John Jay

John Jay
Chief Justice

Chief Justice

John Jay was born to a prominent New York family. His marriage to Sarah, daughter of William Livingston, allied him with that influential family. Jay died on May 17, 1829.

He was tutored at home and attended King's College, graduating at nineteen.

Law Practice:
He was admitted to the bar four years later in 1768, and for a time was a partner of Robert R. Livingston.

Government Service:
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 (December 1778) president of the Continental Congress. In 1788, Jay was elected president of that body. He was sent on diplomatic missions and he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the war with Great Britain.

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. Jay was a strong advocate for a strengthened national government. Though he did not attend the Constitutional Convention, he did contribute five essays to a series of newspaper articles (later called "The Federalist Papers") in support of ratification.

Jay declined Washington's offer to serve as secretary of state. Washington returned with an offer as the first chief justice, which Jay accepted. Jay continued diplomatic missions while on the Court. 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. Upon his return from the treaty negotiations, Jay discovered that he had been elected governor of New York. He immediately resigned his position as chief justice. He served two three-year terms as governor.

Judicial Offices:
Under the new government Jay became (1789�95) the first Chief Justice of the United States. He was nominated by George Washington. He was commissioned on September 26, 1789 and he was sworn in on October 19, 1789. He concurred in Justice James Wilson's opinion in Chisholm v. Georgia, which led to the passing of the Eleventh Amendment. He resigned as chief justice on June 29, 1795. In 1800, President John Adams nominated Jay for a second appointment as chief justice. The nomination was quickly confirmed by the Senate, but Jay refused citing his poor health He retired to his farm at Bedford in Westchester for the remaining 28 years of his life.

More Biographical Information:

  • John Jay From the Oyez Project (Northwestern University).
  • Biography of Jay From LeftJustified Publiks.
  • Jay, John From Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • Judges of the United States Courts From the Federal Judicial Center.
  • Today in History: December 12 From the Library of Congress.
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