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Jay Treaty

Jay Treaty
Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and The United States of America
Facsimile of the first page of the Jay Treaty
First page of the Jay Treaty
Context To relieve post-war tension between Britain and the United States
Signed November 19, 1794 (1794-11-19)
Location London
Effective February 29, 1796 (1796-02-29)
Jay's Treaty at Wikisource

The Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, commonly known as the Jay Treaty, and also as Jay's Treaty, the British Treaty, and the Treaty of London of 1794,[1][2] was a 1795 treaty between the United States and Great Britain that is credited with averting war,[3] resolving issues remaining since the Treaty of Paris of 1783 (which ended the American Revolutionary War),[4] and facilitating ten years of peaceful trade between the United States and Britain in the midst of the French Revolutionary Wars, which began in 1792.

The terms of the treaty were designed primarily by Secretary of the Treasury Northwest Territory of the United States (the area west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River). (The British had recognized this area as American territory in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.) The parties agreed that disputes over wartime debts and the American–Canadian boundary were to be sent to arbitration—one of the first major uses of arbitration in diplomatic history. The Americans were granted limited rights to trade with British possessions in India and colonies in the Caribbean in exchange for some limits on the American export of cotton.

The treaty was hotly contested by the Jeffersonians in each state. They feared that closer economic ties with Britain would strengthen Hamilton's Federalist Party, promote aristocracy and undercut republicanism. Washington's announced support proved decisive and the treaty was ratified by a 2/3 majority of the Senate in November 1794 without a single vote to spare. The treaty became a central issue of contention—leading to the formation of the "First Party System," with the Federalists favoring Britain and the Jeffersonian republicans favoring France. The treaty was for ten years' duration. Efforts to agree on a replacement treaty failed (in 1806) when Jefferson rejected the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty as tensions escalated toward the War of 1812.[5] The treaty was signed on November 19, 1794, the Senate advised and consented on June 24, 1795; it was ratified by the President and the British government; it took effect the day ratifications were officially exchanged, February 29, 1796.


  • Issues 1
  • Treaty terms 2
    • American Indian rights 2.1
  • Approval and dissent 3
  • Evaluations 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


From the British perspective, its war with France necessitated improving relations with the United States to prevent the U.S. from falling into the French orbit. From the American viewpoint, the most pressing foreign policy issues were normalizing the trade relations with Britain, the United States' leading trading partner, and resolving issues left over from the Treaty of Paris, which had ended with compromises on every issue but the essential one of independence. As one observer explained, the British government was "well disposed to America… They have made their arrangements upon a plan that comprehends the neutrality of the United States, and are anxious that it should be preserved."[6]

Nevertheless, the Royal Navy had captured hundreds of neutral American merchant ships in recent months as part of its blockade of Revolutionary France, and British officials in Canada were supporting Indian tribes in their resistance to American settlers in the Ohio River Valley, territory which Britain had explicitly ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Congress voted for a trade embargo against Britain in the spring of 1794, which affected the commerce of the Northeastern states in particular.

The still-infant government under the Constitution was divided between the party of Jefferson and Madison, which favored the French, and the Federalists led by Hamilton, who saw Britain as a natural ally and thus sought to normalize relations with Britain, especially in the area of trade. Hamilton devised a framework for negotiations, and President George Washington sent Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Jay to London to negotiate a comprehensive treaty.

The American government had several outstanding issues:

  • The British were occupying forts on U.S. territory in the Great Lakes region, at Detroit and Mackinac in modern-day Michigan, Niagara and Oswego in New York, and Maumee (also Miamis) in modern-day Ohio.
  • The British were continuing to impress American sailors into British service.
  • American merchants wanted compensation for 250 merchant ships which the British had confiscated in 1793 and 1794.
  • Southern politicians wanted monetary compensation for slaves who were evacuated by the British Army following the Revolutionary War.
  • Merchants in both America and in the Caribbean wanted the British West Indies to be reopened to American trade.
  • The boundary with Canada was vague in many places, and needed to be more clearly delineated.
  • The British were believed to be aggravating American Indian attacks on settlers in the Northwest (modern-day Kentucky and Ohio).

