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Jay’s Treaty, Pinckney’s Treaty and the Whisky Rebellion Essay

I am sure many have heard about historical changes such as “Jay’s Treaty”, “The Whiskey Rebellion”, and “Pinckney’s Treaty”. They are taught to children as young as Eight years old. These three were major parts in Domestic Politics in the 18th century. In 1793, the British government violated international law by ordering naval commanders to begin seizing any American ship that carried French goods or was sailing for a French port. By 1794, several Hundred American ships were confiscated. Choices were to Join the British navy or be imprisoned. The British also armed Indians to attack settlers. On April 16, 1794, Washington named John Jay as a special envoy to Great Britain. They made an agreement; Jay wanted them to settle all major issues: to get the British out of their forts along the Great Lakes, to secure reparations for the losses of American shippers, compensation for southern slaves carried away by British ships in 1783, and a new commercial treaty that would legalize American trade with the British West Indies.

Jay accepted the British definition of neutral rights – that exports of tar, pitch and other products needed for warships were contraband and that such military products could not go in neutral ships to enemy ports – and the “rule of 1756” prevailed, meaning that trade was prohibited in peacetime because of mercantilist restrictions could not be opened in wartime. Britain also gained most-favored-nation treatment in American commerce and a promise that French privateers would not be outfitted in American ports. Finally, Jay conceded that the British need not compensate U.S. Citizens for the enslaved people who have escaped during the war and that the pre-Revolutionary American debts to the British merchants would be paid by the U.S. Government. In return, Jay won three important points: British evacuation of their six northwestern forts by 1796, reparations for the seizures of American ships and cargo in 1793 – 1794, and the right of American merchants to trade with the British West Indies. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton levied federal tax on liquor. It outraged frontier farmers because it had taxed their most profitable commodity.

Western farmers were also suspicious of the new government in Philadelphia. The frontiersmen considered the whiskey tax another part of Hamilton’s scheme to pick the pockets of the poor to enrich urban speculators. All through the backcountry, from Georgia to Pennsylvania and beyond, the whiskey tax provoked resistance and evasion. In the summer of 1794, discontent over the federal tax on whiskey exploded into open rebellion in Western Pennsylvania. They began terrorizing federal revenue officers, they blew up the stills of those who paid the tax, robed the mails, stopped court proceedings, and threatened an assault on Pittsburgh.

On August 7, 1794, President Washington issued a proclamation ordering the insurgents home and calling out 12,900 militiamen from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. After there was no response from the “whisky boys” he ordered 13,000 soldiers to round them up and suppress the rebellion, however, the rebels vanished into the hills. The soldiers were able to round up twenty barefoot, ragged prisoners. Since Washington overreacted, the government had made it’s point and gained “reputation and strength” but it was not the end of the whisky rebellions, which continued in an unending war between moonshiners and federal tax officers.

While these stirring events were transpiring in Pennsylvania, the Spanish were encouraging the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees in the Old southwest to create the same turmoil that the British had formed along the Ohio River. In Tennessee white settlers reacted by burning and leveling Indian villages. The Scared Spanish entered into treaty negotiations with the Americans. Thomas Pinckney (U.S. negotiator) pulled off a diplomatic triumph in 1795 when he won acceptance of a boundary at the 31st parallel, open access to the Mississippi River, the right to transport goods to Spanish-Controlled New Orleans a commission to settle American claims against Spain, and a promise by each side to refrain from inciting Indian attacks on the other side.

Ratification of Pinckney’s Treaty came quickly. It was immensely popular, especially among westerners eager to use the Mississippi River to transport their crops to the market. “Jay’s Treaty”, “The Whisky Rebellion” and “Pinckney’s Treaty” are very important parts of the Domestic Politics during the 1700’s. About every person in America has been taught these three important parts in History.


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