Monday, October 22, 2007

The Long Term Legacy of the Jay Treaty

During Washington's two terms as president, nearly every American politician and citizen saw him as the only person capable of keeping the nation together during its infancy. In fact, many historians give Washington credit for preventing the destruction of the union. The early years of the American republic were extremely fragile, and most people didn't think the nation would last very long. It was Washington that acted as the glue that kept all rival fations intact and added legitimacy to the new Constitutional government. As one historian put it, Washington was "the palpable reality that clothed the revolutionary rhapsidies in flesh and blood...America's one and only indispensable character...America's Zeus, Moses and Cincinnatus all rolled into one."

Despite all of these wonderful accomplisments as president, Washington did not remain untouchable to scandal and smear tactics. During his second term, Washington sent U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay, to England to draft a treaty that would give economic preference to England over France. To many American politicians (Jefferson and Madison amongst them) this was seen as a dirty conspiracy, designed to align American economic interests with its former nemesis. In the minds of Jefferson and others, how could the president do such a thing? It was seen as a slap in the face to all the revolution stood for, not to mention a huge insult to the French, whose aid was essential during the war.

If we see the Jay treaty from the eyes of its contemporaries, it is easy to see why it would cause such a stir. In hindsight, however, it is easy to see the Jay Treaty as an engenious economic move that allowed America to prosper. As one biographer of George Washington put it, "The Jay Treaty essentially bet on England, instead of France, as the economic superpower of the upcoming century, which proved prophetic."

Despite all the controversy and bad press that the Jay Treaty caused for Washington, it may also go down as one of his finest moments. One can only imagine how difficult it would have been to overcome the massive economic crisis that plagued early America without an economic allegiance with England.


Steve said...

Yeah, the Jay Treaty is one of those events that is often forgotten in classrooms. It's impact was enormous! It was arguably the single most devisive issue in the early American republic. I can imagine siding with Jefferson had I been a colonial. Thank goodness I have the chance to live today and see that the Jay Treaty was an exceptional decision on the part of Washington.

Lindsey Shuman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsey Shuman said...

I think that the Jay Treaty shows just how divisive politics had become during the early American years. In essence, it was the opening shot between Federalsists and Democratic-Republicans.

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