The Jay Papers Ii: The Forging Of The Nation


… This War does not strike me as a great Evil. The more we are treated ill abroad, the more we shall unite and consolidate at Home. Besides, as it may become a Nursery for Seamen, and lay the Foundation for a respectable Navy, it may eventually prove more beneficial than otherwise. Portugal will doubtless unite with us in it, and that Circumstance may dispose that Kingdom to extend commercial Favors to us farther, than they might consent to do, if uninfluenced by such Inducements. For my own Part I think it may be demonstrated, that while we bend our Attention to the Sea, every naval War however long, which does not do us essential Injury, will do us essential Good.…

At a bargain price of $10,000 the United States bought a treaty with Morocco in ij8j. There still remained Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, whose pirates continued their depredations on American shipping, to the delight of the English merchants. Blackmail dollars advanced by the administrations of George Washington and John Adams temporarily bought off these three vandal states. By heroic efforts the United States succeeded in extorting a treaty from Tripoli in 1805, and another—at the cannon’s mouth—from Algiers at the close of the War of 1812.

Most inflammatory of all issues of foreign relations during the Confederation was the demand of the United States to have Spain agree on the Mississippi River as the western boundary of the new nation and on the free navigation of that river as laid down in the Treaty of 1783 with Great Britain. To Jay it was a familiar story: during his mission in Spain he had explored the same issues several times in face-to-face encounters with the Conde de Floridabianca, foreign minister to Charles III, and with the Conde’s Englishspeaking deputy, Don Diego de Gardoqui. Now, to settle outstanding differences and arrange a commercial treaty, Spain dispatched to New York the same Gardoqui. He felt quite sure, he confided to his superiors in Madrid, that he could manage Jay, whom he believed to be “a very self-centered man” whose vanity his wife abetted. “This woman, whom he loves blindly,” the Spaniard observed, “dominates him and nothing is done without her consent, so that her opinion prevails, though her husband at first may disagree.” From this Gardoqui inferred that “a little management in dealing with her and a few timely gifts will secure the friendship of both, because I have reason to believe that they proceed resolved to make a fortune.” No comment could prove further off target, for if Jay was vain, and Sally liked society, neither was in the least concerned with building a personal fortune.

Gardoqui arrived in New York in July, 1785, was received by Congress, and proceeded to occupy the handsomest residence in town, the Archibald Kennedy house at i Broadway. Although he gave the Secretary a gift from Charles III of a stallion (which the scrupulous Jay accepted only after securing Congress’s permission), Gardoqui made little headway. The JayGardoqui negotiations gave promise of a stalemate, as had the talks in Spain several years earlier. The American West, which had been penetrated during the Revolution by “long hunters” and scouts, was now being inundated by settlers from the eastern states, and even easterners, much as they might have deplored this drain of cheap labor, realized that if the claims of these westerners were abandoned the Confederation might be split apart.

In his negotiations in Spain, Jay had revealed himself as a staunch defender of America’s claims to the navigation of the Mississippi to the sea, but he now felt that, in view of Spain’s obduracy and America’s impotence, the United States could gain nothing by holding out for the impossible but at least might gain great commercial advantages by agreeing to forbear temporarily the use of the Mississippi within exclusively Spanish limits. In the midst of a furious debate in Congress over the proposal, Jay was summoned to appear before that body. At issue, in addition to the navigation of the Mississippi, was the settlement of the disputed boundary between Spanish West Florida and the American Southwest. On August 3, 1786, he argued in a carefully reasoned speech that it would be better “to yield a few acres than to part in ill-humour.” After reviewing the commercial advantages that the proposed treaty held out to America, and they were manifold, Jay came to the heart of the controversy.

… My attention is chiefly fixed on two Obstacles which at present divide us Vizt. the Navigation of the Mississippi and the territorial Limits between them [the Spanish territories in America] and us. …

Mr. Gardoqui strongly insists on our relinquishing it. We have had many Conferences and much Reasoning on the Subject [navigation rights] … His concluding Answer to all my Arguments has steadily been, that the King will never yield that Point, nor consent to any Compromise about it—for that it always has been and continues to be one of their Maxims of Policy, to exclude all Mankind from their American Shores.—