Washington Stating the Reason for Jay's Nomination: Peace With Britain
Washington Stating the Reason for Jay's Nomination: Peace With Britain


Jay Treaty — November 19, 1794

Also: Jay's Treaty, John Jay's Treaty, or Treaty of London

Formally: Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation

This is the main article.

Go here for the
transcript of the Jay Treaty.

And here for its official appendix.

Image Above

President George Washington's nomination of John Jay as Envoy Extraordinary to his Britannic Majesty, April 16, 1794:

"But as peace ought to be pursued with unremitted* zeal [...] I have thought proper to nominate John Jay, as envoy extraordinary from the United States to his Britannic majesty."

* unremitted = without remission; incessant


Why Was the Jay Treaty Negotiated in the First Place?

The United States wanted Great Britain to:

:: Evacuate British military presence in the Old Northwest, which was officially U.S. territory since 1783.

:: Stop impressment.

:: Stop the confiscation of American ships and their cargo.

:: Guarantee free international trade.

:: Return abducted slaves.

Great Britain wanted the United States to:

:: Allow British debt collectors to go after pre-revolutionary debts.

:: Return confiscated property to their pro-British (Loyalists, Americans who sided with Great Britain during the war) owners.


Does any of this sound familiar?

Yes, almost exactly the same issues had been dealt with eleven years prior in the Treaty of Paris 1783.

The more recent grievances regarding international trade and navigation stemmed from the war between France and Britain, which commenced on February 1, 1793. (See French Revolutionary Wars)

The U.S. was happy to trade with both nations, but Britain targeted neutral American ships that carried cargo to France or French territories. (See British Order-in-Council of June 8, 1793, and November 6, 1793)


What Was Washington's Pickle?

On February 1, 1793, France declared war on Great Britain and the United Provinces.

Check this event in the timeline of the French Revolutionary Wars

Pro-British Americans (such as Secretary of the Treasury
Alexander Hamilton) and pro-French Americans (such as Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson) urged Washington to take action according to their respective political preferences.

However, the United States was officially neutral. Moreover, as a fledgling nation, the United States' political and economic independence were vulnerable, while its military was still recuperating from the war.

Washington's objective was to continue business with both Britain and France, while remaining impartial in foreign politics.

To this end, Washington sent a diplomat to Great Britain who was pro-British and pro-peace: Chief Justice John Jay.


Was John Jay the Right Man for the Job?

John Jay was one of the Founding Fathers.

Alongside Hamilton and Madison, he wrote the Federalist Papers that promoted the ratification of the Constitution.

Alongside Adams and Franklin, Jay was part of the 1783 Paris peace committee. He negotiated and signed the Treaty of Paris.

From 1784 to 1789 Jay was Secretary of Foreign Affairs (today's Secretary of State.)

In 1789, Washington made him the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Yet, Jay's nomination as special envoy was not unopposed.

On Saturday, April 19, 1794, the U.S. Senate considered the motion,

That any communications to be made to the Court of Great Britain may be made through our Minister now at that Court, with equal facility and effect, and at much less expense... and that such an appointment is at present inexpedient and unnecessary.

That to permit Judges of the Supreme Court to hold at the same time any other office or employment, emanating from and holden at the pleasure of the Executive, is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, and, as tending to expose them to the influence of the Executive, is mischievous and impolite.

After this motion passed in the negative with 10 Yeas and 17 Nays, Senate voted to agree to Jay's nomination with 18 Yeas and 8 Nays.


Who Signed the Jay Treaty?

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
John Jay
for the United States
President George Washington


Foreign Secretary
William Wyndham Grenville, Lord Grenville
for Great Britain
under King George III


John Jay William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville
John Jay
Oil on canvas by Gilbert Stuart, 1794
National Gallery of Art
William Wyndham Grenville
Oil on canvas by John Hoppner, c. 1800
National Portrait Gallery London

George Washington

George III

George Washington
Oil on canvas by Gilbert Stuart, 1796
United States Senate
George III
Oil on canvas by Johan Zoffany, 1771
Zetland Collection, Yale Center for British Art


When Was the Treaty Signed and Ratified?

Jay and Grenville signed at London on November 19, 1794.

The United States ratified the treaty on August 14, 1795.

Great Britain ratified the treaty on October 28, 1795.

Ratifications were exchanged at London on October 28, 1795.


Why the Delay Between Signing and Ratifying?

The treaty was signed at London and arrived on Edmund Randolph's (Secretary of State) desk in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. on March 7, 1795. At this time, the U.S. Senate was not in session.

Why the Senate?

The U.S. Constitution gives the president power to make treaties if two-thirds of the Senate agree. In addition, the Senate may amend a treaty or adopt changes to a treaty.

The Constitution reads,

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur;

The Senate convened on June 8, 1795, and deliberated for two weeks.

