George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 13 September 1794

From John Jay


Dear SirLondon 13 Septr 1794

My Letter to Mr Randolph which accompanies this, contains very full and accurate Information respecting our negociations here.1 You will perceive that many points are under Consideration, and that alterations will probably yet take place in several articles. altho it is uncertain, yet it is not altogether improbable that Lord Grenville and myself may agree on Terms which in my opinion should not be rejected. In that Case I shall be strongly induced to conclude, rather than by Delays, risque a change of views and measures or ministers, which unforeseen circumstances might occasion.

The Secretaries Letter by Mr Munro, and the Speech of the latter to the Convention, are printed; and have caused a disagreable Sensation in the public mind here, and probably in that of the Government. The one written by you is spoken of as being within the Limits of diplomatic Forms.2

Gentlemen, whether in or out of Office, are doubtless free in their personal affections or Predilections for Persons or nations—but as the Situation of the united States is neutral, so also should be their Language to the belligerent Powers—neither can it be proper to adopt any mode of pleasing one Party, that would naturally be offensive to the other; and more particularly at a Time, when with that other, a Negociation for Peace, Commerce and Friendship, is pending. To be fair upright & prudent is to be politic; and of the Truth of this Maxim, your character, and very singular Degree of Respectability weight and Reputation, afford the strongest Proo[f].3

I learn that Virginia is escheating british Property, and I hear of other occurrences, that I regret.4 but they shall not abate my Perseverance in endeavouring to preserve Peace, and bring the negociation to such a Conclusion as will either ensure peace with this Country, or produce union among ourselves in prosecuting War against it. Whatever may be the Issue I am determined not to lose the only Satisfaction that I can be sure of—vizt the Satisfaction resulting from a Conciousness of having done my Duty.

That attempts will be made in america to frustrate this negociation, I have not the most distant Shadow of a Doubt. I brought that Belief and opinion with me; and my Dependence then was, and still is, on the Wisdom Firmness and Integrity of the Government—on the general good Sense of our People, and on those enlightened and virtuous Characters among them, who regard the Peace Honor and Welfare of their Country as primary objects. These men regret the Differences which subsist between this Country and their own; and sincerely desire to see mutual animosities give way to mutual good will—as to a political Connection with any Country I hope it will never be judged necessary; for I very much doubt whether it would ultimately be found useful—on the contrary it would in my opinion introduce foreign Influence which I consider as the worst of political Plagues. with the best wishes for your Health & Happiness and with perfect Respect Esteem & Attachmt I am Dear Sir your most obedt & obliged servt

John Jay

ALS, DLC:GW; ADf, NNC. GW acknowledged receipt of this letter in his to Jay of 18 December.

1Jay was referring to his long public letter to Edmund Randolph of 13 Sept., not his short private letter of the same date. Jay first reviewed the progress of his negotiations with Lord Grenville about violations of the 1783 Treaty of Peace. When no agreement was reached, it "became adviseable to quit those Topics, and try to agree on such a sett of reciprocal concessions, as (ballancing each other) might afford Articles for a Treaty . . . beneficial to both parties." Jay submitted a paper to Grenville suggesting "some Outlines for a Convention and Treaty of Commerce." Grenville responded with drafts for two treaties that also contained specific points for adjudication. Topics covered by Jay and Grenville included the U.S. boundary with Canada, removal of British troops and garrisons in the Northwest, free navigation of the Mississippi River, pre-war debts owed by Americans to British creditors, commerce between the United States and British West Indies, trade policies for neutral nations, contraband, and compensation for captured ships.

In subsequent correspondence, the two men debated topics of particular concern. Jay objected to the statement that the British should have free access to the Mississippi River. He also argued that Grenville’s proposals for settling the northwestern boundary would result in a cession of land by the United States. He agreed "that the Northern and Western lines of the United States do not meet and Close, & . . . it is necessary to fix on a line for Closing them," but he could not accept Grenville’s stipulation that a line drawn west from the Lake of the Woods could not intersect the Mississippi.

