John Jay was a man of great
achievement. During his lifetime he was
a Founding Father, Signer of the Treaty
of Paris, Second Governor of New York,
and First Chief Justice of the United
Jay was born in December of 1745 into
a wealthy family of New York
merchants and government officials.
Growing up in such a family shaped his
future and allowed him to enjoy a
number of desirable opportunities. He
attended King's College in New York
(now Columbia University) before
becoming a lawyer and joining the New
York Committee of Correspondence in
The American Revolution
Jay first became known during the
American War for Independence when
he was chosen to serve as a delegate from New York to the First and Second
Continental Congress. Originally, as moderate, he was opposed to the idea of
independence, but eventually changed his mind as time continued. During this period,
he became a member of New York's Committee of Sixty, and the Chief Justice of the
New York Provincial Congress, where he was party to the drafting of the New York State
Constitution. Soon afterwards, the Continental Congress elected Jay as President of
the assembly. He served from December 10, 1778, to September 28, 1779.
In 1779, Jay was appointed Minister to Spain and traveled across the Atlantic to seek
assistance and international recognition for the American Colonies. Unfortunately,
Spain wanted nothing to do with Jay or the American Colonies, so Jay changed course
and headed to Paris, where the end-of-war negotiations were scheduled to take place.
While there, he signed the Treaty of Paris, thus helping the United States receive its
independence from Britain.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Federalist Papers
Jay served as the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs, until the office was changed
to "Secretary of State." During this time in office, Jay, along with Alexander
Hamilton and James Madison, began working on a series of periodicals which
would eventually be known as The Federalist Papers. Jay wrote the second, third,
fourth, fifth, sixth and sixty-fourth articles.
Chief Justice of the United States
In 1789, after Jay declined George Washington's offer of the position of Secretary of
State, the president offered him the new opportunity of becoming Chief Justice of the
United States Supreme Court, which Jay accepted. He was unanimously confirmed
on September 26, 1789 and remained on the bench until 1795. As this was an inaugural
position, many of Jay's duties involved establishing rules, procedure, and precedents.
The most famous case he presided over was Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), most
commonly associated with the introduction of judicial review. However, the court
decision was later overturned by the ratification of the Eleventh Amendment.
Governor of New York and Later Life
In 1795, John Jay resigned from the Supreme Court bench to become the Second
Governor of New York during a time of tumultuous dealings with Britain over territorial
disputes. He had been in England at the time of his election, leading negotiations which
would lead to the Jay Treaty.
After serving as Governor for six years, Jay ran in the Presidential Election of 1800, but
only received one vote. Disappointed by the overwhelming loss, Jay retired from public
life to his farm in Westchester County, New York. He died on May 17, 1829 after a
sudden stroke, in Bedford, New York.
Portrait of John Jay courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Share-
Alike License 3.o.
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