Letter Written to Thomas Jefferson from John Jay

Writer: John Jay

Recipient: Thomas Jefferson

Date: January 19, 1786


While negotiating the Jay-Gardoqui Treaty in Spain, Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay sent frequent letters to Thomas Jefferson detailing major events. This included providing updates on his negotiations with Spain over navigation rights, but also extended to other foreign and domestic issues as well, which he stayed informed on.

There is Reason to hope that the Requisition will be generally complied with. I say generally, because it is not quite clear, that every State without exception will make punctual Payments. Although a Disposition prevails to enable Congress to regulate Trade, yet I am apprehensive that however the Propriety of the Measure may be admitted, the Manner of doing it will not be with equal Ease agreed to.

It is much to be regretted that the Confederation had not been so formed as to exclude the Necessity of all such kind of Questions. It certainly is very imperfect, and I fear it will be difficult to remedy its Defects, until Experience shall render the Necessity of doing it more obvious and pressing.

Does France consider herself bound by her Guarantee to insist on the Surrender of our Posts? Will she second our Remonstrances to Britain on that Head? I have no Orders to ask these Questions but I think them important. Spain insists on the Navigation of the great River, and that renders a Treaty with her uncertain as yet.

I wish the Negociations with the Barbary Powers may prove successful, because our Country in general desires Peace with them. For my part I prefer War to Tribute, and that Sentiment was strongly expressed in my Report on that Subject.

Full Text can be found here.


Providing what is essentially a list of grievances in regarding domestic and foreign issues taking place at the time, John Jay notes many of the financial and diplomatic problems plaguing the United States under the Articles of Confederation. In particular, his remark about Spain's insistence on using the Mississippi River reflects the lack of progress being made on the negotiating passage for American ships. This would later lead to the creation of the Jay-Gardoqui Treaty, which respected Spain's exclusive claim to the river, at the expense of American western settlers and traders.

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