This Week in History

A Wince-worthy Treaty Signed: November 19, 1794

The following comes from our text, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. For more information on Lands of Hope and Promisego here. To see sample chapters of this book and our other books, go hereFor ordering information on this and our other texts, please go here.

George Washington in 1795

Washington had wanted to retire at the end of his first term, but at the entreaties of Jefferson and Hamilton, he agreed to stand for a second term. No one opposed Washington in the election of 1792 and, once again, he was elected with a unanimous electoral vote.

In his second administration, Washington faced difficult problems. For one, Great Britain still refused to abandon the forts it held in American territory. More serious, British ships were seizing neutral American ships bound for France and the French West Indies and impressing American sailors. Too, the refusal of Spain to allow American farmers passage down the Mississippi jeopardized the union of the western territories with the United States. Then there were the Barbary pirates of the northern coast of Africa who seized unprotected American ships and imprisoned American sailors.

George Washington reviews troops in Cumberland, Maryland, before marching against Pennsylvania farmers.

Closer to home, a rebellion of farmers in western Pennsylvania challenged federal power. In 1791, to fund the federal government’s assumption of state debt, Congress had laid an excise tax on whiskey, which affected the farmers of the Appalachian region, who could only transport their corn by distilling it into spirituous liquors. The tax was especially heavy on small farmers, for they could not afford the flat yearly rate of $54 that larger distilleries paid to get out of the per-gallon tax. When farmers in western Pennsylvania refused to pay the tax and rose in revolt, the Jeffersonian Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Thomas Mifflin, did nothing to hinder them. With Washington’s urging, however, Congress called up the militia of four states. Led by Washington, and joined by Hamilton sporting military dress, the militia dispersed the farmers, putting an end to what was jokingly called the “Whiskey Rebellion.”

“Mad Anthony” Wayne

More serious were developments farther west. The British lieutenant governor of Upper Canada (later named Ontario), John Graves Simcoe, built a fort on the Maumee River, 100 miles southwest of Detroit — well within United States territory. Worse, Simcoe was mobilizing and arming the Indians in the Northwest Territory. Fortunately for the United States, the western army of 2,000 men was under the command of Maj. General Anthony Wayne. Called “Mad Anthony” by his men for his reckless courage, Wayne was a consummate strat­egist and expert in the art of forest warfare, in which he relentlessly drilled his men.

Reinforced by several hundred Kentucky riflemen, Mad Anthony moved north towards the Maumee, fighting Indians in the dense forest lands of Ohio and Indiana. Reaching the Erie Plain, where lay the log cabins and cultivated fields of the Indians, Wayne built Fort Defiance and offered the Indians peace. They refused his offer and retreated to the vicinity of the British fort. There, behind a natural stockade of fallen trees, members of the Miami, Shawnee, Ojibwe, Potawotomi, Sauk and Fox, and Iroquois peoples, along with a contingent of Canadians led by an old loyalist commander, awaited Wayne’s advance. On August 20, 1794, Wayne attacked the Indians and Canadians in what became known as the Battle of Fallen Timbers, a short fight that in 40 minutes completely routed the Indian force. Wayne followed up the victory by burning Indian homes and laying waste their fields. At the forks of the Maumee in Indiana he raised Fort Wayne.

A year later, tribes from the region between the Mississippi, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio met with Wayne and signed the Treaty of Greenville. In this treaty, the Indians ceded to the United States the entire southeastern section of the Northwest Territory, as well as the sites of Vincennes, Detroit, and Chicago. In return, they received $20,000 and the promise of a yearly payment of $9,500 in goods.

But the Treaty of Greenville did not end the disputes between the U.S. and Great Britain. To resolve the disputes, President Washington had sent Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate a new treaty with Great Britain; but when Washington saw the treaty, he feared to publish it.

John Jay

Jay’s Treaty, signed November 19, 1794, did contain some provisions favorable to the United States. For one, the British agreed to evacuate all their forts on United States ter­ritory by 1796 and granted American ships a limited right to trade with the British West Indies; and while the United States agreed to pay back debts amounting to 600,000 pounds, the British offered 1,317,000 pounds in reparation for the illegal capture of American ships. But other parts of the treaty, Washington knew, would only stoke Republican ire — and they made even Washington wince. For one, the treaty forbade American ships from transport­ing, as they long had been doing, certain products, including cotton, molasses, and sugar, from the British West Indies to America. It did not press the British to compensate slave owners for slaves taken at the end of the war — Jay was opposed to slavery and did not insist on the provision. Finally, the treaty made no mention of the impressing of American sailors.

Thomas Jefferson

Washington asked the Senate to debate the treaty in secret; but Pierce Butler, senator from South Carolina, gave a copy of the treaty to Madison, who leaked it to the press. A storm of Republican protest arose. Jay was called traitor, and when Hamilton tried to defend the treaty in New York, he was met with a hail of stones (which led one Federalist wag to comment that, by trying to knock out Hamilton’s brains, the Republicans attempted to “reduce him to an equality with themselves.”) Incensed at these insults, Hamilton chal­lenged all Republicans to a duel. Yet, despite the protests, anger, and political theater, the Senate finally approved Jay’s Treaty by the required two-thirds majority, and Washington signed it on August 1, 1795.

The Jay Treaty was but one incident that illustrates the growing partisanship in the politics of the new republic. Even before the treaty, Republican attacks against not only the Federalists but even the venerable Washington himself had been increasing in frequency and bitterness. Jefferson, himself, who had resigned as secretary of state in late 1793, wrote to an Italian friend that “men who were Samsons in the field and Solomons in the council” (referring to Washington, Hamilton, and Adams) had been “shorn by the harlot England.” After Washington signed the treaty, Nathaniel Ames, a doctor from Massachusetts, wrote in his diary: “Washington now defies the whole Sovereign that made him what he is — and can unmake him again. Better his hands had been cut off when his glory was at its height, before he blasted all his laurels.”


The Red Rose Round the Green Briar

It is has been said the George Washington’s favorite song was the old folk tune, “Barbry Allen.” Here is “Barbry Allen” sung by the Kentucky Appalachian folk singer, Jean Ritchie.