The Jay Treaty

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The Jay Treaty closed off several outstanding issues from the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War and, in the process, became an intense dispute between the nation's first two political parties. It was named for John Jay, who was then the Chief Justice of the United States.

Among the issues ironed out to American satisfaction by the 1794 treaty:

  • Britain agreed to abandon forts in the Northwest Territory.
  • Britain agreed to stop encouraging Native Americans to attack settlers in the Northwest Territory.
  • Britain agreed to pay for 250 merchant ships seized in the past two years.
  • Britain agreed not to interfere with American trading efforts in the West Indies.
  • Both countries agreed to a stronger delineation of the Canada-U.S. border.

Among the issues ironed out to British satisfaction:

  • The U.S. granted Britain most favored nation trading status.
  • The U.S. agreed not to interfere with Britain's ongoing struggle with France.
  • The U.S. agreed to reconcile prewar debts owed to British merchants.

Many historians think that the two countries averted another war by reaching agreement on all of these issues.

Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, was the principal architect of the treaty. John Jay, then the Chief Justice of the United States, was the chief negotiator. President George Washington voiced his support for the treaty.

However, the treaty angered many in the Democratic-Republican Party. Thomas Jefferson was most notably vocal in opposition, preferring to see a friendly agreement with France. The Democratic-Republicans argued that closer ties with Britain would bring back more of a monarchical system. Hamilton's Federalist Party argued that the treaty was sound economically and was necessary to keep the country growing westward.

The treaty was agreed to in principle in 1794 but took more than a year to work its way through all of the necessary governmental processes. Opposition to the treaty was quite fierce; at one point, Jay was burned in effigy. Washington's support for the treaty proved to be the difference, however, as two-thirds of the Senate approved the treaty in November 1796. The treaty's duration was for 10 years.

One main issue that Jay pressed but could not get Britain to agree to was a cessation of the impressment of soldiers. Britain continued to seize some ships and force American sailors to join the Royal Navy. This would be a main issue leading to the War of 1812.

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