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Impressment of American Seamen, wood engraving after Howard Pyle, April 1884

Following the Revolutionary War, Great Britain continued to interfere with American shipping, including seizing American sailors and forcing them into the Royal Navy. This engraving depicts one of the issues addressed in Jay’s Treaty.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Impressment of American Seamen

Jay's Treaty: Sharing Power 1794-1795

Winning independence from Britain did not end disputes between the two nations. Issues of trade and territory remained. To resolve these, President Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to London in 1794. Even before Jay returned to America, angry rumors circulated speculating that the treaty he negotiated favored the British at the expense of American interests.

Following two months of bitter debate in 1795, the Senate approved Jay's Treaty with barely the required two-thirds majority. When a senator leaked the still-secret agreement to the press, angry mobs accused senators of signing a "death warrant to America’s liberties." Those who had voted against the treaty became heroes. This split helped define America’s first political parties—the Federalists, who approved the treaty, and the Jeffersonian Republicans. When the House made a bid to review the treaty, President Washington refused its request for documents, thereby reaffirming the Senate's exclusive role in approving treaties.

"A death warrant to America’s liberties ..."
—Cry of protesters against Jay’s Treaty, Summer 1795