Jay's Treaty (1796)


First commercial treaty of United States with Great Britain.

Although the Treaty of 1783 had ended the American Revolution and secured the independence of the United States, serious issues remained unresolved between Britain and the new nation, particularly those regarding the status of American shipping, British presence in the old northwest forts in the Ohio Valley, and the commercial relationship between Britain and its former colony. As the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars loomed in Europe, President George Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to London as a special envoy to negotiate a treaty with William Grenville, the British foreign secretary (1791-1801) and son of former prime minister George Grenville. The resulting agreement, Jay’s Treaty, called for the British to evacuate the forts within two years, provided for commissions made up of both American and British members to decide matters of debts resulting from confiscations and destruction during the Revolutionary War and between American and British merchants, and allowed for criminal extradition between the two nations.

However, the Americans protested Jay’s Treaty. Jay was burned in effigy while Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury, and Washington pressed for the treaty’s passage in the Senate. Americans felt humiliated by limits placed on U.S. trade with the British West Indies and angry that no restitution existed for slaves freed or taken by the British during the war. Americans also disliked that fact that the thriving British fur trade would continue in the old northwest in the Ohio Valley even after the British abandoned their forts. Additionally, the treaty avoided any agreement on the impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy or the boarding of American ships in U.S. or international waters, a problem that was the main cause of the War of 1812. Despite these problems, on April 30,1796, Jay’s Treaty passed in a bill that provided appropriations to carry out its terms.

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