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George Washington and Jay’s Treaty

50 min
  • How did the actions of President George Washington with respect to Jay’s Treaty of 1795 define the role of the President as Chief Diplomat?

Students will:

  • Understand the issues at stake in Jay’s Treaty.
  • Trace President Washington’s application of constitutional principles to Jay’s Treaty.
  • Evaluate the significance of Washington’s actions in establishing precedent in treaty making.

  • Handout A: George Washington and Jay’s Treaty
  • Handout B: Setting the Scene
  • Handout C: George Washington’s Message to the House
  • Handout D: Vocabulary and Context Questions

To create a context for this lesson, students complete Constitutional Connection: The President as Chief Diplomat.

Have students read Handout A: George Washington and Jay’s Treaty and answer the questions.

Ask the class to imagine it is July of 1795 and they will be hearing “news reports” from around the nation. Give one slip each from Handout B: Setting the Scene to students who are strong readers.

Have students read their slips in turn; encourage them to read dramatically.

Distribute Handout C: George Washington’s Message to the House and Handout D: Vocabulary and Context Questions. Explain that the document is Washington’s response to the House of Representatives’ request for documentation on the negotiation of Jay’s Treaty.

Give students 10-15 minutes to read the document and answer the questions on Handout D.

As a large group, go over the vocabulary and context questions, and clarify any questions students have.

Using a transparency of Handout C, ask individual students to read the message aloud one paragraph at a time. After each paragraph, ask students what sections of the Constitution or what constitutional principles Washington refers to in his message. Have students put them in their own words in the margins of their paper. See the Answer Key for suggested responses.

Ask students if they think Washington was correct to have the Senate debate Jay’s Treaty in secret, and to refuse the House’s request for documentation. Conduct a large group discussion to answer the questions:

  • Was the secret deliberation, as some charged at the time, contradictory to the principle of republican government?
  • Was the secret debate necessary for national security?
  • What kinds of information does the President typically keep secret today—from the other branches of government? from the American people?

Show the five-minute thematic documentary Advice and Consent: The President as Chief Diplomat found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkUkbBYf6Aw.

Have students develop a fictional one-act play in which they compose a dialogue that might have taken place between Washington and the Speaker of the House.

Have students read Washington’s entire message to Congress, and write a paragraph summarizing his justifications for secrecy. The document can found at: avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/gw003.asp.