The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
JAY'S TREATY

JAY'S mission was born of desperation. When Congress assembled in the beginning of December, 1793, the President's opening speech focused attention on foreign affairs. His immediate submission of documents relating to the abortive efforts to make peace with the Indians, and of correspondence between the neutral United States and the belligerent European powers, provided an effective setting for the presentation of Jefferson's famous report on the privileges and restrictions of American commerce in foreign countries. Assailing Britain's tariff and navigation laws, and recommending vigorous retaliation, it let loose a storm of pent-up feeling against the supposed tyrant of the sea. The rapidly crystalizing political parties joined in the bitter struggle, the Federalists fighting hard to prevent the vengeful Republicans from passing legislation that would cripple American commerce and, by destroying the customs revenue, would undermine the government of the United States. Of course the Republicans made the best use of other ammunition that was lying around: Britain's refusal to surrender the western posts, her support of American Indians against the American government, and her order-in-council of June 8, 1793, stopping the American provision trade with France. The arguments flew back and forth with neither side sure of victory until March, when a quick and ominous change came over the debate.

The change was produced by the startling news of wholesale British captures of American vessels in the West Indies. The Caribbean was swarming with American craft eager to enjoy the French colonial trade which France, under pressure of the war, had recently opened; and Britain was applying the "Rule of 1756," which denied neutrals the right to relieve a belligerent by taking over its colonial trade prohibited in time of peace.1 The British action, initiated without warning2 and conducted in a harsh and undiscriminating manner, caused a great flame of anger in the United States. It transformed the issue before Congress into one of peace or war, and it seemed to cut the ground from under the feet of the Federalists. To make things worse, the newspapers then got hold of Dorchester's speech and blazoned it abroad. Did not that prove that Britain intended to attack the United States by land as well as by

____________________
1
For a fuller discussion of this issue, see infra, Chapter XI.
2
The first word Hammond had of the order-in-council of November 6, authorizing the action, came from the West Indies with news of the seizures.

-141-

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