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The Jay–Gardoqui Treaty (also known as the Liberty Treaty with Spain) of 1786 between the United States and Spain guaranteed Spain's exclusive right to navigate the Mississippi River for 25 years. It also opened Spain's European and West Indian seaports to American shipping. However, the Treaty was not ratified under the Articles of Confederation.
Congress commanded so little, and had so little power over the states of the Union and therefore over foreign policy, that other nations either ignored the young United States or ran roughshod over its interests with little fear of retaliation. The British ignored certain provisions of the Paris agreement and kept troops on American soil long after the peace treaty and American debtors were refusing to pay British creditors, as also required by the Treaty of Paris. American state courts generally refused suits by British plaintiffs, and there were no federal courts under the Articles.
When Spain closed the port of New Orleans to American commerce in 1784, Congress sent John Jay to Madrid to achieve terms to open the Mississippi to Americans. Gardoqui, however, arrived in New York in June 1785 and Spanish-American treaty negotiations began that soon after. A year's worth of diplomacy resulted in the ambassadors signing an agreement that ignored the problem of the Mississippi in exchange for commercial advantages benefiting the Northeast (the Jay–Gardoqui Treaty). Congress rejected the treaty, and the issue smoldered for ten more years. Congress also claimed lands in the west still occupied by the British and Spaniards, but could not forcefully challenge those nations for control of the land.
The American armed forces, except for state militias, over which Congress had little control, were for all practical purposes disbanded after the war. (The U.S. Army numbered less than 100 men in 1784.) For good or ill, foreign affairs would come to dominate American public life and politics between 1790 and 1815—as Europe became steeped in the wars of the French Revolution and Empire. However, even in the immediate postwar years, America carried little weight in the world despite having successfully gained its independence during the American Revolutionary War.
United States' problems with Great Britain and Spain:
- Boundaries: The British refused to abandon forts in Northwest.
- The Royal Navy remains in American Waters, a threat to American independence of action.
- The issue of unpaid debts persisted, though some thought they should be renounced (George Mason: "What were we fighting for?").
- The Port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River were closed to Americans, being territory of Spain restored to her by the Treaties of 1783.
- The Spanish and British were also suspected of riling up the Indians against settlers in the west.
- The Confederation Government lacked power and authority and was unable to pass a treaty with Spain over the Florida boundary, etc.
- Yoo, John (2005), The Powers of War and Peace : The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 77, retrieved 11 June 2018,
From 1785 to 1786, John Jay, as secretary for foreign affairs, negotiated with Spain concerning various boundary disputes with Spain’s North American territories. Chief among these issues was the right of American settlers to navigate the southern reaches of the Mississippi River, which passed through Spanish territory on its way to the sea. Spain had closed its portion of the Mississippi to American commerce in 1784; Congress specifically instructed Jay that any treaty with Spain had to win back that right. Spain’s ambassador, Don Diego de Gardoqui, refused to accede to this demand out of Spanish fears of America’s westward expansion.
- McDonald, Forrest, We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958, passim.
- Robertson, James Alexander (1910), List of Documents in Spanish Archives relating to the History of the United States which have been Printed or of which Transcripts are Preserved in American Libraries, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, p. 195,
June 30 . New York. Gardoqui to Floridablanca (confidential no I)