The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought mostly at sea between the United States and French Republic from 1798 to 1800. In the United States, the conflict was sometimes also referred to as the Franco-American War, the Undeclared War with France, the Undeclared Naval War, the Pirate Wars, or the Half-War.
The Kingdom of France had been a major ally of the United States in the American Revolutionary War, and had signed in 1778 a Treaty of Alliance with the United States. But in 1794, after the French Revolution toppled that country's monarchy, the American government came to an agreement with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Jay Treaty, that resolved several points of contention between the United States and Great Britain that had lingered since the end of the Revolutionary War. It also contained economic clauses.
The fact that the United States had already declared neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and (now revolutionary) France, and that American legislation was being passed for a trade deal with their British enemy, led to French outrage. The French government was also furious over the U.S. refusal to continue repaying its debt to France on the grounds that the debt had been owed to the French Crown, not to Republican France.
The French navy began seizing American ships trading with Britain and refused to receive a new United States minister when he arrived in Paris in December 1796. In his annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, President John Adams reported on France’s refusal to negotiate and spoke of the need "to place our country in a suitable posture of defense." In April 1798, President Adams informed Congress of the "XYZ Affair", in which French agents demanded a large bribe for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States.
The French navy inflicted substantial losses on American shipping. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering reported to Congress on June 21, 1797 that the French had seized 316 American merchant ships in the previous eleven months. The hostilities caused insurance rates on American shipping to increase at least 500 percent, since French marauders cruised the length of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard virtually unopposed. The administration had no warships to combat them; the last had been sold in 1785. The United States possessed only a flotilla of small revenue cutters and some neglected coastal forts.
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