The Privately Funded Warships of the U. S. Navy: Blowing Holes in Public Goods Theory
by Larry Sechrest (Sul Ross University)
In 1798 the United States faced an undeclared naval war with France. The existing tax-funded vessels of the U.S. Navy consisted principally of a small number of very large frigates. These were probably not the ideal weapons for coping with the French threat on the seas. Therefore, a number of self-interested citizens took it upon themselves to provide nine additional fighting ships. These privately funded frigates and sloops-of-war served with distinction. Most of them were considered outstanding examples of naval architecture. Some saw action only against France. Others lasted through the Barbary Wars and even the War of 1812. The lesson to be drawn from this little-known episode in American history seems clear. An effective fighting force can be financed and constructed entirely by means of voluntary contributions. National governments need not direct the process, and involuntary taxes need not be employed. Public goods arguments to the contrary are incorrect.