Historical Highlights

The House Appropriated Funds for Jay’s Treaty

April 30, 1796
The House Appropriated Funds for Jay’s Treaty Image courtesy of the Library of Congress John Jay of New York presided over the Continental Congress and later was named the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
On this date, the House appropriated funds for Jay’s Treaty with Great Britain by a 51 to 48 vote. President George Washington sent his envoy, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, to negotiate several contentious issues: impressment of U.S. sailors by the Royal Navy, trade restrictions in the West Indies, and British incitement of Native American attacks on frontier settlements. The treaty, signed in November 1794, ignored most major issues, but required the British to evacuate military posts in the northwest and established commissions to arbitrate boundary and debt disputes. Many viewed the treaty as a contemptuous capitulation to London. The Senate approved Jay’s Treaty, angering many in the House who believed they had the option to essentially override treaties requiring appropriations packages. In response, James Madison of Virginia rallied opponents by drafting a measure that claimed the House’s implicit right to review treaties requiring enabling legislation. But Fisher Ames of Massachusetts overcame his failing health to deliver a long, rousing, decisive floor speech favoring Jay’s Treaty. Ames predicted a terrifying reign of renewed Indian raids if British instigators remained in their northwest outposts. “Protection is the right of the frontier; it is our duty to give it,” he successfully appealed to House colleagues. By rejecting the treaty, he warned, “we light the savage fires—we bind the victims.”

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