From Diplomacy to Justice: The Legacy of John Jay
This above Video is a Documentary of John Jay
John Jay was a prominent American statesman and a Founding Father of the United States. His story like other founding fathers began with the great migration from Europe. In 1685 when rights of Protestants were abolished by revocation of Edict Nantes in France, his grandfather Augustus Jay migrated to America seeking religious freedom, he eventually settled in New York.
With his thriving mercantile business and advantageous matrimonial alliance, Augustus soon became a prominent personality. John’s father, Peter Jay was also a very successful commodities merchant. Like Augustus, Peter also gained lots of wealth from his business and influential marriage to Mary Jay, as she was from one of the richest Dutch patroons landed families of the Hudson Valley.
However, life was not kind towards the Peter and Mary. They had 10 children but sadly only seven of them survived into adulthood, as 3 of John’s siblings died in very young age.
Tragically two of Johns siblings lost their vision to smallpox and two others suffered from mental illness. Due to the family problems, In March 1745 Peter Jay took retirement from his business to take better care of his kids.
The family shifted to Rye, New York just a few months before the birth of John Jay, on Dec 12, 1745. As a child, John Jay was tutored by many, including his own mother. He was a brilliant student. At the young age of 14 in 1760, he got admission into the newly found Kings College, the future Columbia University.
Passing the College with flying colors, John graduated in Latin, Greek and philosophy with honors in 1764. After graduation he joined office of Benjamin Kissam, a prominent attorney of his time, as a law clerk.
In 1768 Jay successfully entered the bar council of New York. He then left the office of Kissam and started joint legal practice with his very close friend from college Robert R Livingston. After working in partnership for three years. Jay established his own practice in 1771.
While practicing law he also served as a clerk of the New York-New Jersey Boundary Commission, where he gained valuable experience as a negotiator. The negotiation skills he learnt there greatly helped him later in his life. Because of his hard work and diligence, his law practice thrived and soon he became one of the prominent attorney of New York. The year 1774 was a turning point in Jay’s life. On 28 April 1774 Jay married Sarah Brugh Livingston the daughter of William Livingston, future governor of New Jersey.
John Jay became a rising star in New York politics, as well as well-known attorney in New York. Helping him was his connections with the politically powerful Landlord Livingston clan, his in-laws.
Also in 1774, his well established practice came to a sudden halt, when New York lawyers protested the stamp act by going on strike. This act has angered the American public against the British rule. At the age of 29 John Jay started organizing the protests against the British tyranny. From that time until his retirement in 1801, he fully immersed himself in the public service.
In 1774, he was elected to the Committee of Correspondence in New York City. Shortly afterward he was named one of New York’s five delegates to the First Continental Congress. He was the second youngest member of the congress.
John Jay initially opposed the outright independence, he thought that separating from Britain could increase tensions and could lead to violence. Thus he favored reconciliation and friendship instead.
In his effort to oppose the war against Great Britain, during first meeting of Continental Congress he published a paper entitled “Address to the People of Great Britain”. The article promoted a peaceful resolution of differences with Great Britain.
Continental congress sent Jay as a delegate to London to try and negotiate a peace before potential war, however, a visit to London, altered his view on reconciliation.
He soon realized that Britain would never take the colonies seriously unless they prove themselves worthy of its consideration. It was after this revelation that Jay fully devoted himself to the cause of American independence.
As destructive, and life taking it may be, the revolutionary war was necessary for the liberty and respect of the people of America. But Jay was not convinced of it, yet.
Jays’ willingness to negotiate and cooperate with opponents, later made him valuable asset to the American war of independence. His knowledge of the law brought him up the ranks.
In 1775, John Jay helped draft the Olive Branch Petition, which expressed American concerns to Britain and as a last hope to solve their differences peacefully. Despite all the efforts, British and the king George III refused, this started a chain of events which would lead to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Jay was in New York as a member of the colonial legislature when the Continental Congress finally voted for a declaration of independence in 1776. Jay did not sign the Declaration of Independence. But he would surely have voted against independence by force, as he was instrumental in instructing New York’s representatives in Philadelphia to oppose the measure, Jay retired from Congress in 1776. Jay not only actively participated in congress but remained an important actor at the state level politics too.
In 1776 Jay also accepted the invitation of the New York Convention to help draft a constitution for the New York state. Here again he showed his ability to compromise and reconcile opposing views. In 1778, the delicately balanced constitution was readily accepted by all factions in the New York state and lasted many years, something of which Jay was immensely proud of.
