1745–1829, American statesman, 1st chief justice of the United States, b. New York City, grad. King's College (now Columbia Univ.), 1764. He was admitted (1768) to the bar and for a time was a partner of Robert R. Livingston. His marriage to Sarah, daughter of William Livingston, allied him with that influential family. In pre-Revolutionary activities he reflected the views of the conservative colonial merchant, opposing British actions but not favoring independence. Once the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, however, he energetically supported the patriot cause. As a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses he urged a moderate policy, served on various committees, drafted correspondence, and wrote a famous address to the people of Great Britain. Returning to the provincial congress of New York, he guided the drafting (1777) of the first New York state constitution. Jay was appointed (1777) chief justice of New York but left that post to become (Dec., 1778) president of the Continental Congress. In 1779 he was sent as minister plenipotentiary to Spain, where he secured some financial aid, but failed to win recognition for the colonial cause. He was appointed (1781) one of the commissioners to negotiate peace with Great Britain and joined Benjamin Franklin
in Paris. Jay declined further diplomatic appointments in Europe and returned to America to find that Congress had appointed him Secretary of Foreign Affairs, a post he held (1784–89) for the duration of the government under the Articles of Confederation. Although he was able to secure minor treaties, he found it impossible under the Articles of Confederation to make progress in the settlement of major disputes with Great Britain and Spain, a situation that caused him to become one of the strongest advocates of a more powerful central government. He contributed five papers to The Federalist,
dealing chiefly with the Constitution in relation to foreign affairs. Under the new government Jay became (1789–95) the first chief justice of the United States. He concurred in Justice James Wilson's opinion in Chisholm
which led to the passing of the Eleventh Amendment. When the still-unsettled controversies with Great Britain threatened to involve the United States in war, Jay was drafted for a mission to England in 1794, where he concluded what is known as Jay's Treaty
. After having unsuccessfully opposed George Clinton
for governor of New York in 1792, Jay was elected and served (1795–1801) two terms. He declined reelection and also renomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and retired to his farm at Bedford in Westchester co. for the remaining 28 years of his life.
See H. P. Johnston, ed., Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay (4 vol., 1890–93, repr. 1970) biographies by G. Pellew (1890, repr. 1980), F. Monaghan (1935, repr. 1972), and D. L. Smith (1968) R. B. Morris, John Jay: The Nation and the Court (1967) and Witnesses at the Creation (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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