President James Madison, after the conclusion of a peace treaty with Great Britain ending the War of 1812, sought authority to use the U.S. Navy to take action against vessels of the ruler and Regency of Algeria that had been seizing U.S. commercial vessels in the Mediterranean area.
Due to acts of “overt and direct warfare against the citizens of the United States,” President Madison, on February 23, 1815, recommended that Congress declare the “existence of a state of war between the United States and the Dey and Regency of Algiers.”15
Congress did not declare war but did pass legislation, enacted on March 3, 1815, that authorized the President to use the U.S. Navy, “as judged requisite by the President” to protect the “commerce and seamen” of the United States on the “Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.” The President was also authorized to utilize the U.S. Navy to seize “all vessels, goods and effects belonging to the Dey of Algiers, or to his subjects...and to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify, and may, in his opinion, require.”
The President was further granted the discretionary authority to grant special commissions to “owners of private armed vessels of the United States,” to permit them to lawfully subdue, seize, and capture “any Algerine vessel, goods or effects” with the same authority as U.S. Navy vessels, subject to instructions given by the President.16
From: Congressional Research Service Report for Congress Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Historical Background and Legal Implications- Updated March 8, 2007
by Jennifer K. Elsea, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division
and Richard F. Grimmett, Specialist in National Defense, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division.
15-The text of President James Madison’s message to Congress is found in Richardson, James D. (ed.). A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (20 vol.,
Washington, 1897-1917), Vol. II, p. 539.
Also in Annals of the Congress of the United States, 13th Congress, 3rd session, p. 269.
16-Act of March 3, 1815, Chap. 90, 3 Stat. 230.