From Houses of Refuge to the United States Coast Guard (under Department of Homeland Security)

U.S. Coast Guard, 1790 until 2015

U.S. Coast Guard, 1790 until 2015


On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress had posted the Declaration of Indepndence, the Thirteen Colonies had fought the British for seven long years.  With the help of the French, the Germans and others, the Colonists defeated the British and won their freedom.

The task now was to draft a Constitution and to build a Nation. The president, Gen. George Washington, nominated his Cabinet members and secured the consent of the Senate.  At that time,each state’s representatives elected two senators to represent each state in Washington, D.C.  Each state elected its representatives by a popular vote, yet the Constitution diluted the vote of each African American voter until after the Civil War ended and the states adopted the Fourteenth Amendment.  The president nominated the members of a supreme court to serve for life and interpret the Constitution as it applied to the states and the federal government Ours would be a government by the people and for the people.  The three branches of government were the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Ours was to be a government limited by the Constitution.

The Constitution limited the executive’s powers to declare war, but clearly the executive could undertake action to defend the country or to carry out the orders of the Supreme Court.  Early on, Congress could vote to spend money on lighthouses but relied on the states to provide the land. Congress, through the Department of the Treasury, could erect houses of refuge (five along each coast of Florida, beginning in 1876) to rescue and give aid and comfort to sailors left stranded when their ships wrecked along the long  rocky coastline or because of hazardous weather Later, Congress revised the law, naming the houses of refuge each a U.S. Lifesaver’s Station.  Finally, in the early 1930’s, Congress expanded its service once again, now calling the agency the U.S. Coast Guard, but still under the Treasury Department. After 9/11, Congress placed the Coast Guard under the Department of Homeland Security, again broadening its powers one more time

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