Who Was John Jay?

(United Reader) – Our nation and its government were created by the Founding Fathers — but who were these people? Well, John Jay was one of them. John Jay helped forge our nation and allow it to become what it has today. So, let’s take a look into the life and accomplishments of one of our Founding Fathers.

Early Life

John Jay was born in New York City, in 1745, into a wealthy family whose ancestors consisted of French Huguenots. John’s career began as a lawyer after studying at the King’s College, now Columbia University, and graduating in 1764. It wasn’t long before he became well known in New York politics.

Eventually, he would be elected to the first Continental Congress, in 1774, as a New York representative. The first Continental Congress gathered to discuss the increasingly unfair laws enacted by British Parliament and how they could resist these laws, eventually leading to the American Revolution.

However, while John wasn’t a loyalist to the crown, he did prefer peaceful resolution over war. Of course, as time progressed, Jay would eventually come to support the war as it became more inevitable. He would serve as a diplomat to Spain, where he spent his time from 1779-1782 attempting to secure financial support for the American Revolution and bring in Spain as an American ally.

American Independence

Eventually, in 1782, after an American-French victory at Yorktown ended the fighting in the colonies, Jay joined the group of five men tasked with brokering peace between Great Britain and the colonies. However, two men, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Laurens, would not participate, leaving Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams to complete the task.

John Jay pressured the British to officially recognize America’s independence. Jay also helped the US to acquire the land east of the Mississippi River, save the Spanish territories in Florida and the British holdings in Canada, effectively doubling the US territory.

Eventually on September 3rd, 1783, the Treaty of Paris would officially recognize American independence and end the American Revolution.

Improving Government

After the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation were our structure for government. However, this system was weak and the need for change was prevalent. John Jay, along with James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution, and Alexander Hamilton wrote a collection of essays under the alias of “Publius” in 1787 and 1788. These essays would call for the ratification of our modern-day Constitution.

Eventually, the essays gathered in a publication known as the Federalist Papers, arguing to create a federal government strong enough to act on a national level while allowing the states to hold power as well. These same essays would help forge our US Constitution into what it is today.

The First

John Jay would eventually become the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court in 1789, under the authority of George Washington, the first and new President of the United States. Unlike today’s supreme court, then there were only six justices where there are nine today. The Jay court consisted of one chief justice and five associates, all of which were appointed by the president.

Jay would only serve until 1795, deciding only four cases during his service. However, he would be a large influence in the establishment of rules and procedures of the American Judicial system.

Jay’s Treaty

Even after the American Revolution had ended, tensions between Great Britain and the US continued to rise. Britain would embargo American exports with trade tariffs and restrictions. Several North American forts were still occupied by the British, which they had agreed to leave after the end of the war.

President Washington sent John Jay to Britain in an effort to once again negotiate. The treaty that was eventually signed, did settle some problems with Great Britain. However, despite Washington’s support, much of the public and critics believed it favored the British too much.

Jay’s efforts would keep America out of another expensive war with the British, though it cost him his popularity. Eventually however, the War of 1812 would come about.

Smaller Role

John Jay would eventually become the Governor of New York in 1795, resigning from the Supreme Court. He served as the governor for 6 years, until 1801, even running for president in 1796 and 1800, succeeding on his second attempt. In his time as governor, he would sign a bill in 1799 outlawing slavery in New York despite being a slaveholder himself until 1798.

Eventually John would retire to his farm in 1801, in Westchester County, NY. For the most part Jay would stay out of politics, except in 1819, when he disapproved of efforts to admit Missouri into the union as a slave state. John believed that slavery should “not to be introduced nor permitted in any of the new states.”

He would eventually die in Bedford, NY, in 1829. Jay was buried at his family’s private cemetery in Rye, on the family Estate.

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