Treaty terms

Both sides achieved many objectives. The British agreed to vacate the western forts by June 1796 (which was done), and to compensate American ship owners (the British paid $10,345,200 by 1802).[7] In return, the United States gave most favored nation trading status to Britain, and acquiesced in British anti-French maritime policies. The United States guaranteed the payment of private prewar debts owed by Americans to British merchants that could not be collected in U.S. courts (the U.S. paid £600,000 in 1802).

Two joint boundary commissions were set up to establish the boundary line in the Northeast (it agreed on the Saint Croix River) and in the Northwest (this one never met and the boundary was settled after the War of 1812).[8]

Jay, a strong opponent of slavery, dropped the issue of compensation for slaves, which angered Southern slaveholders. Jay was unsuccessful in negotiating an end to the impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy, which later became a key issue leading to the War of 1812.

American Indian rights

Article III states "It is agreed, that it shall at all times be free to His Majesty's subjects, and to the citizens of the United States, and also to the Indians dwelling on either side of the said boundary line, freely to pass and repass, by land or inland navigation into the respective territories and countries of the two parties on the continent of America, (the country within the limits of the Hudson's Bay Company only excepted) ... and freely carry on trade and commerce with each other." Article III of the Jay Treaty declared the right of "Indians" (Native Americans) as well as of American citizens and Canadian subjects to trade and travel between the United States and Canada, which was then a territory of Great Britain.[9] Over the years since, the United States has codified this obligation in the provisions of Section 289 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and as amended in 1965. As a result of the Jay Treaty, "Native Indians born in Canada are therefore entitled to enter the United States for the purpose of employment, study, retirement, investing, and/or immigration".[10] Article III of the Jay Treaty is the basis of most Indian claims.[11]

Approval and dissent

Washington submitted the treaty to the United States Senate for its consent in June 1795; a two-thirds vote was needed. The treaty was unpopular at first, and gave the Jeffersonians a platform to rally new supporters. As the historian Paul Varg explains,

"The Jay Treaty was a reasonable give-and-take compromise of the issues between the two countries. What rendered it so assailable was not the compromise spelled out between the two nations but the fact that it was not a compromise between the two political parties at home. Embodying the views of the Federalists, the treaty repudiated the foreign policy of the opposing party."[12]

The Jeffersonians were opposed to Britain, preferring support for France in the wars raging in Europe, and they argued that the treaty with France from 1778 was still in effect. They considered Britain as the center of aristocracy and the chief threat to the United States' republican values. They denounced Hamilton and Jay (and even Washington) as monarchists who betrayed American values. They organized public protests against Jay and his treaty; one of their rallying cries said: Damn John Jay! Damn everyone that won't damn John Jay! Damn every one that won't put lights in his window and sit up all night damning John Jay![13]

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison strongly opposed the Treaty, as they favored France; foreign policy became a major dispute between the new Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties; it became a core issue of the First Party System. Jefferson and his supporters had a counterproposal to establish "a direct system of commercial hostility with Great Britain," even at the risk of war. The Jeffersonians raised public opinion to fever pitch by accusing the British of promoting Indian atrocities on the frontier.[14] The fierce debates over the Treaty in 1794–95, according to one historian, "transformed the Republican movement into a Republican party." To fight the treaty, the Jeffersonians "established coordination in activity between leaders at the capital, and leaders, actives and popular followings in the states, counties and towns."[15] Jay's failure to obtain compensation for "lost" slaves galvanized the South into opposition.[16]

The Federalists fought back and Congress rejected the Jefferson–Madison counter-proposals. Washington threw his great prestige behind the treaty, and Federalists rallied public opinion more effectively than did their opponents.[17] Hamilton convinced President Washington it was the best treaty that could be expected. Washington, who insisted the U.S. must remain neutral in the European wars, signed it, and his prestige carried the day in Congress. The Federalists made a strong, systematic appeal to public opinion, which rallied their own supporters and shifted the debate. Washington and Hamilton outmaneuvered Madison, who was opposition leader.[18] By then out of the government, Hamilton was the dominant figure who helped secure the treaty's approval by the needed 2/3 vote in the Senate. The Senate passed a resolution in June, advising the president to amend the treaty by suspending the 12th article, which concerned trade between the U.S. and the West Indies. In mid-August, the Senate ratified the treaty 20–10, with the condition that the treaty contain specific language regarding the June 24 resolution. President Washington signed it in late August. The Treaty was proclaimed in effect on February 29, 1796 and in a series of close votes, after another bitter fight the House funded the Treaty in April 1796.[19]

James Madison, then a member of the House of Representatives, argued that the treaty could not, under Constitutional law, take effect without approval of the House, since it regulated commerce and exercised legislative powers granted to Congress. The debate which followed was an early example of originalism, in which Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," lost.[20] After defeat on the treaty in Congress, the Jeffersonian Republicans lost the 1796 presidential election on the issue.

