George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Boston Citizens, 13 July 1795

From Boston Citizens

[Boston, 13 July 1795]

At a meeting of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, duly & legally warned & convened, by adjournment at Faneuil Hall on Monday the thirteenth day of July, One thousand Seven hundred & ninety five.1

A Pamphlet printed at Philadelphia under the signature of Stevens Thomson Mason, one of the Senators of the United States from the Commonwealth of Virginia, & purporting to be a genuine Copy of a Treaty of Amity, Commerce, & Navigation, entered into at London on the nineteenth day of November last between Lord Grenville, on the part of his Britanick Majesty, and John Jay Esquire, on the part of the United States, was read,2 and duly considered, and thereupon it was,3

Resolved, as the sense of the Inhabitants of this Town, that the aforesaid Instrument, if ratified, will be highly injurious to the commercial Interest of the United States, derogatory to their National honor, and Independence, and may be dangerous to the Peace and happiness of their Citizens.

The reasons which have induced this opinion are as follow, vizt

1st Because this Compact professes to have no reference to the merits of the complaints, & pretensions of the contracting parties; but in reality the complaints & pretensions of Great Britain, are fully provided for, while a part only, of those of the United States, have been brought into consideration.
2d Because in the stipulation which restores4 our posts on the Western Frontier, no provision is made to indemnify the United States for the commercial, & other losses they have sustained, & the heavy expences to which they have been subjected in consequence of being kept out of possession for twelve years, in direct violation of the Treaty of Peace.5
3dly Because no indemnification is proposed to be made to the Citizens of the United States, for property taken from them at the close of the war, the restitution of which is provided for in the same Treaty.6
4th Because the capture of Vessells, & property of Citizens of the United States, during the present war, made under the authority of the Government of Great Britain, is a National Concern, and claims arising from such captures, ought not to have been submitted to the decision of their Admiralty Courts, as the United States are thereby precluded from having a voice in the final determination of such cases; because the indemnification proposed, is to be sought by a process tedious & expensive, in which justice may be delayed7 to an unreasonable time, & eventually lost to many of the sufferers from their inability to pursue it; and because this mode of Indemnification bears no proportion to the summary method adopted for the satisfaction of British Claims.8
5th Because this compact, admits British subjects to an equal participation with our own citizens, of the interior Trafic of the United States with the neighbouring Indians, through our whole territorial dominions: while the advantages ostensibly reciprocated to our Citizens, are limited both in their nature and extent.9
6th Because the alien duties upon merchandise imported into the United States by British Subjects in their own bottoms, is, if not wholly suspended, at least contracted, not to be encreased.10
7th Because the commerce the United States have hithertoo enjoyed in India, in common with other Nations, is so restricted, that in future it will be of little or no substantial benefit to our Citizens.11
8th Because in every stipulation respecting our intercourse with the Colonial possessions of Great Britain, the whole commerce of the United States, in such intercourse, is Colonized in return.
9th Because the clause by which the British Government reserves to itself the right of imposing on American Vessels, entering British Ports in Europe, a duty which shall countervail the difference of the duty payable on the importation of European & Asiatic goods into the United States, in British or American bottoms, places it in the power of that government to enable British subjects, to become the Importers of Asiatic & European goods, into the United States to the exclusion of our own citizens.12
10th Because although the terms of said Treaty, purport to be reciprocal in many instances, yet from the local situation, and existing circumstances of the United States, and the pacific system of policy they have adopted, that reciprocity is merely nominal, and delusive.
11th Because it prevents the United States from imposing any further restrictions, on the British Trade alone, & because it is stipulated, that neither the debts due from Individuals of the one Nation, to Individuals of the other, nor shares, nor monies which they may have in the Public Funds, or in any public or private banks, shall ever in any event of war, or National difference be sequestered, or confiscated13—it is far from being impossible that the exercise of this right may in the opinion of the Legislature of the United States, contribute to preserve the peace of our Country, and protect the rights & property of the Citizens from violation—we therefore esteem it highly impolitic, that the public faith should be pledged, that it shall never be exercised under any circumstances whatever.
12th Because it concedes a right to the British Government to search & detain our vessells in time of war, between them, & other Nations, under frivolous, & vexatious pretexts.
13th Because it provides,14 that Ship timber, tar, hemp, sails, and copper, shall be considered contraband of war, which articles are expressly stipulated to be free, by the Treaties already subsisting, between the United States, & all other Nations with whom they are in compact.15
14th Because it surrenders all, or most of the benefits of a commercial nature, which we had a right to expect, from our Neutrality in the present European War.
15th Because it precludes the hope of receiving any advantage from the modern Law of Nations, referred to in the President’s proclamation of Neutrality, adopted by most of the Nations of Europe in the last War, and to which we then acceeded, and have since secured in our Treaties with all other Nations.16
16th Because it not only surrenders the right of carrying the property of any Nation at war with Great Britain, in our vessells freely; but abandons all pretensions even to the freight.
17th Because it permits the British17 Nation to convert provisions, destined to other Nations at war with them, to their own use, on payment of what they may deem a reasonable profit;18 a measure not only injurious to the Interests of the American Merchant, but which will prevent our citizens from carrying American productions19 to other Countries, which by the Laws of Nature, and Nations they have a right to do without molestation.
18th Because it limits the powers of Congress, delegated to them by the Constitution, “to regulate our Commerce with foreign nations” by prescribing Conditions, & creating impediments to the exercise of that power.20
19th Because it exposes the United States, and their Commerce to similar embarrassments from other commercial Nations, all of whom will probably regulate our trade,21 by this partial standard.

