The Jay Papers Ii: The Forging Of The Nation


As Congress fell into desultory inactivity, the JayGardoqui negotiations were dropped, not to be revived until 1795; then, as a result of the American rapprochment with England, as evidenced by Jay’s Treaty, the Spaniards in alarm granted to Thomas Pinckney what they had long withheld from Mr. Jay.

While negotiations with England dragged on and those with Spain came to a halt, Jay was charged with arranging a consular treaty with America’s wartime allies, the French. He was not the ideal man to conduct the negotiations. The French foreign office was not likely to forget or forgive his part in the separate secret negotiations with England. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin had put his signature to a consular convention with France which not only departed materially from the plan drafted by Congress but contained certain features that seemed more appropriate to one of France’s satellite powers, a Poland or a Turkey, than to a new, prideful nation demanding independence, equality, and complete reciprocity.

Jay was suspicious of anything that the French foreign secretary, the Comte de Vergennes, might initiate, and he could be counted on to scrutinize this treaty for every misplaced comma. As a nationalist Jay found Franklin’s convention repugnant; as a technical lawyer, he criticized its deficiencies at various and sundry points.

Jay spelled out his views to Congress in his report of July, 1785. His summation, herein excerpted, proved convincing to Congress.

… The Convention appears well calculated to answer several Purposes; but the most important of them are such as America has no Interest in promoting. They are these

1st. To provide against Infractions of the french American Laws of Trade.

2d. To prevent the People of our Country from migrating to another.

3d. To establish in each others Country an influential Corps of Officers, under one Chief, to promote mercantile and political Views. …

The third of these Objects as it respects mercantile Views is apparent from the general Tenor of the Convention, and it appears plain to your Secretary, that a Minister near Congress, Consuls so placed as to include every Part of the Country in one Consulate or other, Vice Consuls in the principal Ports, and Agents in the less important zones, constitute a Corps, so coherent, so capable of acting jointly and secretly and so ready to obey the Orders of their Chief, that it cannot fail of being influencial in two very important political Respects; first in acquiring and communicating Intelligence, and secondly in disseminating and impressing such Advices, Sentiments and Opinions, of Men or Measures, as it may be deemed expedient to diffuse and encourage.

These being the three great Purposes which the Convention is calculated to answer; the next Question which naturally occurs is, whether the United States have any such Purposes to answer by establishing such a Corps in France.

As to the 1st—We have no laws for the Regulation of our Commerce with France or any other Dominions, and consequently we want no Provisions or Guards against the Infraction of such Laws.

As to the 2nd—We have not the most distant Reason to apprehend or fear that our People will leave us, and migrate either to the Kingdom of France or to any of its Territories, and consequently every Restriction or Guard against it must be superfluous and useless.

As to the 3d—France being a Country in whose Government the People do not participate, where nothing can be printed without previous Licence, or said without being known, and if disliked followed with Inconveniences, such a Corps would there be very inefficient for political Purposes. Where the People are perfectly unimportant, every Measure to influence their Opinions must be equally so—For political Purposes therefore we do not want any such Corps in France.

As to assisting our Merchants, and such other Matters as properly belong to Consuls, they would answer all those Purposes just as well, without these extraordinary Powers as with them.

Hence it is clear to your Secretary that the three great purposes which the Convention is calculated to answer, are such as the United States have no interest in promoting. …

Your Secretary also considers this Convention as greatly deficient in Reciprocity, inasmuch as by it we are to admit french Consuls into all our Ports and Places without Exception, whereas no Provision is made for the Admission of ours into any of the Ports, Places and Dominions of his Most Christian Majesty except the Kingdom of France only. He also thinks that the Omission of the Article securing to Consuls the Right of worshipping in their own Way in Chapels in their Houses, is a Deviation from Reciprocity, especially as that Liberty is not only permitted but established here.…

As a result of Jay’s report, opposition to the convention of 1784 mounted, and Congress dragged its feet about ratifying it. Finally, Congress dispatched new instructions to Franklin’s successor in France, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson proved a skillful compromiser and obtained a new and slightly less objectionable convention, whose advantages he succinctly summarized in a letter to Jay.

Paris, Nov. 14, 1788.