Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
John Jay (December 12, 1745 – May 17, 1829) was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat and jurist. He is noted for serving with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in France and writing part of the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. He also is remembered as the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, serving from 1789 to 1794.
John Jay, one of the nation's founding fathers, was born on December 12, 1745 to a prominent and wealthy family in New York City in the Province of New York. He attended King's College, later renamed Columbia University, and then practiced law with Robert Livingston.
Roles in the American Revolution
Having established a reputation in New York, Jay was elected to serve as delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses which debated whether the colonies should declare independence from Britain. He was sufficiently respected that he was chosen to be the fifth President of the Continental Congress from December 10, 1778 to September 27, 1779. Jay then became one of the most important diplomats of the Revolutionary crisis as minister plenipotentiary to Spain, and as peace commissioner (in which he negotiated treaties with Spain and France).
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
As the national government under the Articles of Confederation proved to be unworkable, Jay joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in attacking the Articles. Jay argued in his Address to the People of the State of New-York, on the Subject of the Federal Constitution that the Articles of Confederation were too weak and ineffective a form of government. He contended that:
- [The Congress under the Articles of Confederation] may make war, but are not empowered to raise men or money to carry it on—they may make peace, but without power to see the terms of it observed—they may form alliances, but without ability to comply with the stipulations on their part—they may enter into treaties of commerce, but without power to inforce them at home or abroad…—In short, they may consult, and deliberate, and recommend, and make requisitions, and they who please may regard them.
Jay did not attend the Constitutional Convention, but he joined Hamilton and Madison in aggressively arguing in favor of the creation of a new and more powerful, centralized, but nonetheless balanced system of government. Writing under the shared pseudonym of "Publius", they articulated this vision in the Federalist Papers, a series of eighty-five articles, written to persuade the citizenry to ratify the proposed Constitution of the United States. Jay wrote five of these articles:
- Federalist #2 Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence
- Federalist #3 Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence (continued)
- Federalist #4 Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence (continued)
- Federalist #5 Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence (continued)
- Federalist #64 The Powers of the Senate
In 1789, George Washington nominated Jay as the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. Jay's most notable case was Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), in which Jay and the court affirmed the subordination of the states to the federal government. Unfavorable reaction to the decision led to adoption of the Eleventh Amendment which denied federal courts authority in suits by citizens against a state.
In 1794, Washington sent Jay as a special envoy to Great Britain to negotiate a new treaty and thereby avert war. The treaty he returned with was known as the Jay Treaty. Jay thought, and Washington agreed, that it was the best treaty he could negotiate, and it was signed by Washington and ratified by the Senate (albeit with reservations and amendments). Nonetheless, unfavorable reaction to the treaty made Jay so unpopular that he once commented that he could travel from Boston to Philadelphia solely by the light of his burning effigies. It certainly ruined Jay's chances for the presidency.
Governor of New York
While in Britain, he was elected governor of New York State. He resigned from the Court, and served as governor of New York until 1800. President John Adams then renominated him to the court; the Senate quickly confirmed him, but he declined, citing his own poor health and the court's lack of "the energy, weight, and dignity which are essential to its affording due support to the national government."
Despite winning a second term in 1802, Jay declined and took retirement. He died on May 15, 1829.
The Town of Jay is named after him.
- "The people who own the country ought to govern it." (reportedly "one of his favorite maxims")
- "No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent."
- Parts of this article were incorporated from the public domain source Today in History: December 12 on the Library of Congress's American Memory website.
|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Robert Livingston | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |United States Secretary for Foreign Affairs
May 7, 1784 – March 3, 1789 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
(as United States Secretary of State)
|- style="text-align: center;"
| width="30%" |Preceded by:
(none) | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Chief Justice of the United States
October 19, 1789 – June 29, 1795 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
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