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Alfred Thayer Mahan, photograph by J. E. Purdy, ca. 1904

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Alfred Thayer Mahan, photograph by J. E. Purdy, ca. 1904

Strengthening American Sea Power

At the end of the nineteenth century, the United States became increasingly engaged in international affairs. Spurred by the writings of naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, author of The Influence of Sea Power upon History, proponents of a “Big Navy” called for state-of-the-art steel ships to protect the nation and its interests. Congress responded with the Battleship Act of 1890, the first significant legislation authorizing construction of new battleships. Inaugurating an era of greater U.S. naval power, the ships played a significant role in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

It is the sea power which is essential to the greatness of every splendid people. We are a great people; we control this continent; we are dominant in this hemisphere; we have too great an inheritance to be trifled with or parted with. It is ours to guard and to extend.

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, Speech to the U.S. Senate, March 2, 1895