Jay's Treaty

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Jay's Treaty

Jay's Treaty, concluded in 1794 between the United States and Great Britain to settle difficulties arising mainly out of violations of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 and to regulate commerce and navigation.


War threatened when the British admiralty ordered the seizure of American vessels trading with the French West Indies. To avert further difficulties, George Washington in Apr., 1794, named Chief Justice John Jay as envoy extraordinary for the negotiation of a treaty. The principal American objects were to secure surrender of the posts in the Old Northwest, to obtain compensation for losses and damages resulting from seizure of American vessels and provisions as contraband of war and for the impressment of American sailors, and to remove the restrictions on American commerce, especially on the British West Indies trade. Jay, arriving in England in June, was received favorably, and the treaty was signed on Nov. 19, 1794, by Jay and Lord Grenville.

Treaty Provisions

The treaty provided for British evacuation of the Northwestern posts by June 1, 1796, allowing settlers the option of becoming Americans or remaining British citizens, with full protection of property guaranteed. It referred settlement of the northwest and northeast boundaries and the questions of debts and compensations to mixed commissions; provided for unrestricted navigation of the Mississippi and free trade between the North American territories of the two countries; granted equal privileges to American and British vessels in Great Britain and the East Indies, but placed severe and humiliating restrictions upon American trade with the British West Indies; and permitted admission of British vessels to American ports on terms of the most-favored nation. No discrimination in duties was to be made, and articles provided for extradition of criminals and defined contraband material. Indemnity for those Americans whose slaves were carried off by Britain's evacuating armies was not allowed; protection to American sailors against impressment was not guaranteed; and no recognition of the principles of international maritime law was secured.

A Stormy Reception

The treaty, which owed much to the influence of Alexander Hamilton, caused a storm of indignation in America. Jay was denounced and burned in effigy, Hamilton was stoned while speaking in its defense, and the treaty was called a complete surrender of American rights. It was submitted to the U.S. Senate, in special session, on June 8, 1795, and on June 24, after stormy debate, it was ratified with a special reservation on the clause relative to trade with the West Indies. It was signed by Washington.

When the treaty was proclaimed as law, after the exchange of ratifications at London in 1796, the U.S. House of Representatives called upon the President for papers relating to the negotiation. In a special message Washington refused to comply with the request of the House. After lengthy debate the House passed a resolution, by three votes, declaring it expedient to pass laws making the treaty effective, and an act was finally passed (Apr. 30, 1796) making appropriations for carrying the treaty into effect.


See studies by S. F. Bemis (1923, rev. ed. 1962) and J. A. Combs (1970).

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There is no doubt that the twelve years between the Paris Peace Treaty and Jay's Treaty are complex.
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