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The Supreme Court

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The John Jay Story
History of the Oaths of Office
Presidential Involvement


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John Jay, First Chief Justice of the United States

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 States.

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 1774.

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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