When Jefferson became president in 1801, he did not repudiate the treaty. He kept the Federalist minister, Rufus King, in London to negotiate a successful resolution to outstanding issues regarding cash payments and boundaries. The amity broke down when the treaty expired in 1805. Jefferson rejected a renewal of the Jay Treaty in the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty of 1806 as negotiated by his diplomats and agreed to by London. Relations turned increasingly hostile as a prelude to the War of 1812. In 1815, the Treaty of Ghent superseded the Jay treaty.


The historians Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick note that in conventional diplomatic terms, as a "piece of adversary bargaining", Jay "got much the worst of the 'bargain'. Such a view has to a great degree persisted ever since."[21] They conclude that although Jay did not succeed in asserting neutral rights, he did obtain "his other sine qua nons"; he got none of things that were "desirable, but not indispensable."[22] They add Jay's record on the symbolic side was open to many objections. However, on the 'hard' (or realistic) side, "it was a substantial success, which included the prevention of war with Great Britain."[23]

The historian Marshall Smelser argues that the treaty effectively postponed war with Britain, or at least postponed it until the United States was strong enough to handle it.[24]

Bradford Perkins

argued in 1955 that the treaty was the first to establish a special relationship between Britain and the United States, with a second installment under Lord Salisbury. In his view, the treaty worked for ten years to secure peace between Britain and America: "The decade may be characterized as the period of "The First Rapprochement." As Perkins concludes,

"For about ten years there was peace on the frontier, joint recognition of the value of commercial intercourse, and even, by comparison with both preceding and succeeding epochs, a muting of strife over ship seizures and impressment. Two controversies with France… pushed the English-speaking powers even more closely together."[25]

Starting at swords' point in 1794, the Jay treaty reversed the tensions, Perkins concludes: "Through a decade of world war and peace, successive governments on both sides of the Atlantic were able to bring about and preserve a cordiality which often approached genuine friendship."[26]

Perkins suggests that (saving perhaps the opening of trade with British India), "Jay did fail to win anything the Americans were not obviously entitled to, liberation of territory recognized as theirs since 1782, and compensation for seizures that even Britain admitted were illegal." He also speculates that a "more astute negotiator than the Chief Justice" would have gotten better terms than he did.[27] He quoted the opinion of the "great historian" Henry Adams that the treaty was a "bad one":

"No one would venture on its merits to defend it now. There has been no time since 1810 when the United States would not prefer war to peace on such terms."

Perkins gave more weight than other historians to valuable concessions regarding trade in India and the concession on the West Indies trade. In addition, Perkins noted that the Royal Navy treated American commerce with "relative leniency" during the wars, and many impressed seamen were returned to America. As Spain assessed the informal British-American alliance, it softened its previous opposition to the United States' use of the Mississippi River and signed Pinckney's Treaty, which the Americans wanted. When Jefferson took office, he gained renewal of the commercial articles that had greatly benefited American shipping.[28]

Elkins and McKitrick find this more positive view open to "one big difficulty": it requires that the British negotiated in the same spirit. Unlike Perkins, they find "little indication of this"; preferring to view the British not as future-oriented, but, having had no indication that the United States required attention, wishing to take it off the long list of issues that did.[29]

George Herring's 2008 history of US foreign policy says that in 1794 "the United States and Britain edged toward war" and concludes, "The Jay Treaty brought the United States important concessions and served its interests well."[30] Joseph Ellis finds the terms of the treaty "one-sided in Britain's favor," but asserts with a consensus of historians that it was

"a shrewd bargain for the United States. It bet, in effect, on England rather than France as the hegemonic European power of the future, which proved prophetic. It recognized the massive dependence of the American economy on trade with England. In a sense it was a precocious preview of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), for it linked American security and economic development to the British fleet, which provided a protective shield of incalculable value throughout the nineteenth century. Mostly, it postponed war with England until America was economically and politically more capable of fighting one."[31]

