Jay’s Treaty Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Jay’s Treaty resolved outstanding financial, territorial, and commercial conflicts between Britain and the United States. The treaty led to large-scale settlement of the Northwest Territory, but it opened a rift with France.

Summary of Event

After Great Britain’s recognition of the United States as an independent nation in the 1783 Paris, Treaty of (1783) Treaty of Paris, the United States had to make that independence meaningful and permanent. For the next three decades, the new nation struggled to maintain its integrity by achieving security against hostile forces facing it to the north and south. The southern and western boundaries were in dispute with Spain. There also existed many outstanding problems in British-American relations after 1783, a number of which stemmed from the apparent unwillingness of either side to abide fully by the Treaty of Paris. The British in Canada, for example, refused to evacuate military posts in the Northwest Territory, which the Treaty of Paris recognized as belonging to the United States. Disputes over exact boundaries and fishing rights of Americans along the Grand Banks created further tensions. [kw]Jay’s Treaty (Nov. 19, 1794) [kw]Treaty, Jay’s (Nov. 19, 1794) Treaties;United States and Europe Treaties;North America Jay’s Treaty (1794)[Jays Treaty] [g]United States;Nov. 19, 1794: Jay’s Treaty[3170] [g]England;Nov. 19, 1794: Jay’s Treaty[3170] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 19, 1794: Jay’s Treaty[3170] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Nov. 19, 1794: Jay’s Treaty[3170] [c]Trade and commerce;Nov. 19, 1794: Jay’s Treaty[3170] Grenville, William Wyndham Hamilton, Alexander Jay, John Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas;Jay’s Treaty [p]Madison, James Monroe, James Pinckney, Thomas Pitt, William, the Younger Washington, George Washington, George;Jay’s Treaty

To compound this unstable situation, Britain and other European powers went to war in 1793 with France to put down the subversive doctrines evolving from the [p]French Revolution (1789-1796);Jay’s Treaty[Jays Treaty] French Revolution and the later military ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte. The war between France and the rest of Europe continued from 1793 to 1815, with only brief pause, and the United States was buffeted first by one belligerent and then by the other. The 1794 treaty negotiated by John Jay of New York is an episode in the struggle of the United States to cope with these difficulties.

The United States and Great Britain by 1793 found themselves competing in commercial affairs. In an effort to secure trade for British vessels, Great Britain prohibited American vessels from carrying goods to British colonial ports. At the same time, Great Britain enjoyed a virtual monopoly of American markets for manufactured goods. Even though it became evident that Great Britain could best supply credit and merchandise to the United States, many Americans resented their economic subservience to Great Britain. The administration of President George Washington only with difficulty prevented the passage of commercial legislation designed to retaliate against alleged British discriminatory practices. The United States therefore attempted to increase its trade with France.

When war between France and Great Britain broke out in 1793, new grievances added to the old, and relations between Great Britain and the United States took a rapid turn for the worse. The position of the United States as the major maritime neutral was critical. There was also residual hostility toward Great Britain in contrast to a generally favorable attitude toward France, the United States’ important military ally during the Revolutionary War. French-U.S. relations[French U.S. relations] French-British relations[French British relations]

The British quickly gained mastery of the oceans, which substantially isolated the French West Indies. French West Indies West Indies;French These islands could no longer trade with France in French ships. Into this vacuum flowed the merchant fleet of the United States, which gained great profits from this opportunity. The British realized that their naval and commercial supremacy was being weakened. In November, 1793, a British Order in Council ordered British naval commanders to seize all neutral vessels trading with the French islands. So suddenly was this order implemented that approximately 250 U.S. ships were seized and about half of them condemned to be sold as lawful prizes.

Such action led to widespread anti-British opinion in the United States. James Madison, congressman from Virginia, led a vigorous campaign to pass retaliatory legislation. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton successfully thwarted this effort, with Washington’s blessing. To blunt Madison’s attack further, the president sent John Jay to London as envoy extraordinary to negotiate with the British government. Jay met with the foreign secretary, William Wyndham Grenville, and Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, among others. Washington apparently believed that war with Britain was inevitable unless Jay, at that time chief justice of the United States, returned with an acceptable settlement.

