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The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture

Todd Estes

Publication Year: 2006

During the mid-1790s, citizens of the newly formed United States became embroiled in a divisive debate over a proposed commercial treaty with Great Britain. Long regarded as a pivotal event in the history of the early republic, the controversy pitted pro-treaty Federalists against anti-treaty Jeffersonian Republicans. Yet as Todd Estes argues in this perceptive study, the year-long debate over the ratification of the Jay Treaty represented more than a clash over foreign policy between two nascent political parties. It also marked a significant milestone in the role played by public opinion in the young nation’s political culture. Drawing evidence from a broad range of sources—petitions and newspaper polemics, crowd gatherings, as well as rhetorical exchanges on the floor of Congress—Estes shows how both sides in the Jay Treaty debate mounted extensive and unprecedented campaigns to marshal popular support for their positions. Although many Americans initially opposed the treaty, the Federalists proved particularly skillful at courting the public and eventually prevailed over their opponents, just as they had won earlier battles over neutrality, democratic societies, and the Whiskey Rebellion. But the Republicans, Estes points out, learned from the experience, and in the long run they would become even more adept than the Federalists at shaping public opinion. Even at the time, amid the fierce political rhetoric and colorful street demonstrations that characterized the Jay Treaty debate, participants recognized that important changes were taking place. Not only did the dispute solidify party allegiances, it also legitimized and advanced popular involvement in the political process. While some welcomed the emergence of this new, more democratic political culture, Estes concludes, others were much more ambivalent.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv


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p. v

Table of Contents

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

The debts I have accumulated can never be adequately acknowledged, much less repaid. But I trust that every scholar knows exactly what I mean, and I am proud to be part of a community of scholars where such debts are never called in. I have been blessed with many great teachers (beginning with my parents). I doubt, however, that I have had a better one than Chet Hedgecoth, ...

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pp. 1-14

The Fourth of July 1795 was a joyous occasion in Rutland, Vermont, a frontier town on the periphery of the young nation. Townspeople were up at dawn to prepare for the elaborate meals, festivities, and customary toasts which would be sandwiched in among the regular duties of the day. The citizens of Rutland had, from their local newspaper of July 6, only the faintest hint of the trouble then stirring elsewhere ...

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Chapter 1 - England, France, and the Foreign Context of American Politics

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pp. 15-34

This book focuses on analyzing events from July 1795 through May 1796 relating to the debate over the Jay Treaty, but little sense can be made of the import of those events without a firm grasp of the broader foreign policy context of the young nation in the 1790s. The interconnected, often tangled, relationships among the United States, Great Britain, and France intertwined the fates of all three countries. ...

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Chapter 2 - Federalists, Republicans, and Popular Politics in the Early 1790s

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pp. 35-70

In many important ways, the debate over the Jay Treaty was an extension of a conflict long since underway. Federalists and Republicans—though not always organized or named as such—had already struggled over a great many issues, dating from the battle for ratification of the Constitution down to the outbreak of the Jay treaty clamor in 1795. From earlier campaigns a consistent pattern of activity ...

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Chapter 3 - The Firestorm and the Counterattack: First Soundings in the Public Debate

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pp. 71-103

Those who attended the July 23 State House meeting “considered and unanimously adopted” a series of resolutions condemning the treaty and appointed a committee to prepare a memorial to President George Washington “respectfully but forcibly conveying the sentiments of the City of Philadelphia.”2 Two days later a large crowd assembled to ...

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Chapter 4 - The Words of Tongue and Pen: The Rhetorical War over the Jay Treaty

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pp. 104-126

Such visceral anger was seen elsewhere from other anti-treaty activists that summer. On July 25, 1795, angry Philadelphians gathered in a mass meeting in the yard of the State House, a traditional site for gatherings going back to the days of the Revolution. On this Saturday, the crowd, consisting of members of the Society of United Irishmen and other opponents of the treaty, was sizable ...

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Chapter 5 - Petitions, Instructions, and the Duties of Citizens and Representatives

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pp. 127-149

Daniel Buck, a Federalist congressman from Vermont, sat down in January 1796 to respond to a resolution sent him by a group of constituents. Those citizens from Bennington County urged Buck to investigate the constitutionality of the controversial treaty which had been denounced in the streets and newspapers the previous summer and was sure to come before the House of Representatives that spring. ...

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Chapter 6 - The Final Push: The Debate in Congress and Out-of-Doors

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pp. 150-188

On Wednesday, April 20, 1796, Massachusetts Federalist congressman Dwight Foster of Brookfield rose and “took several turns” around the State House yard at Philadelphia. He “inhaled the Fresh Breezes of the Morning which I find,” he declared, “very pleasant & Salubrious.” Three days later, on Saturday, he again rose “at an early Hour” and wrote some letters. After attending to some business, he ...

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Chapter 7 - Reflections on the Debate

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pp. 189-214

Citizens in Worcester, Massachusetts, gathered at three o’clock at Houghton’s Inn on May 7 for dinner and toasts. Earlier, the local approval of the Jay Treaty vote a week before in the House of Representatives had been expressed by the ringing of bells and other “demonstrations of joy.” A large group at Houghton’s heard eight toasts that day. The first was to George Washington: “The Savior of America! ...

Abbreviations Used in the Notes

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pp. 215-218


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pp. 219-264


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pp. 265-267

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760871
E-ISBN-10: 1613760876
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558495159
Print-ISBN-10: 1558495150

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 607766037
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Great Britain -- Public opinion.
  • Political culture -- United States -- History.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
  • Great Britain. Treaties, etc. United States 1794 Nov. 19 -- Public opinion.
  • Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- United States -- Public opinion.
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