Relations with Britain, still smarting from the loss of her colonies, worsened in the early 1790s. From the American perspective, issues included seizure from American ships of cargoes unrelated to war, impressment of American seamen and continuing British occupation of western posts within U.S. borders.
In 1794, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Jay was dispatched to England to seek solutions. The resulting agreement stirred up heated passions within the cabinet with Hamilton supporting the agreement and Jefferson opposing it. Key provisions included:
- The withdrawal of British soldiers from posts in the American West
- A commission to be established to settle outstanding border issues between the U.S. and Canada
A commission to be established to resolve American losses in British ship seizures and Loyalist losses during the War of Independence.
Missing from the treaty was a provision for the British to refrain from the arrest of American ships and impressment of American seamen.
Jay's Treaty was signed on November 19, 1794. Alexander Hamilton defended the treaty, writing under the pen name Camillus. In his first article, Hamilton began:
It was to have been foreseen, that the treaty which Mr. Jay was charged to negotiate with Great Britain, whenever it should appear, would have to contend with many perverse dispositions and some honest prejudices; that there was no measure in which the government could engage, so little likely to be viewed according to its intrinsic meritsĀso very likely to encounter misconception, jealousy, and unreasonable dislike.
Robert Livingston, another prominent New Yorker, did not hold back in his criticism of the treaty.
Were we to estimate the difference in this point of view, between an immediate evacuation and one that is to take place in June 1796, it would certainly not fall short of $1,000,000, independent of the destruction of our fellow citizens, whose lives are beyond all price.
Feeling against the treaty ran high, and Hamilton was stoned by an angry crowd in New York. Nevertheless, the Senate ratified the agreement with a reservation inserted regarding a provision that limited American trade in the British West Indies. Washington, after much agonizing, approved the treaty.
Jay's Treaty is significant in part because of the tremendous uproar it caused; Washington was still a widely admired man, but he came under sharp attack during this time. Jay resigned from the Supreme Court and later remarked that he could have traveled the length of the country by the light of bonfires burning his effigy. Most historians acknowledge the Treaty's shortcomings, but believe that it was the best that could be hoped for given America's lack of international clout at the time.