increased in terms of ships, supplies, and manpower. The increasing need for advanced training for the burgeoning steam navy and the notorious mutiny aboard the training ship Somers led to the establishment of a naval school at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1845.
This period of naval growth culminated with the Mexican War. Even though the navy did not play a major role in the conflict, it did perform its first large-scale amphibious landing and blockaded a foreign coast for the first time in its history. The acquisition of California as a result of the Mexican War ushered in a new era for the nation: the era of a two-ocean navy.