The same convention elected Jay as chief justice of the New York state supreme court. He spent two years judging mostly criminal trials, after which he again joined the Continental Congress.
And in 1778 he returned to Philadelphia for second Continental Congress. Jay played many roles in politics, where he had to juggle different responsibilities, but he was exceptionally good them.
After realizing that he could not stop the war, Jay abandoned all efforts for peace, and when Britain launched a major invasion for New York, he decided the only other way to help the colonists without stopping the war, was to win the war. He worked harder and strategically, to help George Washington’s troops march to victory. He helped deliver cannons to George Washington’s troops defending New York. Jay also headed a council to root out spies and traitors in the colony.
In 1778, 33-year-old Jay was appointed President of the Continental Congress, the highest civilian position during wartime. Despite the presidency being an office with relatively few powers, Jay took full advantage of it and was the most active and effective president of Congress.
In the fall of 1779 Jay was selected as U.S. representative to Spain and to serve concurrently with Adams and Benjamin Franklin as a commissioner to make peace with Britain whenever negotiations should become possible.
He spent three years from 1779 to 1782 seeking diplomatic recognition, financial support and a treaty of alliance and commerce. Jay’s sojourn in Spain was an unhappy one. Even though Spain had entered the war against Britain as an ally of France, it refused to ally with the United States. The Spanish were willing to supply some aid to the Americans, but they wanted no public connection with revolutionaries who denounced monarchy and threatened Spanish colonial claims to the Mississippi region. the Spanish were afraid if they help in the American revolution, their own people may revolt against their king.
In 1782, shortly after the British surrender at the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Yorktown effectively ended the fighting in the American colonies, Jay was sent to Paris, France along with fellow statesmen Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. Jay opened the negotiations by demanding that the British recognize American independence and demanded American control of all British frontier lands east of the Mississippi river.
Unless Britain wanted to continue war, it had no other choice but to bend to the wishes of the American. In the resulting Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, Britain acknowledged the United States as an independent nation and formally ended the American Revolutionary war. Lands secured through the treaty essentially doubled the new nation’s size.
Upon returning to America in July 1784, Jay was appointed secretary for foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. The frustrations he suffered as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a post he held until 1789, clearly impressed upon him the need to construct a government more powerful than that under the Articles of Confederation.
While John Jay did not attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he strongly believed in a stronger central government than that created by the Articles of the Confederation, which granted most governmental powers to the states. He played a critical role in drafting and ratification of the new constitution. During 1787 and 1788, Jay, along with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, wrote a series of essays widely published in newspapers under the collective pseudonym “Publius” supporting the ratification of the new Constitution.
Later collected into a single volume and published as the Federalist Papers, Jay, Hamilton and Madison successfully argued for the creation of federal government strong enough to serve the nation effectively while still reserving essential powers to the state. These essays outlined the issues with the failing Articles and how the Constitution would solve those problems. Eventually, the Constitution was ratified, and it established the Supreme Court of the United States.
Today, the Federalist Papers are often referred to and cited as an aid to interpreting the intent and application of the U.S. Constitution. After the Constitution was ratified and adopted as the law of the land, largely thanks to The Federalist Papers, Jay was appointed by President George Washington to be the country’s first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.
In September 1789, President George Washington offered to appoint Jay as Secretary of State, a position which would have continued his duties as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. But Jay respectfully declined, Washington then offered him the position of Chief Justice of the United States, a new position which Washington called “the keystone of our political fabric.” Jay accepted and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on September 26, 1789. Jay served as chief justice until 1795, during his six-year tenure on the Supreme Court, he greatly influenced the future rules and procedures for the rapidly developing U.S. federal court system.
In April. 1794, Washington sent Jay to England to negotiate a treaty both men knew would be controversial. Although unpopular in its days, the Jay Treaty resolved a number of differences with Great Britain left over from the Revolution, and delayed open conflict until the War of 1812. Jay Treaty, was approved by the Washington administration but was criticized by Jeffersonians, as it seems favoring the British. Jay was called a traitor and burned in effigy. Jay himself quipped that he could travel at night from Boston to Philadelphia solely by the light of his burning effigies.
The Treaty’s unpopularity played a significant role in the development of an organized opposition to the Federalists. Historians believe that treaty may have cost Jay the chance to succeed Washington as president. Jay ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States in 1796 and 1800. Through Jay lost because of his treaty, it later proved to be beneficial to the nation. Today historians think that the Jay Treaty prevented a war that the new American nation would not have been ready to fight and would have costed the new nation dearly.
