Skip to main content
Select Source:

Jay's Treaty


JAY'S TREATY (1794). Both the United States and Great Britain failed to live up to the terms of the 1783 peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. American violations reflected the weakness of its central government; state governments passed laws blocking the repayment of prewar debts to British creditors and Americans continued to discriminate against American loyalists. British violations resulted from a more deliberate policy—failing to evacuate Northwest forts and posts, especially to please its Indian allies and to assuage its fur traders.

Mounting American dissatisfaction came up against the Federalist-Republican split in government. To such Federalists as Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, friendship with Britain was too important to risk over these issues; Hamilton needed trade with Britain, America's key trading partner, to finance his plans. To Republicans, such as Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who were committed to France, the only recourse was a firm insistence on Britain's honoring of its treaty obligations.

Britain had issues as well. By this point a war had begun between France and Britain, and it would not end for nearly two decades. As the world's premier naval power, Britain rejected America's view that it should, as a neutral state, be able to trade freely with all interested parties. Britain seized hundreds of American neutral ships, and Sir Guy Carleton, Baron Dorchester, the governor-general of Canada, made a bellicose speech to western Indians implying that they would soon be able to recover their lands in the Great Lakes region from the United States.

In this environment, President George Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay, a staunch Federalist and a strong Anglophile, to London as minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinaire on a special mission. As the historian Samuel Flagg Bemis has noted, Jay could have made more of the American cause. He acquiesced in British maritime measures for the duration of the war with France in return for the creation of a mixed commission to adjudicate American spoliation claims for damages made "under color" of British Orders in Council. On 19 November 1794, Jay and the British foreign minister Lord Grenville signed a Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation. Britain agreed to evacuate frontier posts by 1 June 1796 (which it mostly did); the United States guaranteed payment of British private prewar debts. Another term of the treaty stated that mixed boundary commissions were to establish the boundaries in the northwest and northeast. The boundary commission for the northwest never met, and the commission for the northeast set the boundary at the Saint Croix River. Jay did not obtain any satisfaction on issues of impressment, neutral (shipping) rights, ending so-called paper or unenforced blockades, and no indemnification for slaves that departing British soldiers took from the United States in 1783.

Washington got the treaty through the Senate and the House only with great difficulty and at some cost. The temporary acquiescence in British maritime measures was the price the Federalists paid for redemption of American territorial integrity in the Northwest, and peace with Britain. Britain wanted a treaty to keep its best foreign customer and to keep the United States neutral during the continuing conflict with France. There certainly were protests in the United States, and Jay was burned in effigy while Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was stoned while publicly defending the treaty. France regarded the treaty as a violation of its commercial treaty with the United States and, as Alexander DeConde has written, engaged in a kind of undeclared naval war with America between 1798 and 1800.


Bemis, Samuel Flagg. Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962.

Combs, Jerald A. The Jay Treaty: Political Background of the Founding Fathers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

DeConde, Alexander. Entangling Alliance: Politics and Diplomacy under George Washington. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974.

Reuter, Frank T. Trials and Triumphs: George Washington's Foreien Policy. Fort Worth, Tex.: Texas Christian University Press, 1983.

Charles M.Dobbs

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Jay's Treaty." Dictionary of American History. . 17 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Jay's Treaty." Dictionary of American History. . (January 17, 2018).

"Jay's Treaty." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved January 17, 2018 from

Jay's Treaty

Jay's Treaty, concluded in 1794 between the United States and Great Britain to settle difficulties arising mainly out of violations of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 and to regulate commerce and navigation.


War threatened when the British admiralty ordered the seizure of American vessels trading with the French West Indies. To avert further difficulties, George Washington in Apr., 1794, named Chief Justice John Jay as envoy extraordinary for the negotiation of a treaty. The principal American objects were to secure surrender of the posts in the Old Northwest, to obtain compensation for losses and damages resulting from seizure of American vessels and provisions as contraband of war and for the impressment of American sailors, and to remove the restrictions on American commerce, especially on the British West Indies trade. Jay, arriving in England in June, was received favorably, and the treaty was signed on Nov. 19, 1794, by Jay and Lord Grenville.

Treaty Provisions

The treaty provided for British evacuation of the Northwestern posts by June 1, 1796, allowing settlers the option of becoming Americans or remaining British citizens, with full protection of property guaranteed. It referred settlement of the northwest and northeast boundaries and the questions of debts and compensations to mixed commissions; provided for unrestricted navigation of the Mississippi and free trade between the North American territories of the two countries; granted equal privileges to American and British vessels in Great Britain and the East Indies, but placed severe and humiliating restrictions upon American trade with the British West Indies; and permitted admission of British vessels to American ports on terms of the most-favored nation. No discrimination in duties was to be made, and articles provided for extradition of criminals and defined contraband material. Indemnity for those Americans whose slaves were carried off by Britain's evacuating armies was not allowed; protection to American sailors against impressment was not guaranteed; and no recognition of the principles of international maritime law was secured.

A Stormy Reception

The treaty, which owed much to the influence of Alexander Hamilton, caused a storm of indignation in America. Jay was denounced and burned in effigy, Hamilton was stoned while speaking in its defense, and the treaty was called a complete surrender of American rights. It was submitted to the U.S. Senate, in special session, on June 8, 1795, and on June 24, after stormy debate, it was ratified with a special reservation on the clause relative to trade with the West Indies. It was signed by Washington.

When the treaty was proclaimed as law, after the exchange of ratifications at London in 1796, the U.S. House of Representatives called upon the President for papers relating to the negotiation. In a special message Washington refused to comply with the request of the House. After lengthy debate the House passed a resolution, by three votes, declaring it expedient to pass laws making the treaty effective, and an act was finally passed (Apr. 30, 1796) making appropriations for carrying the treaty into effect.


See studies by S. F. Bemis (1923, rev. ed. 1962) and J. A. Combs (1970).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Jay's Treaty." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 17 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Jay's Treaty." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (January 17, 2018).

"Jay's Treaty." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved January 17, 2018 from