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Jay's Treaty

Signed by the United States and Great Britain on November 19, 1794, the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation was an attempt to settle disputes dating back to the Revolutionary War.

The Treaty of Paris (1783) ended the Revolutionary War, but did not put an end to trouble between the United States and Great Britain, as neither country fully lived up to its terms. For example, each country had agreed not to obstruct the collection of debts by citizens of the other country, but British subjects often found themselves barred from collecting debts owed to them before the war. Britain also complained about the treatment of Tories (British sympathizers) who had remained in America after the war. Great Britain had agreed to abandon various forts on the northwestern frontier, but had yet to do so. In addition, Britain insisted on the right to stop and search American vessels for supposed deserters from the British Navy. After war broke out between England and France in 1793, the British claimed the right to capture American merchant ships carrying provisions from suppliers in the United States to France.

In April 1794, President George Washington, fearing another war with Britain, sent Chief Justice John Jay to London to negotiate the grievances. Jay met with British Foreign Minister William Wyndham Greenville, and the two men came to an agreement on the following points: (1) Northwest military posts occupied by the British would be evacuated by June 1796; (2) boundary disputes and questions about pre-revolutionary debts would be settled by joint commissions; (3) the British would have unrestricted access to American ports and the Mississippi River; and (4) American vessels would have free access to British ports, with the exception of those in the West Indies. However, the treaty ignored important bones of contention, including the British seizure of American ships and sailors and British-inspired Indian attacks on settlers in the West.

Publication of the treaty in 1795 aroused anger in the United States. Jeffersonian Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, denounced the treaty as a violation of American rights and commercial interests, as well as the American alliance of 1778 with France. Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists, on the other hand, defended the treaty by arguing that concessions had to be made or Britain would cut off its trade with the United States. After a heated debate, the Senate ratified a slightly amended form of the treaty (in which the article restricting West Indian trade had been eliminated) on June 24, 1795.

cover of the published version of Jay's Treaty
cover of the published version of Jay's Treaty

The disputes that were not settled by Jay's Treaty continued to fester until they finally erupted into the War of 1812.

Revolutionary War
President George Washington
John Jay
Thomas Jefferson
Alexander Hamilton
War of 1812

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The Robinson Library >> George Washington's Administration, 1789-1797

This page was last updated on June 24, 2018.