Upon his return to New York from England in 1795, Jay was elected the state’s second governor, and successfully served two three-year terms from 1795 to 1801, earning the respect and admiration of Federalists and Jeffersonians alike.
This immensely popular governor reformed the state’s court and penal system and abolished slavery. Jay signed a bill in 1799 outlawing slavery in New York, though he himself was a slaveholder until 1798. Governor Jay also bolstered the New York State’s economy through extensive infrastructure projects.
In 1801, after twenty-seven years of public service Jay declined overtures from President John Adams to return as chief justice. When his term as governor ended, he retired from public life and spent the rest of his life on his farm in Westchester County, New York.
His beloved wife Sarah died in 1802, leaving him with his three youngest children still at home. In his retirement Jay also pursued a number of intellectual and benevolent interests, like becoming a President of the American Bible Society, maintaining an interest in the anti-slavery movement and keeping up a correspondence with agricultural reformers about latest developments in agriculture.
Jay stayed out of politics for the most part of his retirement, though in 1819 he condemned efforts to admit Missouri to the Union as a slave owning state, believing that slavery should not to be introduced, nor permitted anywhere in the new states.
Jay died on May 17, 1829, at the age of 83 in Bedford, New York. He is buried at his family’s private cemetery in nearby Rye on the Jay Estate, part of the Boston Post Road Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.
Despite Jay’s great contributions, he did not get the kind of recognition his compatriots got. Nevertheless, Jays’ intelligence, dedication, patience, integrity, and a marked capacity for negotiating and conciliation at critical times of conflict helped America in shaping the revolutionary war and laid a solid foundation necessary for freedom and democracy thrive in the new nation for years to come.
Chief Justice Jones of the New York State Superior Court once stated this about John Jay, “Few men in any country, perhaps scarce one in this have filled a larger space and few ever passed through life with such perfect purity, integrity, and honor.” This is no understatement. John Jay was an extraordinary man whose accomplishments were fundamental to the founding and the continuing existence of this nation and more importantly, to the fundamental ideas that this nation stands for.
Time Period : October 1789- June 1795
Political Affiliation : Federalist
Successor : John Rutledge
Time Period : July 1795- June 1801
Lieutenant : Stephen Van Rensselaer
Predecessor : George Clinton
Successor : George Clinton
Second Term : 1789- September 1789
Served Under : George Washington
Predecessor : Himself
Successor : Discontinued
First Term : December 1784- March 1789
Appointed By : Confederation Congress
Predecessor : Robert R. Livingston
Successor : Himself
Time Period : September 1779- May 1782
Appointed By : Second Continental Congress
Successor : William Short
Time Period : December 1778- September 1779
Predecessor : Henry Laurens
Successor : Samuel Huntington
Second Term :May 1775- May 1776
First Term : December 1778- September 1779
Predecessor : Philip Livingston
Successor : Robert R. Livingston
Time Period : September 1774- October 1774
|Academic references on John Jay|
|1. “John Jay: Founding Father” by Walter Stahr: This biography provides a comprehensive study of John Jay’s life, his role in the founding of America, and his contributions to the nation.|
|2. “John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary” by Richard B. Morris: This book delves into Jay’s early life, his political career, and his role in shaping American history.|
|3. “The Selected Papers of John Jay”: Edited by Elizabeth M. Nuxoll and Mary A. Y. Gallagher, this collection of Jay’s papers and correspondence offers valuable insights into his thoughts and actions.|
|4. “John Jay, the Nation, and the Court” by Herbert Johnson: This academic work explores John Jay’s impact on the development of the federal judiciary and his contributions as the first Chief Justice of the United States.|
|5. “John Jay: Diplomat in the Era of Nation Building, 1774-1824” by Richard B. Morris: This book focuses on Jay’s diplomatic career and his involvement in negotiating crucial treaties for the new nation.|
|6. “John Jay: A Study in Faith, Hope, and Charity” by James W. Tuttleton: This scholarly work examines Jay’s religious beliefs and how they influenced his political philosophy.|
|7. “The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States”: This collection includes letters and documents related to John Jay’s diplomatic missions and negotiations during the American Revolution.|
|Quotes By John Jay|
|“Distrust naturally creates distrust, and by nothing is good will and kind conduct more speedily changed.”|
|“Every man of every color and description has a natural right to freedom.”|
|“We must go home to be happy, and our home is not in this world. Here we have nothing to do but our duty.”|
|“Those who own the country ought to govern it.”|
|“Slaves are free by the laws of God.”|
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