On March 27, 1794, Congress authorized the construction of six frigates; three 44 gun ships (one of which was the Constitution now at the Boston Naval yard), and three 36 gun frigates. The 36 gun frigates to be built were the Constellation to be build at Baltimore, the Congress to be built at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the United States to be built at Philadelphia. The U.S.F. Constellation was built at the Stodder shipyard at Fell's Point, Maryland between 1794 and 1797. She was launched September 7, 1797, and was Commissioner on June 26, 1798.
For several years following the French Revolution in 1789, the new republican government was lead by radical extremists such as Maximilien Robespeirre. This early period of the Revolution has been called the Reign of Terror by historians and ended with the execution of Robespierre by opposing extremist elements in July of 1794. In 1795 a new Constitution was adopted that formed a government called the Directory. The Directory consisted of a five man board and governed France from 1795 to 1799. During this period, in addition to conflicts with Belgium, Germany and Italy, the Directory took a very strong anti-American position which became most apparent at sea with the raiding of American ships. In May of 1798 Congress empowered the President to seize any French ships that represented any threat to American shipping. This was the start of what has come to be known as the Quasi War with France. Among the numerous sea battles that resulted, the encounter between the U. S. S. Constellation and the L’Insurgent is among the most notable.
At noon on the 9th of February in 1799, Commodore Thomas Truxtun, in command of the Constellation, spotted an unidentified Ship of War the just east of Nevis in the West Indies and gave chase. At two o’clock a small but severe squall subjected both ships to gale force winds. Damage to the Constellation was minor, however, the L’Insurgente lost her main top mast just above the top. With the wreckage cleared the L’Insurgente attempted to head for shelter in St. Eustatius some 30 miles away, however, by 3:15 p.m. the Constellation had closed the distance and identified her as the French war ship L’Insurgente. A brutal exhange of cannon fire prevailed for an hour and a quarter with the surrender of the L’Insurgente at 4:30. While there was extensive damage to her sails and rigging, the hull of the Constellation was essentially in tact with only one fatality. Twenty nine on the French ship were killed and the ship seriously damaged.
The undeclared Quasi War with France ended on November 9, 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the Directory and seized control of the government ending the Revolution.