For a decade, Britain refused to evacuate forts in the Old Northwest as promised in the treaty ending the Revolution. Control of those forts impeded white settlement in the Great Lakes region. Frontier settlers believed that British officials at those posts sold firearms to Native Americans, paid money for American scalps, and incited uprisings against white settlers. War appeared imminent when British warships stopped 300 American ships carrying food to France and France's overseas possessions and seized their cargoes, and forced sailors suspected of deserting from British ships into the British navy. In this letter, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay (1745-1829), conveys a sense of how immediate the danger of war seemed.
The question of war or peace seems to be as much in suspense here [in Philadelphia] as in New York when I left you. I am rather inclined to think that peace will continue, but should not be surprized if war should take place. In the present State of Things it will be back to the ready for the Latter Event in every Respect....
The aspect of the Times is such, that prudential arrangement calculated on the Prospect of War should not be neglected nor too long postponed. Peace or war appears to me a Question which cannot now be resolved.... There is much Irritation and agitation in this town and in Congress. G. Britain has acted unwisely and unjustly, there is some Danger of our acting intemperately.