Every wonder why the Marine Corps flag has precedence over the Navy’s during ceremonies or when colors are paraded? We all know the Navy’s birthday is Oct. 13, 1775 – and the Marine Corps was born just about a month later on Nov. 10, right? Shouldn’t the Navy come first?
The reason the Marine Corps has precedence over the Navy is because since 1921 the Marine Corps has been very consistent in citing that its birthdate came as the Continental Congress established the Continental Marines on Nov. 10, 1775.
Although the Continental Navy was established a month earlier, the U.S. Navy, until 1972, gave various responses to the same question of when it was founded, often citing legislation dating from its reestablishment in the 1790s.
That’s right – after the American Revolution the entire Naval Service – the Navy and Marine Corps – was so neglected through lack of appropriations and necessary legislation that by 1785 it actually ceased to exist.
It wasn’t until March 27, 1794 that the House of Representatives and the Senate, in response to Barbary pirate attacks and seizures of American ships, passed an “Act to provide a Naval Armament” also known as the Naval Act of 1794. The act authorized the President to acquire six frigates, four of 44 guns each and two of 36 guns each, by purchase or otherwise. The ships were also to include a force of Marines, but a temporary lull in the Barbary conflict resulted in the delay of implementation of the Naval Act. By 1797, the Franco-British naval war had increased in intensity and the interference with American merchant shipping grew more and more frequent. In view of this activity, Congress enacted the Naval Bill of 1797, which provided for the completion and equipping of the previously authorized frigates and for the pay and subsistence of their officers and men.
By the spring of 1798, Marines were well established aboard the ships which had been completed, and the naval appropriation measures of the period made provision for their pay and allowances. At this time the Marines, as a part of the Navy, were administered by the Secretary of War, but on April 30, 1798, President John Adams signed into law an act for the establishment of a separate Navy Department. The House Naval Committee, under the chairmanship of Samuel Sewall, introduced a bill on May 22, 1798 calling for the establishment of a Marine Corps and on July 11, 1798, President Adams signed the resulting legislation and the United States Marine Corps became an individual service within the Navy Department.
So whose birthday is when?
An order by the Marine Corps Commandant in 1921 designated Nov. 10, 1775 as the birthday of the Marine Corps. Nov. 10 marked the day in 1775 when Congress resolved that “two Battalions of marines be raised.”
Over the years, the U.S. Navy has jumped back and forth. At times we’ve cited the March 27, Naval Act of 1794 and at other times the April 30, 1798 date, which established the Department of the Navy.
Despite the existence of these alternatives, for fifty years the Navy also celebrated “Navy Day” on Oct 27, as proposed in 1922 by the New York Navy League, in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday. The Navy had no officially recognized birthday until 1972, when Admiral Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations, with the advice of Vice Adm. Edwin B. Hooper, Director of Naval History, authorized observance of Oct. 13 as the Navy Birthday.