In addition to explanations about the northwestern boundary, Grenville proposed an article concerning specific regulations of contraband. Such items would include "Arms and Implements" used for war, "Timber for Ship building . . . and generally whatever may serve directly to the equipment of Vessels; unwrought Iron, and Fir planks only excepted." Corn, grain, and provisions would be considered contraband "only . . . when there is an expectation of reducing the Enemy by the want thereof."

Jay also quoted in full a letter of 10 Sept. from Sir William Scott and Dr. John Nicholl concerning procedures practiced in British courts of admiralty regarding prize ships (DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. ministers to Great Britain; see also ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:485-96).

2Randolph wrote two letters to the Committee of Public Safety dated 10 June 1794. On behalf of the Senate, he tendered "their zealous wishes for the French Republick" and vowed that "the full establishment of ther peace and liberty will be ever esteemed by the Senate as a happiness to the United-States and to humanity." On behalf of the House of Representatives, Randolph wrote "the cause of liberty, in the defense of which So much American blood and treasure have been lavished, is cherished by our Republick with increasing enthusiasm." Americans would always "rally" their affections to support the "standard of liberty" and glory in the success of its "avengers" (DNA: RG 59, Notes from the French Legation; see also ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:674).

In James Monroe’s speech to the citizens, president, and representatives of the French people on 15 Aug., he declared that his recognition served as "new proof of that friendship and regard" which France had always demonstrated to their American ally. He stressed that "republicks should approach near to each other: In many respects they all have the same interest . . . especially . . . the american and French Republicks. Their governments are similar; they both cherish the same principles, and rest on the same basis, the equal and un-alienable rights of men." Monroe went on to say that the "common dangers and difficulties" the two nations shared "will increase their harmony and . . . union." He assured the French that "America is not an unfeeling spectator of your affairs at the present crisis" and the declarations of the U.S. government "are founded in the affection of the citizens at large, the most decided proof of her sincere attachment to the liberty, prosperity and happiness of the French Republick." Monroe reviewed the French alliance with America in its fight against "oppression" and praised the current political revolution in France. He then conveyed his own wishes of "liberty and happiness" to that nation, confident that his words expressed American sentiments as well (DNA: RG 59, Notes from the French Legation; see also ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:673-74).

GW’s letter to the Committee of Public Safety of the French Republic was dated 28 May.

Grenville discussed the comments of Randolph and Monroe in a private letter to Jay dated 7 Sept. He wrote that "neither honor nor advantage will result from what is now done, even omitting the contrast which it makes with the language and conduct which you have been authorized to hold here. I have hitherto been inclined to think the government of the United States sincere in the desire to cultivate among the People of that Country the dispositions of neutrality, of peace, and of good understanding with Great Britain, because such was their evident and unquestionable interest to which I could not believe them blind. But it is not consistent with neutrality to make ministerial declarations of favour and preference, nor can it lead to the maintenance of good order in any Country that its government should give official sanction and adherence to acts at which all Religion & all Humanity revolt." Grenville went on to say, "the Letters of the Secretary of State go far beyond the resolutions of either House of Congress," while Monroe’s speech "is such as might be expected from the most zealous & eager partizan, heated by popular discussion." He warned Jay of the ramifications that might result from the comments. While Great Britain and the United States "shall continue to labour with the same desire to preserve . . . a friendly disposition to each other . . . such a declaration . . . will be taken to be, of the sentiments & views of your government" and make it difficult to support goodwill between the two nations (P.R.O.: F.O. 95/512).

3Jay wrote "Prood."

4At GW’s request, Randolph discussed this topic in a letter to Jay of 20 Dec. (DNA: RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions). He contended that such escheats had been rare and involved mostly, if not solely, cases that had commenced during the war, concluding, "upon the whole; I believe, that Virginia has little or nothing to answer for on this head."

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