Princeton was laid down on October 20, 1842, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as a 700 long tons (710 t) corvette. The designer of the ship and main supervisor of construction was the Swedish inventor John Ericsson, who later designed the USS Monitor. The construction was partly supervised by Captain Stockton who had secured the political support for the construction of the ship. The ship was named after Princeton, New Jersey, site of an American victory in the Revolutionary War and hometown of the prominent Stockton family. The ship was christened with a bottle of American whiskey and launched on September 5, 1843. It was ordered commissioned on September 9, 1843, with Captain Stockton in command.
Princeton made a trial trip in the Delaware River on October 12, 1843. She departed Philadelphia on October 17 for a sea trial, proceeded to New York, where she engaged in a speed contest with the British steamer SS Great Western, besting her handily, and thence returned to Philadelphia on October 20 to finish outfitting. On November 22, Captain Stockton reported "Princeton will be ready for sea in a week." On November 28, he dressed ship and received visitors on board for inspection. On November 30, she towed the USS Raritan down the Delaware and later returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Princeton sailed on January 1, 1844, for New York, where she received her two big guns, named Peacemaker and Oregon. Princeton was sent to Washington, D.C., in late January, arriving on February 13. Washingtonians displayed great interest in the ship and her guns. She made trial trips with passengers on board down the Potomac River on February 16, 18, and 20, during which the Peacemaker was fired several times. The Tyler administration promoted the ship as part of its campaign for naval expansion and Congress adjourned for February 20 so that members could tour the ship. Former President John Quincy Adams, now a congressman and skeptical of both territorial expansion and the armaments required to support it, said the Navy welcomed politicians "to fire their souls with patriotic ardor for a naval war".