Throughout American history, the veterans of armed conflicts have been guaranteed a range of benefits in order to support them after their military careers are over. In fact, as early as 1636, soldiers in the Plymouth Colony were guaranteed lifetime support and assistance if they were rendered disabled fighting in the defense of the colony
The Continental Congress, in 1780, adopted the first federal response to the needs of veterans, providing pensions to those who were injured in the Revolutionary War. After the U.S. government finally adopted its current federal form in 1789, the requirement of paying veteran’s pensions passed fully to the federal government, with the first federal pension legislation being adopted in that same year.
By the War of 1812, the pension program had extended to provide benefits not only to soldiers injured during the war, but also to grant benefits for a limited period of time to the survivors and dependents of soldiers killed during the course of the war, including wives and children. An 1818 law further expanded the pool of eligible veterans to include all those with demonstrated financial need, essentially guaranteeing a lifetime pension for all who served in the armed forces.
Veteran disability benefits were further expanded during the Civil War by legislation passed in 1862. After the war’s completion, only those soldiers who had served in the Union forces, as well as their dependents, were eligible to receive these benefits, though a 1958 law would eventually allow Confederate veterans and their dependants to similarly receive any benefits to which they would otherwise have been entitled. The end of the Civil War also saw a dramatic increase in the medical care available to veterans.
In the 20th century, legislation such as the G.I. bill and subsequent acts substantially increased the amount and types of benefits veterans could expect to receive, including guarantees of home mortgages and payments for college tuitions.
Ship design in the United States has progressed rapidly throughout our history. Naval warships were an integral part of our military efforts in the War of 1812, and the Navy has only continued to grow since that time. Throughout these periods, American ship-builders have been on the forefront of designing and constructing the ships that will form the fleet of tomorrow.
At the outset of the War of 1812, the American fleet consisted of little more than six frigates, mid-sized sailing ships outfitted with guns on the quarter decks and forecastles but not the lower decks, as well as fourteen smaller vessels. The significance of the Atlantic theater to the war effort, especially the recognition of the critical role that American shipping played in developing and sustaining the national economy, eventually led to a concentrated effort by the American government to substantially expanding its fleet.
The next crucial development in American ship design was the introduction of the ironclad warship, which were first used in battle during the Civil War. These ships were armored to protected against explosives, and were typically powered by steam engines. This development, in turn, led to an increased focus on limited but powerful artillery capabilities on warships, as a single, powerful blow to an ironclad’s outer shell could be much more effective than diffuse ballistics, which tended to leave these ships relatively unharmed.
In the 20th century, the U.S. Navy became the most advanced in the world, with the introduction of large-scale battleships and, as a result of New Deal programs, aircraft carriers capable of combining naval and aerial power. The upside of transitioning from wood to steel ships was clear: far less prone to sustaining damage than their wood counterparts, steel (and later aluminum as well) was clearly the future of shipping. However, many of these ships were designed with asbestos insulation, which at the time was typically considered safe for use but has since been linked to mesothelioma and other dangerous health concerns.
Currently, the U.S. continues to maintain the most advanced naval force in the world, though the total number of ships has shrunk to numbers not seen since 1917.
The War of 1812 was fought on several fronts, but one of the most critical theaters of the war was the Atlantic ocean. The British strategy focused on protecting its own trade vessels, while simultaneously imposing a blockade of American ports to disrupt the American economy. The American forces, outnumbered and outgunned by superior British naval power, employed a strategy similar to the tact taken during the Revolutionary War: engaging in small scale skirmishes that played to their strengths, and avoiding large staged battles.
One of the tactics that the British pursued in this field of operations involved an element of [maritime law] which has since largely gone out of practice: the use of letters of marque by privateers and commercial ships to attack foreign ships. This was a particularly damaging practice for American whalers, who would be captured and potentially returned to an admiralty court in the country providing the letter of marque, and put up for sale. The proceeds would typically be shared between the government and those ships carrying out the letter’s intent.
Crucial to combating these attempts to disrupt American shipping operations was the exploits of the USS Essex. Built in 1799, this 36-gun frigate patrolled the southern Atlantic beginning soon after war broke out in June of 1812, and by the end of that year had captured ten ships in the course of its navigation. These victories were critical to the war effort for several reasons: first, they provided early proof that, in spite of superiority of both forces and equipment, the British navy would not easily overpower the more inexperienced American forces. Second, the defeats sent a strong signal to the British public, especially journalists covering the war, that American forces could win with their own form asymmetric warfare, relying on speed and cunning to inflict heavy damages on the British fleet.