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his situation, he learned, soon after his arrival in Spain, that congress had adopted a singular expedient for raising money, (on the presumption of a successful negotiation,) by drawing on him for the payment of bills to the amount of half a million of dollars at six months sight.
These bills soon began to be presented for acceptance. He obtained the promise from the Spanish government, of the means to meet drafts to the amount of about thirteen thousand dollars, and this encouraged him to hope for further pecuniary aid ; but he was held in suspense until it was probably supposed that his embarrassments had rendered him more docile, when he was again urged to relinquish the claim of the United States, to the navigation of the Mississippi. This he again declined, and he was then informed that Spain would advance no more money. Mr. Jay then came to the resolution of becoming personally responsible, by accepting all future bills which might be presented, and thus at least preserve the credit of the United States, for the next six mo ths, and trust to a change of circumstances for a disembarrassment. By the assistance of Dr. Franklin, who was then in France, and some further aid from Spain, all the bills which he accepted were paid, though not all of them as they became due. While thus laboring to overcome the great difficulties of his mission, he had the mortification to learn that congress had authorized him to relinquish the right of navigating the Mississippi below the southern boundary of the United States. According to these new instructions, he presented the plan of a treaty, but at the same time he required, on his own responsibility, that a treaty should be immediately concluded, or that the United States should not in future be bound by the offers now made. This proposal was not accepted, and the negotiation was again deferred.
Early in the summer of 1782, having been appointed one of the commissioners for negotiating a peace with England, Mr. JAY proceeded to Paris, where Count d'Aranda, the Spanish ambassador, was authorized to continue negotiations with him; but these progressed no further than an interchange of the views of their respective governments in relation to the western boundary of the United States. It will not be necessary to explain the instructions which were given to the commissioners of the United States, charged with the important duty of terminating the war, further than to state generally, that they were such as left the terms of peace under the control of the French minister, whose advice and opinions were to govern the American commissioners. These instructions were particularly displeasing to Mr. Jay, who thought the dignity of his country compromised, and her minister degraded, by being placed under the direction of a foreign power. He nevertheless continued to act under the commission, but earnestly requested congress to relieve him from his station. What may have been the motive of the desire to control the negotiations, or what the policy of the French minister in the advice which he gave, and the opinions declared in relation to the American claims of territorial limits, and the fisheries, we shall not stop to inquire; the motives and acts of our own minister, are more to our present purpose, and these were undoubtedly of the highest and purest character. During his residence at Madrid, he had imbibed suspicions that the French court, though sincerely desirous to render us independent of Great Britain, were not willing to favor our views at the expense of Spain, or even to see us acquire such power and importance as might lead us to dispense with their patronage, and to pursue our own objects without regard to their wishes or advice. These suspicions were strengthened after his arrival at the French capital, by the influence employed to dissuade him and his colleagues from insisting on several points which they deemed of high importance, and which they finally obtained.
His enlarged views of the future greatness of America, his respect for her honor, and his firm determination never to be an instrument to diminish it, led him to disobey the instructions which degraded him to the station of a subaltern agent of a foreign minister, and obedience to which would, in his opinion, endanger the interests, and tarnish the glory of his country.
When the negotiation commenced, Mr. Jay and Dr. Franklin were the only American commissioners present. Mr. Adams and Mr. Laurens were their coadjutors; the former joined them on the 26th of October, the latter on the 29th of November. In July, 1782, Mr. Richard Oswald was authorized by the king of Great Britain, "to treat, consult of, and conclude a peace or truce, with any commissioner, or commissioners, named or to be named by the thirteen colonies or plantations in North America,” &c. According to their instructions, Dr. Franklin and Mr. Jay consulted Count de Vergennes, and he advised them to proceed; but Mr. Jay objected to treat with the British commissioner, unless the independence of his country was first recognised, and he took upon himself, without the concurrence of Dr. Franklin or the knowledge of the French minister, to assure Mr. Oswald of his determination not to enter upon any negotiation in which he should be recognised only as a commissioner from colonies. The British cabinet being informed of this objection replied, that it was intended to recognise the independence of the United States by treaty, but Mr. Jay continued firm in his resolution, and at length Mr. Oswald received a commission authorizing him to treat with the commissioners of the United States of America."
The negotiation now commenced, and in a few weeks the preliminary articles were agreed to without the knowledge of the French government, and were signed by Mr. Adams, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Jay, and Mr. Laurens, on the 30th of November, but were not to take effect until peace should be concluded between Great Britain and France. By these articles all the claims of the United States were granted, and France being thus deprived of all pretext for continuing the war, a preliminary treaty was arranged and signed between France and Great Britain, on the 20th of January, 1783; congress proclaimed a cessation of hostilities on the 11th of April, and on the 15th, formally ratified the treaty. In September, the definitive treaties between the belligerant powers were signed at Paris, and the American definitive treaty was ratified by congress on the 14th of January, 1784.
