John Jay's Treaty U.S. Department of Seal
Department of State
[Photo John Jay]

Chief Justice of the United States John Jay, who had helped negotiate an end to the War for Independence and had been Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, was selected to undertake a mission to London in 1794 to resolve outstanding issues between the United States and its old adversary. The most important problem was British retention of a string of small military posts in northwestern U.S. territory that London had explicitly agreed to vacate as part of the treaty of 1783. In addition, British hindrance of American trade and shipping was causing serious tensions between the two countries. Because Jay was a Federalist and considered pro-British, Jefferson's followers only reluctantly agreed to his mission. They were not amused when the U.S. envoy kissed the hand of the Queen as he was presented at court. In reality, Jay had little bargaining power in London. The British were at war with revolutionary France and little prone to compromise. Once they learned that the United States would not join a league of smaller European nations prepared to defend their neutrality by force of arms, the British realized they held all the cards. The only concessions Jay obtained was a surrender of the northwestern posts--already agreed to in 1783--and a commercial treaty with Great Britain that granted the United States "most-favored-nation" status but seriously restricted U.S. commercial access to the British West Indies. All other outstanding issues--the Canadian-Maine boundary, compensation for prerevolutionary debts, and British seizures of American ships--were to be resolved by arbitration. Jay even conceded that the British could seize U.S. goods bound for France if they paid for them and could confiscate without payment French goods on American ships. The treaty was immensely unpopular; "Sir John Jay" became one of the most hated Americans, "damned and double damned" for caving in to the British. The treaty squeaked through the Senate on a 20 to 10 vote on June 24, 1795. President Washington courageously implemented the treaty in the face of popular disapproval, realizing that it was the price of peace with Great Britain and that it gave the United States valuable time to consolidate and rearm in the event of future conflict.