The New International Encyclopædia/Jay Treaty

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JAY TREATY. In American history, the name applied to a treaty negotiated in 1794 by John Jay on the part of the United States and Lord Grenville on the part of Great Britain. The refusal of Great Britain to observe several of the obligations imposed by the definitive treaty of peace signed in Paris in 1783, among them the compensation for negroes carried away by the retiring British army and the continuation of garrisons in the forts on the northwestern frontier, had produced a hostile feeling in America that was increased by Great Britain's continued insistence on the right of search and impressment, and in the winter of 1793-94 actually threatened war. On April 7, 1794, a proposal was made in Congress, in accordance with a recommendation for retaliatory legislation made by the Secretary of State, Jefferson, to prohibit all commercial intercourse with England after November 1, 1794, unless before that date the northwestern forts should be evacuated, and pledges given of a cessation of search and impressment. Before this resolution passed, however, Washington, who feared the result of such an enactment, intervened, and on April 16th sent to the Senate the nomination of Chief Justice John Jay as a special ambassador to negotiate a treaty adjusting the difficulties. The nomination was immediately confirmed by a vote of 18 to 8, and the House non-intercourse resolution was defeated in the Senate by the casting vote of Vice-President Adams. Jay reached London June 15th, and on November 19th signed with Lord Grenville a treaty of twenty-eight articles. The evacuation of the forts was the only one of the American claims definitely decided. Nothing whatever was said about either the right of search or impressment, or the question of compensation for the negroes. The settlement of the boundaries on the northeastern and northwestern frontiers was to be decided by a joint commission, as was the question of the collection of British debts. The last eighteen articles constituted a treaty of commerce, by the provisions of which, with certain qualifications, trade was to be allowed with Great Britain and the East and West Indies. Further provisions related to the fitting out of privateers, defined contraband goods, and contained a renunciation of all American-European trade in West Indian products such as sugar, molasses, cocoa, and cotton. On June 8, 1795, the treaty was laid before the Senate in executive session, and it was ratified June 24th by a vote of 20 to 10. On July 2d, before the terms of the treaty had been officially made public, its text was published in the Aurora, the Anti-Federalist organ in Philadelphia. An outbreak of public wrath and denunciation followed such as has seldom occurred in the history of the Republic. Jay was burned in effigy from New England to Georgia, and both he and Washington were declared to have been bought with British gold. Even Washington's impeachment was suggested, and the attacks were of such a character as to draw from him the protest that they were “so exaggerated and indecent as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, a defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket.” But the outbreak subsided almost as quickly as it had begun, the defenses and explanations of the treaty in the press, particularly in the famous Camillus letters of Hamilton and King, brought about a saner state of public opinion, and on April 30, 1796, the House, after debating the question for several months and listening to the able speeches of Fisher Ames and others in its defense, resolved by a vote of 51 to 48 that the terms of the treaty ought to be carried into effect.

Consult: Trescot, Diplomacy of the Administrations of Washington and Adams (Boston, 1857); Jay, Life of John Jay (New York, 1833); Pellew, John Jay (Boston, 1890), in the “American Statesmen Series;” and an article by Alexander Johnston in Lalor's Cyclopedia of Political Science (Chicago, 1881-84). For the text of the treaty consult Treaties and Conventions (Washington, 1889).