In 1793, France and Great Britain went to war again. Although officially a reaction to the French Revolution, the war also constituted a continuation of the conflict that had been going on since the late 1600s. A new piece of the puzzle this time, however, was the existence of the United States. Both countries sought to hurt their opponent by cutting off American trade.
Great Britain, in particular, sought to use its navy to enforce trade restrictions that dated from the colonial era. In November 1793, it invoked the “rule of ’56,” which prohibited trade between the United States and the French West Indies by stating that commerce that was illegal in time of peace was also illegal in time of war. Thomas Jefferson, as the secretary of State, protested, but to no avail. In the winter of 1793–1794, the Royal Navy seized more than 200 American ships and impounded the cargoes.
Many Americans protested, declaring that Great Britain was still treating the United States as colonies. Besides the seizures, the British also refused to evacuate the forts in the Ohio Valley until Americans paid debts left over from before the American Revolution. Tensions increased, and it seemed that the United States was facing another war with Great Britain. In an effort to avoid war, President George Washington sent John Jay, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to London in June 1794 to negotiate a treaty.
Jay stayed in Britain for five months. While there, he thought the negotiations went fairly well. In the treaty that he negotiated, he secured a promise from the British that they would evacuate the forts in the Northwest Territory. But he could not convince them to fully respect the trading rights of the United States as a neutral nation. He gained access for American merchants to British colonial ports in the Caribbean, but Great Britain continued to insist that restricting American trade with the French was necessary