Jay's Treaty

views updated May 21 2018


Negotiated and signed in 1794, Jay's Treaty attempted to resolve several diplomatic and commercial issues between the United States and Great Britain. As Britain and France warred with each other beginning in 1793, the United States found itself being drawn into the fray although it tried to remain neutral, maintaining trade with both belligerents. Britain secretly disrupted and seized over three hundred U.S. ships and a furious America demanded a diplomatic mission to that nation. In April 1794 Chief Justice John Jay was appointed envoy with instructions to seek indemnification for British seizures of American ships, fulfillment of all the unfulfilled elements—especially the evacuation of western posts—of the 1783 Peace of Paris treaty, and a more liberal interpretation of neutral rights. Some southerners wanted Jay to request compensation for slaves that had been carried off by the British during the Revolutionary War. Jay and the administration of President George Washington believed they were negotiating from a position of weakness and so could not press too hard on any of these points. Negotiations continued sporadically throughout the spring and summer of 1794 until a treaty was signed on 19 November 1794.

The treaty's twenty-eight articles addressed most of the issues the mission was designed to accomplish. The second article secured British troop withdrawal from the western posts on or before 1 June 1796 as had been promised in the 1783 treaty. The treaty also established four commissions to investigate and resolve disputed issues, such as the debts owed to British merchants by American citizens and compensation for losses for U.S. ships seized by the British. Most problematic was article 12, which granted the United States access to the West Indian trade but only in vessels of seventy tons or less, an almost insulting condition that would severely restrict and limit trade.

Jay believed that he had obtained the best terms possible at the time and subsequent historians, while noting the weaknesses, have largely agreed. The United States was unable to force compliance from the British and unwilling to risk a serious rupture between the two nations. The treaty failed to gain recognition of America's neutral rights in shipping or compensation for slaves carried off during the Revolution, and it did not address the matter of impressment or compensation for slaves. Still, comparing Jay's instructions to the final product, he did reasonably well.

The treaty was sent to the Senate, which debated it in secret, rejected the controversial twelfth article, and on 24 June 1795 ratified the document by a 20 to 10 vote, exactly meeting the required two-thirds majority. Before the administration could publish the treaty, Republican anti-treaty newspapers had printed an extract of the leaked document and then the full text. Publication provoked furious, sometimes violent, protests by opponents who charged that the treaty was a sellout to Britain, willingly placed the United States in a subservient position to that nation, and further solidified American ties to a country many believed to be corrupt and dangerous. Despite the public protests, President Washington signed the treaty in late August 1795 and many of the protests died down. They were revived in the spring of 1796 when the House of Representatives took up the matter of funding the commissions created by the treaty. After several weeks of intense debate and against a backdrop of petitions cascading into the House—most of them now favoring approval of the treaty—the House acted in a series of close votes on 30 April 1796 to fund the treaty.

As its negotiators had hoped, the treaty strengthened commercial relations between the United States and Britain and preserved peace between the two nations even as it intensified partisan politics in the former. However, it infuriated the French, who felt betrayed by the U.S. decision to side with Britain against its Revolutionary War ally. Consequently, it was the French who stepped up attacks on U.S. ships and violations of American neutrality in the late 1790s, heightening tensions between the erstwhile allies and culminating in the Quasi-War with France in 1798.

See alsoTreaty of Paris .


Bemis, Samuel Flagg. Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy. 2nd ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962.

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

Elkins, Stanley, and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Horsman, Reginald. The Diplomacy of the New Republic, 1776–1815. Arlington Heights, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 1985.

Todd A. Estes

Jay's Treaty

views updated May 18 2018

Jay's Treaty

The United States and Great Britain signed Jay's Treaty on November 19, 1794. It was a follow-up to the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which was supposed to establish peaceful relations between the two countries after the American Revolution (1775–83). Jay's Treaty was meant to solve some persistent problems that were causing diplomatic tensions and threatening to provoke another war.

Growing pains

The United States had several complaints against Great Britain after the American Revolution. According to the Treaty of Paris, the English were supposed to abandon posts in the Northwest Territory near Canada. Britain not only refused to do so, but it also complicated American attempts to make peace with the region's Native American tribes.

At sea, Great Britain actively prevented U.S. ships from trading in British ports. British naval vessels regularly impressed, or kidnapped, U.S. seamen into British service, and this too was a constant strain on diplomatic relations.

Great Britain had its own complaints against the United States. British creditors with prewar debts in America were having difficulty collecting their debts in state courts, and British Loyalists were struggling to regain confiscated property in America. Disagreements about territorial boundaries also caused problems.


