This was an honest disclosure of the situation. Humphreys wrote Jefferson that “no choice is left for the United States but to prepare a naval force for the protection of their trade.” Captain O’Brien wrote, “By all means urge Congress to fit out some remarkably fast sailing cruisers, well appointed and manned.” In January, 1794, accordingly, a committee of the House brought in a resolution for building four ships of 44 guns and two of 20 guns each. The debate began on February 6, and for some time was altogether one-sided, with one speaker after another opposing the creation of a navy. Madison, as was now his habit, had doubts as to the propriety of the measure. He fancied that peace “might be purchased for less money than this armament would cost.” Clark of New Jersey had “an objection to the establishment of a fleet, because, when once it had been commenced, there would be no end to it.” He had “a scheme which he judged would be less expensive and more effectual. This was to hire the Portuguese to cruise against the Algerines.” Baldwin of Georgia thought that “bribery alone could purchase security from the Algerines.” Nicholas of Virginia “feared that we were not a match for the Algerines.”
Smith of Maryland and Fitzsimmons of Pennsylvania championed the resolution, and Fisher Ames made some remarks on Madison’s lack of spirit that caused Madison to define his position. He proposed as a substitute for the pending measure that money should “be employed in such a manner as should be found most effectual for obtaining a peace with the Regency of Algiers; and failing of this, that the sum should be applied to the end of obtaining protection from some of the European Powers.” This motion warmed up the debate. Giles of Virginia came to Madison’s support in a style that was not helpful. He “considered navies altogether as very foolish things. An immense quantity of property was spread on the water for no purpose whatever, which might have been employed by land to the best purpose.” The suggestion that the United States should be a hermit nation was an indiscreet exposure of the logical significance of Madison’s plan, and it perhaps turned the scale in favor of employing force.
The bill came up in the House for final passage on March 10, 1794. Its opponents now sparred for time, but a motion to recommit in order to give opportunity for further consideration was defeated by 48 to 41. Giles made a final effort, by a long and elaborate address, in which he argued that the effect of fitting out a navy would be to involve the United States in war with all the European Powers. Moreover, a navy would be dangerous to American liberty. “A navy is the most expensive of all means of defense, and the tyranny of governments consists in the expensiveness of their machinery.” He pointed to the results of British naval policy. “The government is not yet destroyed, but the people are oppressed, liberty is banished.” The French monarchy had been ruined by its navy. He was “astonished, with these fatal examples before our eyes, that there should be gentlemen who would wish to enter upon this fashionable system of politics.” In discussing the expense of maintaining a navy, he expressed his fear that it would eventually bring back the miseries of feudalism.