And lastly,

Because, in the opinion of the Inhabitants of this Town, the nature & extent of the exports of the United States, are such, that in all their stipulations, with foreign nations, they have it in their power, to secure a perfect reciprocity of intercourse, not only with the home dominions of such nations, but with all their Colonial dependences.

It is further Resolved, that a Copy of the foregoing proceedings, attested by the Town Clerk, be immediately transmitted to the President of the United States, that they may be respectfully submitted to his consideration—And we earnestly hope, and confidently rely, that his prudence, fortitude, and wisdom, which have more than once been eminently instrumental, in the Salvation of his Country, will be equally conspicuous on the present occasion, and that the reasons we have assigned, will have their influence to induce him to withold his signature from the ratification of this alarming22 Instrument.

A true copy

Att: William Cooper Town Clerk23


This document was enclosed with a cover letter to GW of 13 July signed by nine Boston Selectmen. Their letter reads: “At a very numerous meeting, of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, in Faneuil Hall, the inclosed proceedings were unanimously adopted; and by a vote of the said Inhabitants, We the Subscribers, Selectmen of the said Town, were directed ‘to transmit the same, to the President of the United States, by Express.’ In compliance therefore, with our Official Duty, as well as impelled by our own Wishes on the occasion, we have the Honor of addressing them to you” (LS, DLC:GW). The cover of the packet is marked “By Express.”

Several words in the letter-book copy differ from those found in the document sent to GW. The most significant of these changes are noted below. Many of the differences are similar to those in the resolutions printed in an early account of the meeting published in The Courier (Boston), 15 July. A notice printed with the resolutions states: “We have the pleasure of laying the following energetic reasons and objections against the Treaty before the public—to whom we are devoted to give the earliest and most authentic information in our power to procure—a point of etiquette prevented our obtaining the real copy from the respectable, the Selectmen of this town, to whom the Resolutions were entrusted. The present, however, is nearly if not perfectly accurate. If there should appear to be any erratta in ours, we shall readily correct it, by the official copy, whenever it appears.” An official account appeared in the Independent Chronicle: and the Universal Advertiser (Boston) on 16 July.

1Prior to this meeting on 13 July, citizens of Boston gathered at Faneuil Hall on Friday, 10 July, in response to a notification by the Selectmen to take “into their most serious consideration, such measures as may be deemed expedient relative to the TREATY, now pending between the United States and Great-Britain.” The meeting was “unequalled since the memorable epoch of Independence” for the large number of attendees “and respectability of character” (Courier [Boston], 11 July).

Several individuals discussed the treaty and, according to The Courier, “Unanimity was never more conspicuous than on this occasion; for when the motion was put, for manifesting who were for and against the Treaty, not one dissenting voice or vote was heard or seen.—Mr. J. Hall, however, was of opinion, that the manner of procedure was not, in every view, proper—he thought the Treaty in debate did not come under the cognizance of the town in their municipal capacity—‘It was un-senatorizing the Senate.’—After many judicious arguments were eloquently enforced by the several orators—a Committee of 15 were appointed to draw up an Address to the President of the United States, testifying the fears and disapprobation of the citizens of Boston of the principles the Treaty contains, and soliciting him to withold his signature therefrom.”

2U.S. Sen. Stevens Thomson Mason of Virginia published a pamphlet titled (Authentic.) Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, between His Britannick Majesty, and the United States of America. By Their President, with the Advice and Consent of Their Senate (Philadelphia, 1795). Printed within the pamphlet was a letter dated 29 June from Mason to Benjamin Franklin Bache, editor of the Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia): “I have seen in your paper of this date an abstract of the late Treaty between the United States and Great Britain, which tho’ not perfectly correct is nearly so.

“As this publication will probably excite a newspaper discussion, it is of importance that the People should possess a full and accurate knowledge of the subject to which their attention may be drawn, and which I think has already been improperly witheld from them. Lest therefore the Treaty should be presumed more favourable, or represented to be less so than it really is, I send you herewith a genuine copy … for the purpose of giving to the citizens of America full information respecting this momentous business.”

3The first two paragraphs do not appear in the letter-book copy.

4The letter-book copy has “surrenders.”

5For the restoration of the western forts, see Edmund Randolph to GW, 12 July, n.7. The definitive treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain was signed at Paris on 3 Sept. 1783. It was ratified by the United States on 14 Jan. 1784 and by the British government on 9 April 1784. The two countries exchanged ratifications on 12 May 1784 (see Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 96, 151–57). Article VII of that treaty stipulates the return of all military posts (see Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 155).

6See Article V of the 1783 definitive treaty of peace, in Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 154.

7Here the letter-book copy has “obtained.”

8Information concerning captures of vessels and claims is found in Article VII of the Jay Treaty.

9See Article III.

10See the first clause of Article XV.

11For the trade to the East Indies, see Article XIII.

12This statement refers to the second clause of Article XV.

13This statement is found in Article X.

14The letter-book copy has “agrees.”

15For the list of contraband items in the Jay Treaty, see Robert R. Livingston to GW, 8 July. This statement referred to the treaties of amity and commerce of the United States with France, 1778; the Netherlands, 1782; Sweden, 1783; and Prussia, 1785 (see Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 3–34, 59–90, 123–50, 162–84).

16See GW’s Neutrality Proclamation of 22 April 1793. For the Armed Neutrality of 1780, see Livingston to GW, 8 July, n.6.

17The letter-book copy does not have the two preceding words.

18This sentence refers to the second paragraph of Article XVIII.

19The letter-book copy has “those supplies” instead of the two preceding words.

20This statement refers to Article I, section 8, of the U.S. Constitution.

21The letter-book copy does not have the two preceding words.

22The letter-book copy does not have this word.

23William Cooper (c.1721–1809) served as the town clerk of Boston for forty-nine years.

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