All of these issues were complicated by the outbreak of war between Great Britain and France in 1793. As a young country, the United States was unprepared to go to war on behalf of either country, but neutrality was difficult to maintain. U.S. treaties with France enabled French privateers to equip themselves and operate in U.S. ports. The United States also had promised to defend the French West Indies. Both the French and U.S. navies, however, were greatly inferior to the British. Great Britain and Spain were allies against France. Both countries had territories, and boundary disputes, along American borders. The United States could hardly risk conflict with Great Britain and Spain together.

American commercial interests also had to be protected. Great Britain was still the main trade partner for the United States. Great Britain provided many manufactured goods to the states and supplied credit. Though support for both the French and English existed in the United States, President George Washington (1732–99; served 1789–97) issued a proclamation of neutrality in April 1793.

The treaty

Attempts to remain neutral caused problems with both Great Britain and France. The British were particularly aggressive in challenging neutrality. Increased British impressment of U.S. sailors and the seizure of 250 U.S. ships in the French West Indies brought the countries to the brink of war. Washington sent John Jay (1745–1829), the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court , to England to negotiate a treaty.

Under Jay's Treaty, the English agreed to vacate the Northwest Territory, restore U.S. trading privileges in British ports and the East Indies, compensate for seized ships, and end discrimination of U.S.commerce. The United States opened the Mississippi River to the English, promised to pay debts owed to British merchants, and agreed to close U.S. ports to the outfitting of privateers for British enemies.

The treaty that Jay negotiated was unacceptable to many Americans and sparked sharp division among politicians and citizens. It provoked furious debate in Congress. Though it failed to resolve some of the most divisive issues, such as impressment of sailors and recognition of U.S. neutrality, the treaty did manage to stabilize diplomatic relations. Though disappointed, President Washington signed it, believing it to be the only alternative to war. Thanks to intense effort by his administration, it was passed by the Senate in February 1796.

Jay's Treaty had far-reaching implications. Most importantly, it avoided war between the United States and Great Britain during a vulnerable time of development for the young country. But it complicated U.S. relations with France, which considered the treaty a breach of its own agreements with the United States. An undeclared naval war between the two countries followed. Political debates among Americans further inspired the organization of the Republican Party and the party system in American politics.

Jay's Treaty

views updated May 29 2018


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

Jay's Treaty

views updated Jun 27 2018

Jay's Treaty

JAY'S TREATY. 19 November 1794. For a decade after the end of the American Revolution, Britain refused to honor those articles of the Peace Treaty of 1783 calling for its withdrawal of troops from posts in the Northwest that now fell within U.S. territory. Britain's justification was based on the U.S. failure to comply with articles four and five of the treaty which called for payment of pre-Revolutionary War debts to British merchants and reimbursement to Loyalists for property confiscated by the states. The two countries made a number of threatening gestures toward one another after the British Orders in Council of 8 June and 6 November 1793 resulted in the seizure of American ships and crews. President Washington sent John Jay, the chief justice of the United States and author of Washington's Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, to negotiate a treaty with Britain. The Treaty of London, or Jay's Treaty, as it is generally known, was signed on 19 November 1794. The British government agreed to withdraw from all its posts in the Northwest territories by 1 June 1796. The debts were to be referred to joint commissions (British claims of $2,664,000 were settled on 8 January 1802), as were the problems of the Northeast boundary and compensation for illegal seizures ($10,345,200, paid by 1802). Various trade agreements were made, but there was no reference to Loyalist claims, the slaves "stolen" by the British during the war, the impressment of American sailors under the Orders in Council, or to allegations that the British incited Indians to make war on the United States. Nor would Britain acknowledge the neutral rights of the United States.

Although Jay had triumphed in getting important concessions and had restored amicable relations that permitted the resumption of trade that was essential for the success of Hamilton's fiscal system, his treaty aroused a popular uproar from many elements whose own interests had been violated or ignored. Southern planters wanted compensation for those slaves who had fled to freedom with the British, and Virginia owed most of the debt that the joint commissions were to settle. Northern shipping and commercial interests were antagonized by the treaty's limitations on their trade with the West Indies, while western settlers wanted a final solution to "the Indian problem." Thomas Jefferson and James Madison denounced the treaty and preferred commercial retaliation against Britain as a means of attaining better terms, even though an embargo would hurt the U.S. economy more than it would the British. After long and bitter debate, the Senate finally ratified the treaty on 24 June 1795 with the stipulation that the article dealing with the West Indies trade be renegotiated. Although Washington had considered the treaty unsatisfactory, he established an important precedent by asserting executive prerogative and refusing the House of Representatives' request of 24 March 1796 for Jay's papers relating to the treaty. The House initially attempted to block the treaty by denying appropriations, but on 30 April 1796 it approved the requisite funds. One important consequence of Jay's Treaty was to activate and clarify the two factions in Congress into the Federalist and Democratic Republican Parties.

SEE ALSO Carleton, Guy; Jay, John; Peace Treaty of 3 September 1783.


Bemis, Samuel Flagg. Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965.

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

                        revised by Michael Bellesiles