With a war raging between France and England, the United States found itself constantly affected by the actions of one side or the other. The British attempt to blockade France and its colonies proved particularly onerous to the United States, resulting often in the seizure of American vessels. In early 1794, British actions had almost led to an American declaration of war against the British. Instead, it was decided to send John Jay as a special envoy to negotiate an agreement with the British over the disputed issues. Jay negotiated with the British for over four months, generally with British Foreign Secretary Grenville.
Jay was able to achieve many of the goals of his negotiations, although not all of them. One of the areas in which he failed to achieve much success was convincing Britain to alter its policies regarding neutral shipping. He could not get the British to stop defining food as contraband, although they did agree to pay for any food seized. Jay was not able to get the British to agree to pay any compensation for the carrying off of slaves during the Revolutionary War, but he had not made a great effort on that front.
He did achieve an agreement from the British to withdraw from the post in the Northwest Territory that they had held after the Revolutionary War. In addition, joint commissions were established to settle boundary disputes, as well as decide on compensation for American goods illegally seized by British ships. Finally, the agreement called for freedom of commerce between the United and Great Britain, and allowed some trade with the British West Indies. Only smaller American ships were allowed to trade, however. In addition, there was a ban on the re-export of certain goods from the United States.
As word of the agreement began reaching the US, opponents of any agreement with Great Britain began attacking the treaty as a sell-out. The full text of the agreement did not reach Washington until March 7, 1795. Washington decided to keep the text a secret until he presented it to the Senate in June. He presented it on June 8th. From June 8th to the 26th, the Senate, which was comprised of 20 Federalists and 10 Republicans, debated the treaty. They immediately struck down the clause limiting trade with the British West Indies. However, after intense debate and strong opposition from the Republicans, the treaty was approved 20 to 10.
Washington hesitated in signing the amended treaty, both from practical and constitutional concerns. Could he sign a treaty that had been amended by the Senate? What legal effect did that have? In the meantime, the Republicans were holding demonstrations against the treaty throughout the country. When Washington heard that the French Minister was involved with Secretary of State in opposing the treaty, he immediately signed the document.
Washington's signing of the treaty calmed some of the passions that the treaty had wrought. Nevertheless, opposition continued. In the next Congress; the House of Representatives, dominated by the Republicans, demanded that the President provide them with a full accounting of Jay's mission and negotiations. Washington refused, claiming that the nature of foreign negotiations demanded a certain level of secrecy. In addition, Washington asserted that a treaty signed by the President after the ratification of the Senate was the law of the land, and that the House had no right to review or oppose it. A growing support for the treaty in the land as prosperity was increasing combined with the continued popularity of Washington to force the Republicans to abandon their opposition.