See also


  1. ^ James S. Olsen, ed. (1991). Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism. Greenwood Press. p. 332.  
  2. ^ Stat. 116
  3. ^ Jean Edward Smith, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation (1998) p. 177
  4. ^ Todd Estes, The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture (2006) p. 15
  5. ^ Marshall Smelser, The Democratic Republic: 1801–1815 (1968) pp. 139, 145, 155–56.
  6. ^ Gouverneur Morris quoted in Perkins (1955) p. 22; the British foreign minister felt, "this Country is anxious to keep the Americans in good humour." ibid.
  7. ^ Wayne S. Cole, An Interpretive History of American Foreign Relations, (1974) p. 55.
  8. ^ The Treaty also allowed people to pass freely across the US-Canadian border to carry on trade and commerce.
  9. ^ INA, Cornell.
  10. ^ "First Nations and Native Americans". United States Embassy, Consular Services Canada. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  11. ^ Karl S. Hele, Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands (2008) p. 127
  12. ^ Varg, 1963 p. 95.
  13. ^ William Weeks, Building the Continental Empire, p. 23.
  14. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, p. 405.
  15. ^ William Nisbet Chambers. Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience, 1776–1809 (1963), p. 80.
  16. ^ Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy (2006) 67–68.
  17. ^ Estes 2001.
  18. ^ Estes pp. 398–99.
  19. ^ "Jay’s Treaty", American Foreign Relations.
  20. ^ Rakove, pp 355–365
  21. ^ Elkins and McKitrick
  22. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, p. 410.
  23. ^ Elkins and McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. p. 412. 
  24. ^ Marshall Smelser, The Democratic Republic, 1801–1815 (1968).
  25. ^ Perkins p. vii
  26. ^ Perkins p. 1.
  27. ^ Perkins: The First Rapprochement p. 3.
  28. ^ Perkins, Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations I: The Creation of a Republican Empire,(1995) pp. 99, 100, 124.
  29. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, pp. 396–402.
  30. ^ George Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (2008) p 73, 78
  31. ^ Joseph Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2000) pp. 136–7.


  • Bemis, Samuel Flagg. Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy (1923) remains the standard narrative of how treaty was written
  • Charles, Joseph. "The Jay Treaty: The Origins of the American Party System," in William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 12, No. 4. (Oct., 1955), pp. 581–630. in JSTOR
  • Combs, Jerald. A. The Jay Treaty: Political Background of Founding Fathers (1970) (ISBN 0-520-01573-8) Focusing on the domestic and ideological aspects, Combs dislikes Hamilton's quest for national power and a "heroic state" dominating the Western Hemisphere, but concludes the Federalists "followed the proper policy" because the treaty preserved peace with Britain.
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800. (1994), ch. 9
  • Estes, Todd, "The Art of Presidential Leadership: George Washington and the Jay Treaty," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 2001, vol 109, no. 2 pp 127–58 in JSTOR
  • Estes, Todd, "Shaping the Politics of Public Opinion: Federalists and the Jay Treaty Debate." Journal of the Early Republic (2000) 20(3): 393–422. ISSN in JSTOR
  • Estes, Todd. The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, And the Evolution of Early American Political Culture (2006)
  • Farrell, James M. "Fisher Ames and Political Judgment: Reason, Passion, and Vehement Style in the Jay Treaty Speech," Quarterly Journal of Speech 1990 76(4): 415–434.
  • Fewster, Joseph M. "The Jay Treaty and British Ship Seizures: the Martinique Cases." William and Mary Quarterly 1988 45(3): 426–452. in JSTOR
  • Perkins, Bradford. The First Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1795–1805 1955.
  • Perkins, Bradford. "Lord Hawkesbury and the Jay–Grenville Negotiations," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 40, No. 2. (Sep., 1953), pp. 291–304. in JSTOR
  • Rakove, Jack N. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1997. ISBN 0-394-57858-9
  • Varg, Paul A; Foreign Policies of the Founding Fathers. 1963.

External links

  • "Primary Documents in American History – Jay's Treaty".  
  • "British-American Diplomacy – The Jay Treaty 1794 and Associated Documents".  
  • Nickels, Bryan (2001). "Native American Free Passage Rights Under the 1794 Jay Treaty: Survival Under United States Statutory Law and Canadian Common Law". Boston College International and Comparative Law Journal ( 
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