John Jay   [1745-1829]

Early Founder/Historic Leader

John Jay (Gilbert Stuart portrait).jpg


Except for the three Dutch American presidents in U. S. history, no other Dutch American has had more sway over national and state politics than John Jay. Jay was an American jurist, statesman, politician and diplomat. Jay was also one of the founding fathers who held more offices than any of his contemporaries. Jay not only served in the Continental Congress, but he was also elected its president in December 1778, and served in that capacity until September 1779. He was not only instrumental in fashioning foreign policy for the young republic, but also secured favorable peace terms from the British and the French. During the American Revolution he was an ambassador to Great Britain and France, and in that position represented the new republic well.

In addition to the above contributions, Jay also became the first Secretary of State [then called Foreign Affairs] under George Washington, in 1784, and served in that capacity until 1789. Following his position in the Federal Government, in 1789, he was nominated for and became the first Chief Justice of the United States. He served in that capacity until 1795. Jay was a jurist by profession, and had had experience as a chief justice by serving in that capacity for New York State, as New York State’s first Chief Justice.

John Jay was born in New York City on December 12, 1745. His paternal family members were of French Huguenot stock, were wealthy and had become successful merchants. His maternal family was of solid Dutch American background, and also had become, not only prominent, but also quite wealthy. They were the Van Cortlandts. Jay’s grand father was Jacobus Van Cortlandt, who served New York City twice as its mayor. Jay attended King’s College, which after independence became Columbia College, and eventually Columbia University. Following college graduation, he clerked as a law clerk, passed the New York Bar exam, and began practicing law in 1768. The year 1768 was well before independence, and Jay initially was rather neutral on independence from the British. But eventually he became an ardent patriot.

During the early years of the republic, Jay, joined by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, argued that the Articles of Confederation were unworkable. Jay and others pursued their argument, the result of which was eventually summarized in the Federalist Papers, a series of 85 articles, written to persuade the American citizenry to support the proposed Constitution. Jay wrote five of those articles in the Federalist Papers. Eventually, of course the American Constitution was passed.

Jay was also the prime mover of a peace treaty with the British, which became known as the Jay Treaty with Britain. In 1794, relations between the new republic and Great Britain had become tenuous and verged on war. Jay was sent to Britain as a special envoy to negotiate a new treaty. The main goals of the treaty were to avert war, settle financial and boundary issues, open trading opportunities with the British Caribbean colonies, and establish friendly relations with America’s chief trading partner. Jay achieved the above goals in the treaty, and received considerable support for the treaty back home, but also considerable and significant opposition from diverse sources. The U. S. Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of 20 to 10, the treaty passed, and to this day the Treaty is referred to as the Jay Treaty of 1794.

While Jay was in England negotiating the treaty, he was nominated for and elected to be the Governor of New York State. He resigned from his position as Chief Justice, left the Supreme Court, and moved back to New York State to serve as its governor. He did so until 1801, when his term expired. Two years later he was again nominated for the New York State Governorship. He declined the nomination and decided to move away from the pressures of politics, and become a gentleman farmer in Westchester County, New York. His home and part of his farm are now operated by the New York Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. It is called the John Jay Homestead and is located on state road 22 in Katonah, near Bedford, New York. The official address is: John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, 400 Route 22, Katonah, New York 10580.

John Jay married Sarah Livingston [1756-1802], and the couple had several children, not all of whom survived. John Jay was able to enjoy his retirement for over 25 years. Unfortunately, one year after his retirement, his wife Sarah passed away at the rather young age of 45, leaving Jay with two young children. John Jay passed away on May 15, 1829. He was buried in a family plot on his son Peter’s farm in Rye, New York. The home is part of the Jay Heritage Center, 210 Boston Road, in Rye, New York.

Jay has been memorialized by a number of places, buildings and institutions. The towns of Jay, New York, Jay, Vermont, and Jay County, Indiana are named after him. New York’s College of Police Science was named the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Columbia University Merit Scholarship winners are named John Jay Scholars. Also a large residence Hall at Columbia University is named after him. And finally, John Jay is named first among Columbia University’s 250 greatest alumni. Clearly John Jay to this day is recognized for his contributions to the formation of the republic and for his services to the republic during its early years.










John Jay, Wikipedia

John Jay Homestead

The John Jay Institute for Faith, Society and Law,

Forgotten Founder: Patriot, Jurist, Diplomat—John Jay gets his due [book review]

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