Why was the Jay Treaty so hated by the American public? I've read that many people hated it, but I don't understand why. It ensured the United States would get back forts that had been taken by Britain and kept after the Revolution, strengthened trade, made sure that the US wasn't caught up in a war with some of the most powerful countries in the world, etc. Why didn't people like it?

  • 5
    Not sure how interested you actually are in American history, but, if you are interested in that period, this particular issue is well covered in Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, published in about 2004. Strongly recommend it, since it weaves both Hamilton's life and the whole of American politics, and bickering, together into a very cohesive whole. Apr 28, 2017 at 3:25

4 Answers 4


The Jay Treaty was hated by about "half" the American public. Specifically the pro-French, Jeffersonian half. It was liked by the pro-British Hamiltonian half.

Although negotiated by John Jay, the Jay treaty actually represented the positions of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary who was pro British and pro commerce. It secured America's boundaries through the return of American forts in the Northwest, obtained favorable trade terms (mutual most favored nation status), and alleviated (but did not eliminate) commercial tension with Britain.

Officially, the pro-French Jeffersonians saw the treaty as a "sell out" that didn't, for Instance, protect American sailors against "impressment" and seizure by the British. They were also worried about a "tilt" toward the British that they regarded as "anti-French.

But the Jeffersonians had deeper fears regarding British values. According to Wikipedia:

The Jeffersonians were opposed to Britain, preferring support for France in the wars raging in Europe, and they argued that the treaty with France from 1778 was still in effect. They considered Britain as the center of aristocracy and the chief threat to the United States' Republican values. They denounced Hamilton and Jay (and even Washington) as monarchists who betrayed American values. They organized public protests against Jay and his treaty; one of their rallying cries said: Damn John Jay! Damn everyone that won't damn John Jay! Damn every one that won't put lights in his window and sit up all night damning John Jay!

  • 1
    Jay himself said, he could travel at night from Boston to Philadelphia solely by the light of his burning effigies. Clearly there were a lot of folks in the North East upset by his treaty.
    – user27618
    Mar 31, 2018 at 18:05
  • Jay's treaty was hated in New England and New York too because they were centers of trade, and Jay's treaty continued to allow the British to impress American sailors and confiscate american goods on the high seas which was extremely unpopular... Also the trade treaty opened up americans markets, which were already open, but continued to close important british markets like the West Indies which was also extremely unpopular. The US would fight the war of 1812 over impressment and other issues unaddressed by Jay's treaty just a decade latter.
    – user27618
    Mar 31, 2018 at 19:11

The American public didn't hate the treaty - factions did

The treaty was hotly contested by the Jeffersonians in each state. They feared that closer economic ties with Great Britain would strengthen Hamilton's Federalist Party, promote aristocracy, and undercut republicanism. Wikipedia

  • The South hated Great Britain.
  • Northern merchants needed trade with Great Britain; the South hated merchants, stock jobbers and speculators
  • The South felt that the treaty threatened trade on the Mississippi.

Signed in London by Lord Grenville, the British foreign minister, and John Jay, U.S. chief justice and envoy extraordinary, the treaty also declared the Mississippi River open to both countries; prohibited the outfitting of privateers by Britain’s enemies in U.S. ports; provided for payment of debts incurred by Americans to British merchants before the American Revolution; and established joint commissions to determine the boundaries between the U.S. and British North America in the Northwest and Northeast. Encyclopedia Brittanica

The South's position was that anything that might benefit Great Britain was bad for the South, for America and for Civilization. Their hatred was not rational (and would lead to the quasi war and the war of 1812). Declaring the river open was beneficial for Great Britain; if Jay had agreed to that, then he was clearly a tool of the evil British.

  • Why did the South feel it threatened the Mississippi?
    – 米凯乐
    Apr 27, 2017 at 22:10
  • 2
    @米凯乐 You do realize that at the time of the signing of the treaty, the Mississippi river watershed was not American territory, right? Not until the 1803 Louisiana Purchase did France sell it to the US. Apr 28, 2017 at 3:23
  • Wasn't the quasi war with France, rather than with Britain? Apr 28, 2017 at 11:16
  • 1
    Correct, but it was related to the war the French and British were having. @Marc, you may need to clear that up in your last paragraph. Apr 28, 2017 at 23:09

Question: Why was John Jay's Treaty So Hated By the American Public.