The treaty that Jay negotiated in London struck many contemporary observers as barely acceptable. Nevertheless, parts of the agreement do show Jay’s success. It required the British to surrender the military posts that they held on American soil in the Northwest Territory by June of 1796. It also provided for the creation of a joint commission to settle the claims of British citizens for unpaid prerevolutionary U.S. debts, to settle the claims of Americans for the illegal seizures of their ships, and to determine the disputed boundary between Maine and Canada. The rest of the treaty dealt with commercial matters and was to be in force for twelve years. It stated that the “most favored nation” principle was to operate between the United States and Great Britain. American vessels were promised the same privileges as British vessels in both Great Britain and the East Indies.

Jay failed, however, to gain British acceptance of several important U.S. objectives. American trading rights with the British West Indies were so restricted that the United States struck out that part of the treaty when it was submitted to the Senate. The agreement included a broad definition of contraband, but said nothing on the important matters of the rights of visit and search and impressment. Other issues were not resolved or included. A number of these issues later contributed to the underlying causes of the War of 1812 War of 1812.

The agreement was signed on November 19, 1794, in London, and Jay returned to the United States satisfied with his efforts. When the terms of the treaty became known, however, advocates of U.S. commercial rights and anti-British opinion criticized Jay for his apparent failure to obtain complete success in the London negotiations. The Republicans charged the Washington administration with selling the nation out to the British. Effigies of Jay were burned throughout the country. Political pamphleteers and journalists entered the fray.

Congress debated the controversial treaty. The Senate ratified it June 24, 1795, by a vote of 20 to 10, barely meeting the two-thirds minimum required under the Constitution. After ratification by the Senate in a strictly partisan vote Federalist Party (Federalists for, Republicans against), the arguments continued both in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Secretary of State Edmund Randolph was forced to resign in a scandal related to the treaty’s adoption. Washington, disappointed by the unevenness of the treaty, reluctantly signed it because he believed its acceptance the only alternative to war. Only an intense effort by his administration prevented the Republican Party Republicans in the House of Representatives from undercutting the treaty by their threat to refuse to appropriate the funds necessary for its implementation. The essential legislation passed the House in 1796 by a narrow margin of only three votes (51 to 48).


The effects of Jay’s Treaty were significant. Most important, it kept the peace between the United States and Great Britain. It also induced Spain to conclude a treaty the following year Pinckney’s Treaty (1795)[Pinckneys Treaty] (Pinckney’s Treaty) that was very favorable to the United States, and it prepared the way for the large-scale settlement of the Northwest Territory. The disagreements over the treaty completed the organization of the opposition Republican Party, intensified by Thomas Jefferson’s and Madison’s antagonism to Hamilton and his policies. The Federalists also were divided and weakened. Washington’s invulnerability to political attack was breached.

The restraining influence of the British on the Indians along the northwestern frontier was withdrawn, creating further problems in that region. Most significant, the French First Republic was incensed at this apparent repudiation by the United States of the Franco-American Treaties (1778)[Franco American Treaties] Franco-American Treaties of 1778. While relations with Great Britain improved temporarily, the United States and France drifted apart, despite the best efforts of James Monroe and other diplomats. This rift between the only republican governments in the world culminated in an undeclared war and proved to be the dominant issue during the administration of President John Adams (1797-1801). Positive relations with Great Britain eventually deteriorated as well, culminating in the War of 1812.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bemis, Samuel F. Jay’s Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy. 2d ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962. The classic account of the treaty.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cohen, Warren, ed. Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Volume 1 contains coverage of Jay’s Treaty in the context of the diplomacy of the 1790’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Combs, Jerald A. The Jay Treaty: Political Battleground of the Founding Fathers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. Covers the domestic debate.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Best-selling and highly acclaimed biography. Includes information about the events occurring during Washington’s presidency.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McColley, Robert, ed. Federalists, Republicans, and Foreign Entanglements, 1789-1815. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Includes the text of Jay’s March, 1795, statement defending the agreement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Monaghan, Frank. John Jay. 1935. Reprint. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972. An old but solid biography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reuter, Frank T. Trials and Triumphs: George Washington’s Foreign Policy. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1983. Admiring assessment of Washington’s leadership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stahr, Walter. John Jay: Founding Father. London: Hambledon and London, 2005. Comprehensive biography based, in part, on previously unavailable information. Stahr describes Jay’s influence and importance in the early years of the American republic, examining his public career as well as his personal life.

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Categories: History