The Jay Papers Ii: The Forging Of The Nation


“The United States of America have appointed me their Minister Plenipotentiary to your Majesty, and have directed me to deliver to your Majesty this letter, which contains the evidence of it. It is in obedience to their express commands that I have the honor to assure your Majesty of their unanimous disposition and desire to cultivate the most friendly and liberal intercourse between your Majesty’s subjects and their citizens, and of their best wishes for your Majesty’s health and happiness, and that of your royal family. The appointment of a Minister from the United States to your Majesty’s Court, will form an epoch in the history of England and of America. I think myself more fortunate than all my fellow-citizens in having the distinguished honor to be the first to stand in your Majesty’s royal presence in a diplomatic character, and shall esteem myself the happiest of men, if I can be instrumental in recommending my country more and more to your Majesty’s royal benevolence, and of restoring an entire esteem, confidence and affection, or in better words, the old good nature and the old good humor, between people, who though separated by an ocean, and under different governments, have the same language, a similar religion, and kindred blood.

“I beg your Majesty’s permission to add, that although I have some time before been intrusted by my country, it was never in my whole life in a manner so agreeable to myself.”

The King listened to every word I said with dignity, but with an apparent emotion. Whether it was the nature of the interview, or whether it was my visible agitation, for I felt more than I did or could express, that touched him, I cannot say; but he was much affected, and answered me with more tremor than I had spoken with, and said:


“The circumstances of thy audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper, and the feelings you have discovered [ i.e. , revealed] so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with pleasure the assurance of the friendly dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad the choice has fallen upon you to be their Minister. I wish you, Sir, to believe, and that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest, but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do, by the duty which I owed to my people. I will be very frank with you. I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made, and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power. The moment I see such sentiments and language as yours prevail, and a disposition to give to this country the preference, that moment I shall say, let the circumstances of language, religion and blood, have their natural and full effect.”

I dare not say that these were the King’s precise words, and it is even possible that I may have in some particular mistaken his meaning, for although his pronunciation is as distinct as I ever heard, he hesitated some time between his periods, and between the members of the same period. He was much affected, and I was not less so, and therefore, I cannot be certain that I was so attentive [but] … the foregoing is his Majesty’s meaning as I then understood it, and his own words as nearly as I can recollect them.…

The conversation with the King, Congress will form their own judgment of. I may expect from it a residence less painful than I once expected, as so marked an attention from the King will silence many grumblers; but we can infer nothing from all this concerning the success of my mission.

With great respect, &c. J OHN A DAMS .

One of the most stubbornly contested issues of the peace negotiations had involved the northeastern boundary of the United States. The treaty referred to the “River St. Croix,” whose location varied from map to map. There turned out to be two more or less parallel streams emptying into Passamaquoddy Bay, not far apart at their outlet but separated by some fifty miles at their respective sources. Believing that possession was nine tenths of the law, Loyalist exiles quickly crowded into the disputed area, to the consternation of the officials of Massachusetts (Maine, it must be remembered, was part of the Bay State until 1820). By itself Massachusetts could not settle the dispute, and it was one of the earliest to demand Jay’s attention as Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

Jay’s novel proposal for a settlement sprang from his own experience when, as a young man back in 1769, he had served as clerk of the New York-New Jersey Boundary Commission. From the successful, if protracted, settlement of that dispute Jay became familiar with the notion of a mixed commission, and it was this device that he now recommended to Congress. Although Jay’s recommendation was not acted upon at this time, he later revived the notion and introduced it into the treaty of 1794 with England that bears his name. The mixed commission proved Jay’s most original and durable contribution to the settlement of international disputes involving the United States.