Ratifying the Jay Treaty
June 25, 1795
In his farewell address, President Washington argued that “the great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is to have with them as little political connection as possible;” and that we should avoid “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others.” He spoke from experience for, during his second administration, “antipathies” and “attachments” had all but torn the nation apart. Confronted with the outbreak of revolution in France and its explosion into a war between that country and England, Washington had proclaimed “neutrality” - the first proclamation of its kind in history. But public opinion was deeply and evenly divided between the partisans of a revolutionary France - mostly followers of Jefferson - and those such as Hamilton who feared the excesses of revolution and looked rather to Britain to preserve stability in the world. The conduct of the belligerents exacerbated these divisions; both great powers preyed on American commerce, and the British added affront to injury by refusing to surrender their military posts in the Northwest, as required by the Treaty of 1783. By the mid-90s war seemed inevitable.
In this crisis Washington induced Chief Justice John Jay to sail to London to negotiate some kind of settlement. What he brought home divided public opinion further. The Jeffersonians thought its terms an abject surrender, the Hamiltonians thought the avoidance of war worth almost any price. Washington threw his incomparable authority on the side of the Treaty and managed to win a two-thirds vote in the Senate - the Treaty was ratified on June 25, 1795, thus giving the new nation another fifteen or so years of breathing space in which to meet the crisis of 1812.
Mr. Künstler has given us here a picture of John Jay, accompanied by his nineteen-year-old son, Peter Augustus, who served as his secretary, at the negotiating table.