George Washington and the Origins of the American Presidency

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

The Power of Making Treaties: Washington, Madison, and the Debate over the Jay Treaty

JOHN W. KUEHL

Following an exhausting congressional battle over implementing the Jay Treaty with Great Britain, George Washington invited James Madison to dine with him on May 19, 1796. 1 The two Virginians had been close political associates during the 1780s and early 1790s. Before the Constitutional Convention, Madison confided to Washington his hopes and objectives for the new government; the two worked together at the convention; and they collaborated closely in launching the new government. 2 Madison wrote the draft of Washington’s First Inaugural Address, and during his first term, Washington frequently sought Madison’s advice on political appointments and policies. Madison was Washington’s first choice for Secretary of State when Thomas Jefferson resigned in 1793. 3

By Washington’s second term, however, the friendship between the two Virginians became strained as Madison assumed leadership of the congressional party opposed to the Federalist administration. In mid-October 1794 Washington pointedly expressed the hope that Madison would not get ‘‘entangled’’ in the Democratic–Republican societies. 4 Madison branded Washington’s attack on those societies the worst mistake the president had ever made. 5 Because the Jay Treaty battles in 1795 and 1796 strained their friendship to the breaking point, it is tempting for historians of the early Republic to speculate about the topics of conversation that might have engaged the two on that evening in May. Some believe that Washington wanted Madison’s input on his Farewell Address, the early version of which Madison wrote at Washington’s request in 1792. 6 Others have argued, somewhat less convincingly, that because Washington gave the message to Hamilton for final revisions the day after the dinner with Madison, he and Madison did not discuss it. 7 In any event, by the dinner meeting, Washing-

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