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Jay's Treaty

John Jay, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing right; left hand on upright book on table
John Jay, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing right; left hand on upright book on table / Albert Rosenthal, Phila., 1889.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-96380

Jay’s Treaty, officially titled “Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, between His Britannic Majesty; and The United States of America,” was negotiated by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay and signed between the United States and Great Britain on November 19, 1794. Tensions between the two countries had increased since the end of the Revolutionary War over British military posts still located in America's northwestern territory and British interference with American trade and shipping. Jay was only partially successful in getting Britain to meet America's demands and opposition to the treaty in the United States was intense. Although President George Washington was disappointed with the treaty’s provisions, he felt it was the best hope to avert war with Great Britain and submitted it to the Senate for approval. Jay’s Treaty passed the Senate by a vote of 20 to 10, exactly the two-thirds required for approval.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

American Memory Historical Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

On June 8, 1795, President George Washington submitted to the Senate all of the documents related to the negotiation of Jay's Treaty. Additional documents related to U.S. foreign relations from 1789 to 1828 can be found in the American State Papers.

The Annals of Congress reports that the Senate passed Jay's Treaty by a vote of 20 to 10 on June 24, 1795. However, Jay's Treaty required that the House of Representatives appropriate funds for its implementation. Opponents in the House attempted to block the appropriation bill, with debate beginning on April 14, 1796. The appropriation for the treaty was narrowly approved by a vote of 51 to 48 on April 30, 1796.

Search in the 4th Congress to locate additional Congressional debate related to this treaty.

George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress

A copy of the resolution announcing the Senate's approval of Jay's Treaty was sent to President George Washington on June 24, 1795.

Despite its faults, Washington came to the conclusion that Jay's Treaty was necessary in order to avoid war with Great Britain. In a letter to Secretary of State Edmund Randolph dated July 22, 1795, Washington wrote, "My opinion respecting the treaty, is the same now that it was: namely, not favorable to it, but that it is better to ratify it in the manner the Senate have advised (and with the reservation already mentioned), than to suffer matters to remain as they are, unsettled."

Petitions objecting to Jay's treaty were sent to Washington from a large number of towns, cities, and counties. Washington responded to most of these protests with the same answer that he sent to the Boston Selectmen on July 28, 1795.

Search Washington's papers to find additional documents related to Jay's Treaty.

The James Madison Papers

James Madison was a leading opponent of the ratification of Jay's Treaty. This collection contains a draft of a letter to an unknown correspondent containing a petition to the General Assembly of Virginia protesting Jay's Treaty. In addition, it includes Madison's notes for a speech he gave in 1796 related to the treaty, as well as his personal copy of Jay's Treaty.

Search Madison's papers in order to locate additional information on this topic.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson was adamantly opposed to Jay's Treaty and expressed his opposition in a number of letters to friends and colleagues. Soon after the provisions of the treaty were made public, Jefferson wrote to James Monroe on September 6, 1795, that "so general a burst of dissatisfaction never before appeared against any transaction. Those who understand the particular articles of it, condemn these articles. Those who do not understand them minutely, condemn it generally as wearing a hostile face to France." A month later Jefferson agreed with Edward Rutledge "in thinking the treaty an execrable thing . . . I trust the popular branch of our legislature will disapprove of it, and thus rid us of this infamous act, which is really nothing more than a treaty of alliance between England & the Anglomen of this country against the legislature & people of the United States."

After the Senate approved Jay’s Treaty, opponents in the House of Representatives attempted to block the appropriation bill needed for implementation of the treaty. During the debate in the House, Jefferson wrote another letter to James Monroe, stating that "the most remarkable political occurrence with us has been the treaty with England, of which no man in the U S. has had the effrontery to affirm that it was not a very bad one except A. H. [note: Alexander Hamilton] under the signature of Camillus. It's most zealous defenders only pretended that it was better than war, as if war was not invited rather than avoided by unfounded demands. I have never known the public pulse beat so full and in such universal union on any subject since the declaration of independence, the House of Representatives of the U. S. has manifested its disapprobation of the treaty."

Search Jefferson's papers to locate additional documents related to Jay's treaty.

Exhibitions

John Bull & Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations

Today in History

December 12, 1745

John Jay, one of the nation's founding fathers, was born on December 12, 1745, to a prominent and wealthy family in the Province of New York.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

The Jay Treaty of 1794 and Associated Documents, Avalon Project at Yale Law School

John Jay's Treaty, Department of State

The Papers of John Jay, Columbia University

Uproar Over Senate Treaty Approval, United States Senate

Selected Bibliography

Bemis, Samuel F. Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962. [Catalog Record]

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

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

Ritcheson, Charles R. Aftermath of Revolution: British Policy toward the United States, 1783-1795. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1969. [Catalog Record]

Stahr, Walter. John Jay: Founding Father. New York: Hambledon, 2005. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

Kallen, Stuart A. John Jay. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub., 2001. [Catalog Record]

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