On June 24, 1795, it passed the following resolution of ratification by a vote of 20 to 10, meaning it just passed with the required two-thirds majority:

Resolved, two-thirds of the Senate concurring therein, that they do consent to, and advise the President of the United States, to ratify the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, concluded at London, the 19th day of November, 1794, on condition that there be added to the said treaty an article, whereby it shall be agreed to suspend the operation of so much of the 12th article, as respects the trade which his said Majesty thereby consents may be carried on, between the United States and his islands in the West Indies, in the manner, and on the terms and conditions therein specified.

And the Senate recommend to the President to proceed, without delay, to further friendly negotiations with his Majesty, on the subject of the said trade, and of the terms and conditions in question.

Washington simply pinned this
Additional Article to the treaty, and ratified it on August 14, 1795.


Did Britain Have a Problem With the Additional Article?

No. The U.S. ratified treaty arrived in London in October 1795. From London, John Quincy Adams reported on November 14, 1795:

The additional Article, suspending the clause in the twelfth article according to the ratification of the Senate, was agreed to without difficulty.


What Was Agreed Upon in the Jay Treaty?

:: Britain will have withdrawn all its troops from U.S. soil by June 1, 1796.
:: Free trade between British and U.S. territories in North America
:: A joint survey of the upper Mississippi River, followed by amicable negotiations
:: The Treaty of Paris made the St. Croix River part of the mutual border. Commissioners will decide which river that is.
:: The U.S. will compensate British creditors for losses occasioned by legal impediments to the collection of debts contracted prior to 1783. Commissioners will ascertain how much the U.S. will have to pay.
:: Maritime claims:

Great Britain will compensate American citizens for illegal captures of their vessels by British subjects.

The U.S. will compensate British citizens for illegal captures of their vessels or merchandize within their their jurisdiction or by vessels armed in their ports.

Commissioners will ascertain the payable amounts.

:: Free trade between British territories in Europe and the U.S.
:: Limited trade between British territories in the East Indies and the U.S.
:: Regulations on privateering as well as on how to proceed when vessels are captured on suspicion of having enemy's property or contraband goods.
:: Subjects or citizens of one party shall not accept commission from a foreign state at war with the other.


What Did Washington Think of the Jay Treaty?

George Washington to Secretary of State, Edmund Randolph, July 22, 1795:

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.


Implementation and Debate About Treaty Power

On February 29, 1796, President Washington proclaimed the Jay Treaty in effect.

On March 1, 1796, he forwarded it to Congress for legislative implementation.

In other words, implementing the treaty required money, and according to the U.S. Constitution, Section 9,

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law;

Thus, the House of Representatives began debate on the appropriation bill on March 2, 1796.

At least that was the plan. The Constitution was brand-new, and nearly no precedence at all could be referred to, so the debate immediately shifted towards the extend of treaty power.

If the House has to decide whether to accept or reject an appropriation bill, shouldn't the House be authorized to review instructions presented to the negotiator and other relevant papers and notes?

If treaties are considered "law," wouldn't it follow that the House is required to pass their appropriation bills, and that it would be actually against the law not to do so?

How can the president conduct meaningful negotiations if there's a chance that the House will refuse the allocation of funds necessary for a treaty's execution?

These were the Debates in the House of Representatives of the United States, During the First Session of the Fourth Congress Upon the Constitutional Powers of the House with Repect to Treaties (Philadelphia: Printed for Benj. Franklin Bache by Bioren & Madan, 1796), which have been made accessible online by multiple sources.

Finally, the debate shifted back to the appropriation bill at hand, and on April 30, 1796, it passed by a whisker, with a vote of 51 to 48.


Was the Jay Treaty Good or Bad for the U.S.?

Although the Jay Treaty was wildly unpopular, it achieved Washington's main objective — it calmed Anglo-American relations.

At least for now. For the next clash see the War of 1812.

But in the meantime, the U.S. economy benefited enormously from the continued peace with Britain.

In Donald R. Hickey's The War of 1812, he points out that the Jay Treaty ...

... allowed American commerce and hence the American economy to flourish. American exports, which stood at $33 million in 1794, soared to $94 million in 1801, and the entire nation basked in the resulting prosperity.

But was that enough?

Impressment, for example, was not addressed by the treaty, and became a major issue within a decade. (See Why Was the War of 1812 Fought?)

And the French, of course, were completely miffed.

After having signed a military as well as a commercial treaty with the U.S. in 1778, and helping the Americans win their Revolution, the Jay Treaty was more than a slap in the French face.

Consequently, the French confiscated American merchant ships, which caused financial loss in the millions, and the undeclared Quasi War was fought from 1798 to 1800.


Controversy: Why Didn't Jay Come Home With a Better Treaty?

So, why wasn't John Jay able to negotiate a stronger treaty, a treaty more favorable to the United States?

Two reasons:

One, Britain was at war with revolutionary France, which not only threatened an invasion, but also to radically turn traditional British values upside down. Britain, therefore, had bigger worries than maintaining amicable ties with the U.S., a rather weak military power at the time. In other words, the United States wanted something from Britain, not the other way round, which made for a weak bargaining position.