Because Jay's Treaty(1794) was one sided in favor of the British. It basically codified into a treaty the abuses which the United States was upset about. Can you imagine any country today signing a treaty saying one nation may stop it's shipping on the high seas, confiscate cargo without reimbursement while permitting the continued kidnapping of sailors for forced service in the foreign nations navy!! All this and it didn't really grant the Americans any concession which was not already agreed too! This treaty's failure to address any of the major outstanding issues especially impressment, basically is what lead to the war of 1812 where some of the same issues were still around and unresolved in a manor the US could live with. John Jay's treaty was negotiated by a pro British Chief Justice John Jay, who's biggest bargaining chip was surrendered, before negotiations even began and the resulting treaty reflects that. The only British concession was to vacate the fortresses they had already agreed to vacate under the terms of the Paris Treaty(1783) which ended the Revolutionary War a decade earlier.

US Concerns Before the Treaty:

  • Britain’s impressments of American sailors Britain needed sailors, so they would stop US merchant ships on the high sea and take American Sailors and impress them into British naval service.
  • Canadian-Maine boundary
  • Compensation for pre-revolutionary debts
  • Trade with Britain was one sided British exports flooded U.S. markets, while American exports were blocked by British trade restrictions and tariffs.
  • The British occupation of northern forts that the British Government had agreed to vacate in the Treaty of Paris (1783)
  • Confiscation of US merchandise. Britain would also stop and seize us merchant cargo on the high seas.

John Jay's Treaty
Graffiti at the time: "Damn John Jay! Damn everyone who won't damn John Jay!! Damn everyone that won't put lights in his windows and sit up all night damning John Jay!!!"
One newspaper editor wrote: "John Jay, ah! the arch traitor – seize him, drown him, burn him, flay him alive."
Jay himself quipped: he could travel at night from Boston to Philadelphia solely by the light of his burning effigies.


John Jay’s Treaty, 1794–95
Jay’s only significant bargaining chip in the negotiations was the threat that the United States would join the Danish and the Swedish governments in defending their neutral status and resisting British seizure of their goods by force of arms. In an attempt to guarantee good relations with Britain, Hamilton independently informed the British leadership that the United States had no intention of joining in this neutral armament. Hamilton’s actions left Jay with little leverage to force the British to comply with U.S. demands.

Concessions made by the British:

  • Britain agreed to surrender the northwestern forts (That she already agreed to a decade earlier in the Treaty of Paris, 1783)
  • Britain granted America a limited "most favored trade status", with exceptions like the West Indies where the US still wasn't permitted to trade. Which also is dubious given Britain enjoyed unlimited access to American Markets.

American Concessions:

  • Britain could still stop neutral US Ships on the high seas.
  • Britain could still remove and impress US sailors into the British Navy
  • Britain still could seize U.S. goods bound for France although they had to pay for them.
  • Britain could seize French goods on US ships without payment

Left Unaddressed:

  • Compensation for pre-revolutionary debts owed by Britain
  • Maine Canadian boarder

Jay's Treaty received denunciations because British soldiers continued impressing Americans into becoming soldiers. This was why there was nationwide protest, thereby John Jay was burned in effigy upon his arrival. Granted, Alexander Hamilton did attempt to undermine Jay by informing the British of his arrival beforehand. Yet ultimately the treaty simply did not resolve enough of the controversy between the British and Americans. Even so, it was primarily the Republicans who opposed this treaty, as it violated the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Republicans supported France, whereas Federalists supported Great Britain. The result was that British soldiers were removed from the NW territory, inciting American sovereignty and reducing the outrage sparked by British occupation and impressment. In turn, the pacified relations between the British and Americans caused New Spain to worry that the British and Americans would convene to undermine and conquer New Spain. This is why when John Pinckney came to negotiate with a desperate Spain, in comparison he met all the expectations of the American people. Pinckney was able to gain Americans access to ports in the Mississippi, which was more convenient than trekking over the Appalachian mountains when trading with the South.

  • 3
    Sources would improve this answer, as would paragraphing. Mar 29, 2018 at 0:04

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