America and Great Britain
Politics and Commerce
As a general rule treaties between governments are transactions which seldom attract more than mild public attention. Thus it may well be wondered why the Jay Treaty, concluded with Great Britain in the fall of 1794 and made public in the United States the following year, should have made so violent an impression on the public consciousness, and left so deep a trace in the nation's historical memory. No international treaty was ever more passionately denounced in the United States, though the benefits which followed from it were actually considerable. Why this transaction was so overwhelming an event in the life of the early American republic is a question about which the more obvious categories of national interest are not very helpful.
Like the Genet affair, upon which it followed so closely, the Jay negotiations and their aftermath make little sense simply as a problem in foreign relations. But here too, as in the case of American's dealings with France, the matter takes on a deep significance when viewed on the level of domestic politics and ideology. By the spring of 1794 a settlement of some sort with Great Britain was imperative, if armed hostilities were to be avoided. Enormous tensions, over both the border situation in the Northwest and the harassment of American shipping in the Caribbean, had made it so. The treaty which John Jay brought back in 1795 was by and large successful in stabilizing this situation, and might thus be said to have achieved its primary intention. At the same time, a basic feature of Americans' ideal picture of themselves was defaced by the idea of any dealings with England which might expose a disparity in power between them, or of accepting anything less than a total acknowledgment of what they saw as their due rights on sea and land. American citizens carried on their commerce in a world whose rules and conditions were largely laid down not by themselves but by Great Britain. Those conditions were not greatly altered by the Jay Treaty, at least not formally. True, once the treaty went into effect, American economic life would flourish as never before, and that aspect of it that flourished most -- maritime commerce -- was