Two, pro-British Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton assured British Minister to the United States, George Hammond, that the United States would not join European powers in an armed neutrality against Britain. Hamilton's angle? Trade with Britain takes priority over friendly connections with France. This meddling effectively rendered one of Jay's "or else" arguments moot.

All things considered, the U.S. came out with a pretty good treaty.

Arguing against the above is:

One, while it is true that Britain had bigger worries, it certainly wasn't keen on adding yet another enemy. Britain would have been interested in an amicable treaty with the U.S.

Two, the U.S. joining the European armed neutrality was not really a concern of the British, whose maritime power was superior and far from exhausted. The U.S. navy was weak, and joining the European armed neutrality would have been a logistical nightmare for the States.

So far the Jay Treaty controversy.

How was the Jay Treaty received in the States?



Back in the U.S., pro-French citizens and politicians were scandalized alike.  Francophile Jefferson called the Jay Treaty "a millstone round our necks."

And speaking of necks...

In his book Presidential Courage - Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, Michael R. Beschloss notes,

The protest was spreading. When Hamilton defended Jay's Treaty in front of New York's City Hall, people threw rocks, leaving his face bloody. [...] In Boston Harbor, mobs set a British ship aflame.
In Philadelphia, they cried, "Kick this damned treaty to hell!"

Spearing a copy of Jay's pact with a sharp pole, the revelers marched it to Minister Hammond's house, burned it on his doorstep and broke his windows, with Hammond and his family cowering inside.

Thomas Jefferson had not seen the American "public pulse beat so full" on "any subject since the Declaration of Independence."

Furthermore, in several cities, public frustration was communicated by burning effigies of John Jay.

Burning Jay's Effigy
Burning Jay's Effigy
Cassell's History of the United States by Edmund Ollier
Vol. II, Cassell, Petter & Galpin

Was all this outrage justified?

On October 5, 1795, John Quincy Adams wrote that,

The treatment of Mr. Jay is certainly such as does no honor to the American name.

It appears to me evident enough, that very little of the outcry of which the treaty is made the pretence is meant to bear against that instrument.

There is a combination of personal envy of the man, of factious enmity against the government, and of eternal foreign influence operating unseen, all assuming the mark of pure and exalted patriotism, to impose upon the people; that the mask should be assumed is neither new nor strange; but that it should still answer its purpose would be surprising, if any thing could surprise.



The three Jay Treaty Commissions marked the birth of modern international arbitration.

The St. Croix River Commission (Article V) was a success. On October 25, 1798, it proclaimed the northern branch of the Schoodiac River as the official border. By doing so, the commissioners not only ended years of bickering with a final decision, but also with a compromise. Which might or might not have been their job. But it sure solved the issue.

This commission had three commissioners: Thomas Barclay for Britain, David Howell for the U.S., and Egbert Benson.

The British Debts Commission (Article VI) was a fiasco due to the fact that the fifth commissioner voted 100% pro-Britain. On January 8, 1802, Great Britain and the United States annulled Article VI of the Jay Treaty, and Britain accepted a lump sum of 600,000.

This commission had five commissioners: Thomas Macdonald and Henry Pye Rich for Britain, Thomas Fitzsimons and James Innes (died and replaced by Samuel Sitgreaves) for the U.S., and John Guillemard.

The Maritime Commission (Articles VII and VIII) was a success. They were done on February 24, 1804, having awarded American claimants a total of $11,650,000, and British claimants a total of $143,428.14.

This commission had five commissioners: John Nicholl and John Antsey for Britain, Christopher Gore and William Pinkney for the U.S., and John Trumbull.

Read more in Richard B. Lillich's
The Jay Treaty Commissions.


Is the Jay Treaty Still in Force?

Yes, it is. At least part of it.

Here is a peek into A List of Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States in Force on January 1, 2013, provided by the United States Department of State.

This publication lists treaties and other international agreements of the United States on record in the Department of State on January 1, 2013, which had not expired by their own terms or which had not been denounced by the parties, replaced, superseded by other agreements, or otherwise definitely terminated.

Jay Treaty still in force
The Note reads: "Only articles 9 and 10 appear to remain in force between the United States and the United Kingdom. Article 3, so far as it relates to the right of Indians to pass across the border, appears to remain in force between the United States and Canada."


And here you can check all treaties currently in force.


Jay Treaty Trivia

:: Original Copy

The Department of State does not have a signed original of the Jay Treaty in its archives.

Washington sent Britain a ratified original, but at the exchange of ratifications, Britain gave back their ratification on a lousy copy. See more in Hunter Miller's Notes from Avalon.

:: Additional Article

The date of the additional article is not May 4, 1796.

The additional article was recited textually in each instrument of ratification, but was not otherwise drawn up or signed; in 8 Statutes at Large, 130, the date thereof is given erroneously as May 4, 1796.

Again, more from the same Hunter Miller.



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