The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Jay's Treaty
JAY'S TREATY. 1794. The Articles of Confederation provided that the States might nullify at will any provisions of whatever commercial treaty Congress might negotiate; of course therefore no nation with much commerce to be disturbed by our competition would make such treaties with us. Our chief commerce was with Great Britain; and that country would make no commercial treaty whatever with us, even for years after the Constitution had given Congress power to enforce its treaties. There were two main reasons for this: first, that Great Britain had valuable oommercial monopolies (especially in the West Indies) for which she thought we could return no equivalent; second, she was angry over the sequelæ of the Peace of 1783. She had agreed to surrender the border forts on the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence and Lake Champlain, and carry off no negroes, on condition that Congress “recommend” to the States to restore confiscated Tory property, and agree to confiscate no more. Congress did so twice emphatically, but the States paid no attention to it; the British government, though it knew very well how much the recommendation meant, made this an excuse to retain the forts and refuse payment for 3,000 negroes carried off; this in turn hardened the States to refuse compliance with the treaty, and the forts being made a basis for Indian outrages winked at by the British cammandants enraged the country still more. The Republicans, who sympathized with the new French Republic and hated Great Britain, held the House; the Federalists, whose sympathies were exactly opposite, the Senate by a small majority. On 16 Dec. 1793, Jefferson made a famous report on a House resolution, recommending retaliatory duties; and after an acrid debate the Republicans pushed through a non-intercourse resolution, only defeated even in the Senate by Vice-President Adams' casting vote. But Washington threw his weight into the scale of peace, and nominated Chief Justice John Jay as envoy extraordinary to negotiate a commercial treaty. With Lord Granville he drew up one on 19 Nov. 1794, which removed the chief American grievance by surrendering the forts, but refused compensation for the negroes and referred all other claims to commissioners; and as to commerce, allowed direct but not coasting trade between the United States and the British East and West Indies (the latter in vessels of not over 70 tons), but denied the United States the right to export sugar, molasses, coffee, cocoa or cotton to Europe — in other words, to become an intermediary for the British colonies to evade the British commercial monopoly; and limited even this provision to two years after peace with the powers then at war with Great Britain. There were also clauses which impliedly recognized British right of search and impressment, and power to make anything contraband. The treaty was ratified by the Senate in secret session (8 June 1795), but when published excited an uproar of public indignation; Jay was burned in effigy, and even Washington vilified incredibly. The Virginia legislature and the Federal House practically passed votes of censure; but the people gradually came to recognize that it was the best thing to be had, hard as were the terms; the commercial bodies in the States openly commended it; Hamilton wrote his “Camillus” letters in its favor; and after a bitter struggle for many weeks in the House to refuse compliance with the Senate action, the treaty won by 51 to 48.