Mr. Jay's health had suffered severely from the climate of Spain, and his subsequent close application to business had added to his indisposition. By the advice of his physician he visited Bath, and derived essential benefit from the use of the waters. He then returned to Paris, and being freed from the cares of public duty, he had leisure to enjoy the polished and elevated society in which he moved. But his heart's desire was now to return to the land of his nativity, and a private station. He declined the appointment as a commissioner to negotiate a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, and having heard it rumored that he would probably be appointed minister to England, he wrote to the secretary of foreign affairs earnestly requesting not to be considered a candidate for that station. As soon, therefore, as the definitive treaty was signed, he prepared to return home, he resigned his Spanish mission, and having attended to the settlement of his accounts, he left Paris on the 16th of May, 1784, and arrived in New York on the 24th of July. He was greeted by his friends and fellow citizens in the most affectionate and grateful manner, and learned that on the probability of his return having been made known to congress, that body had elected him their secretary for foreign affairs, and soon after his arrival, the state legislature appointed him one of their delegates to congress. He continued at the head of the department of foreign affairs, and in the faithful discharge of its laborious duties until the organization of the government under the federal constitution.
It is generally known that Mr. Jay used extraordinary exertions to secure the adoption of that instrument by the state of New York, where the question was held for some time in suspense. It will not be improper in this place to review the immediate causes of those exertions, with a sketch of his opinions and views of passing events. Mr. Jay held the office of foreign secretary a little over four years; during that time all the powers of government were vested in congress. It had been perceived even before the conclusion of the war, that this body possessed in fact very little real power, and when the first great object of the contest had been secured, every succeeding occasion for the exercise of sovereignty betrayed the imbecility and insufficiency of the government. The official station of Mr. Jay constantly brought this embarrassing fact to his view to his great mortification and regret. His letters written at this period express his wishes distinctly. His own words will best illustrate his sentiments. In a letter to J. Lowell, in 1785, he says; "It is my first wish to see the United States assume and merit the character of one great nation whose territory is divided into different states, merely for more convenient government. In another to John Adams, in 1786, he repeats the sentiment thus. "It is one of the first wishes of my heart to see the people of America become one nation in every respect.” This was the abstract desire induced by occasions of frequent occurrence. The most prominent of these were, the Algerine war in 1785, when congress could not command the funds to redeem the captives, nor to build a navy which he recommended. In 1786, the negotiations with Spain were renewed in relation to the disputed navigation of the Mississippi below the southern boundary of the states, which broke off unadjusted, as Spain refused to grant the right, and the United States persisted in claiming it. Mr. Jay was an honest minister, he never hesitated to express his opinions, and on this occasion he remarked to congress, that if they insisted on the navigation of the Mississippi at that time, “the Spanish forts on its banks would be strengthened, and that nation would then bid us defiance with impunity, at least until the American nation should become more really and truly a nation than it is at present. For unblessed with an efficient government, destitute of funds, and without public credit, at home or abroad, we should be obliged to wait in patience for better days, or plunge into an unpopular and danger
ous war.” About the same time it was proposed to negotiate a loan in Europe, and the subject being referred to him, he reported against it, considering it improper “because the federal government in its present state, is rather paternal and persuasive than coercive and efficient. Congress can make no certain dependence on the states for any specific sums to be required and paid at any given periods, and consequently are not in capacity safely to pledge their honor and faith for the repayment of any specific sums they may borrow.” When, therefore, a convention was appointed, and a constitution formed and recommended to the states for their approval, which promised, if not all he desired, at least as much as could reasonably be expected, he was better prepared than most men in the country for advocating its adoption. Still, it was for some time doubtful whether it would be approved or not. There was a strong party in the opposition, some of whom thought the old confederation with modifications would be sufficient, and some were unwilling to relinquish any of the rights of the states; thus originated two great parties in the country. Mr. Jay was not a member of the convention by whom the constitution of the United States was framed, but its superiority to the articles of confederation was too obvious to allow of any hesitation on his part; he accordingly united with Mr. Madison and Colonel Hamilton, in the publication of a series of essays in explanation and commendation of the document, when it was submitted to the people for a final decision. These essays, collected in the well known work, "the Federalist," now form a standard book of reference on most great constitutional questions. After the second, third, fourth, and fifth numbers of these essays were written by Mr. Jay, he was for some time prevented from a continuation by an unfortunate occurrence. Some young physicians, after violating the grave for subjects of anatomical study, had the folly to exhibit parts of limbs at their window to the passengers in the street. A serious riot was the consequence. The magistrates of the city of New York, to protect the physicians from violence, shut them up in prison, but the mob, determined not to be disappointed in their vengeance, assembled for the purpose of executing summary punishment on the culprits. Mr. Jay, and other gentlemen, armed and placed themselves under the command of Colonel Hamilton, to prevent the outrage. This party was attacked by the rioters with stones, one of which struck Mr. Jay on the temple, and nearly deprived him of life. He however recovered, but only in time to write the sixty-fourth number of the Federalist. He also published