John Jay (1745
) was an American statesman, jurist, and diplomat, and one of the cruicial figures in the early formation of the United States
as a full-fledged nation-state
Jay was born in New York City on December 12, 1745 to a prominent Episcopalian family. Educated at King's College (now Columbia University), Jay was admitted to the bar in 1768 and began practicing law, for a time in partnership with fellow future founding father Robert Livingston. His marriage to Sarah, daughter of William Livingston, allied him to that powerful and influential New York family.
Always somewhat conservative in his thinking, Jay opposed British policies but at first was against revolution as a solution. Jay believed a compromise solution would be best, a position he articulated in a pamphlet entitled Address to the People of Great Britain.
When war finally seemed inevitable, however, Jay sided with the revolutionaries, representing New York at the first and second Continental Congresses and leading the drafting of the first New York State Constitution in 1777. Jay also helped secure cannons for Washington's army and organized a council to seek out spies and traitors.
In 1778 Jay was elected President of the Continental Congress. The next year he was named minister to Spain, where he secured some financial aid, but failed to win official recognition for the colonial cause. In 1782, Jay, along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, negotiated peace with Britain, leading to the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war.
Jay returned home in 1784 to find that Congress had named him Secretary of Foreign Affairs, a post he held for the duration of the government under the Articles of Confederation, until 1789. During this period Jay attempted to negotiate several treaties with European powers, but his efforts were continuously stymied by the lack of power given to the government under the Articles, making it impossible for Jay to resolve several disputes with Great Britain and Spain, and causing Jay to become one of the staunchest advocates of a stronger federal government, and thus the new Constitution.
As a staunch Federalist, Jay contributed five of the The Federalist Papers, primarily dealing with the Constitution in relation to foreign affairs. Under the new government President George Washington named Jay the first Chief Justice of the United States, a post he held from 1789-1795. As Chief Justice, Jay concurred with Justice James Wilson's opinion in the Chisholm v. Georgia case, which led to the passing of the Eleventh Amendment.
Meanwhile the still unresolved disputes with Great Britain threatened to ensnare the United States in another war, and Jay once again found himself drafted into diplomatic service. In 1794 he traveled to England, where negotiated the domestically unpopular Jay Treaty, which angered France and hurt the Federalists politically back home, but successfully averted a war with Britain which might have destroyed the young nation so soon after its birth.
Having unsuccessfully opposed George Clinton for the governorship of New York in 1792, Jay ran again in 1794 and was elected, serving two terms from 1795-1801. He declined reelection and also renomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and retired to his farm at Bedford in Westchester County for the remaining 28 years of his life, dying there on May 17, 1829.
Several places and institutions are named after Jay, including the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, Jay County, Indiana, and Fort Jay in New York.