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Focus on the Constitution


Advice & Consent on Treaties

The Constitution gives to the Senate the sole power to approve, by a two-thirds vote, treaties negotiated by the executive branch. The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification. When President George Washington visited the Senate Chamber in August 1789 to seek advice and consent on a pending treaty, he became frustrated when senators referred the treaty to committee for consideration, but the Senate exercised its constitutional prerogative to “advise” as well as “consent.”

U.S. Capitol Historical Society

Important Early Treaties

Jay Treaty Jay Treaty: The Jay Treaty of 1795, named for its principal negotiator John Jay, was a controversial agreement between the United States and Great Britain to settle disputes regarding Britain’s continued occupation of northern forts. Britain had held such properties in violation of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution. The Jay Treaty also addressed the issue of trade and negotiated protections for American shipping. Critics argued the treaty made too many concessions to Great Britain and did not fully address the issues of trade and shipping, while supporters emphasized that Jay had reached the best agreement possible at the time. On June 24, 1795, the Senate approved the treaty by the slimmest of margins, bringing the Senate under attack from public and press.

Louisiana Purchase Treaty Louisiana Purchase Treaty: In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson seized the opportunity to double the size of the United States by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France. The Senate approved the treaty for ratification on October 20, 1803. The territory, which encompassed more than 800,000 square miles of land, now makes up fifteen states stretching from Louisiana to Montana. Although the Louisiana Purchase Treaty raised constitutional issues about admitting new states and citizens into the country, the purchase of the territory helped promote the United States to a position of international power and influence.

Treaty of Ghent Treaty of Ghent: The War of 1812 resulted from Britain's impressment of American seamen and its violation of American neutrality rights. In an attempt to negotiate peace, President James Madison sent a delegation of men to Ghent (in Belgium). Included in the delegation was Senator James Bayard of Delaware. Some suggested that including Senator Bayard on the negotiating team would make the Senate more favorably inclined to approve the treaty, but others insisted his involvement represented a violation of the constitutional separation of powers. The Treaty of Ghent’s resolution of ratification was approved by the Senate on February 16, 1815.

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