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Guide to the John Jay Papers
1664-1823
 MS 330

New-York Historical Society
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New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Library staff. Finding aid by Christine George

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 21, 2019
Finding aid is written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical Note

John Jay Chronology
December 12, 1745 Jay was born
1764 Jay graduated from Kings College (Columbia University)
1774 Jay married Sarah Livingston, daughter of New Jersey govenor William Livingston
1774-1776 Jay served as delegate to the Continental Congress
1777 Jay served as New York's Chief Justice
1778 Jay was elected president of the Continental Congress
1779 Jay was appointed Minister to Spain
1784 Jay was elected Minister of Foreign Affairs
1785 Jay founded the New-York Manumission Society
1787-1788 Jay authored the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixty-fourth essays of the Federalist Papers
1789 President George Washington appointed Jay first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court
1794 Jay negotiated treaty with Great Britian that is known as "Jay's Treaty"
1795 Jay resigned from the Supreme Court
Jay was elected govenor of New York
May 17, 1829 Jay died

There are a variety of reasons why John Jay is a historical figure of note. He was a Founding Father, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a politician, and a diplomat, to name only a few. Jay was born on December 12, 1745 in New York City to Peter Jay and his wife, Mary Van Cortlandt. Jay was the sixth out of seven surviving children. Of those seven children, two were left blind by smallpox.

Jay was educated at Kings College (later renamed Columbia University) in 1760. Upon his graduation in 1764 he became a law clerk and was admitted to the bar in 1768. During this period, Jay served on the New York-New Jersey Border Commission. After his admission to the bar, Jay joined with Robert R. Livingston Jr. to form a law firm. He later went on to his own practice in 1771.

In 1774 Jay married New Jersey governor William Livingston's daughter Sarah. That same year Jay also got involved with politics in New York that would eventually escalate into the American Revolution. As far as the Revolution went, Jay began as a moderate. He was involved in New York's Committee of 50 and the Continental Congress where he served as a delegate from 1774-1776. Jay was also a member of the New York Constitutional Convention and served as First Chief Justice of New York in 1777. In 1778 he was a delegate and later elected to President of the Continental Congress. Jay's diplomacy went international when he was appointed Minster to Spain in 1779, Minister to treat the peace with Great Britain in 1782, and then Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1784.

In 1787 and 1788, Jay's attention returned to domestic matters. Joining in with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Jay contributed to what became known as the Federalist Papers. Jay authored essays two, three, four, five, and sixty-four. (He suffered from an illness that limited his involvement after the fifth essay.) This collection of essays was meant to persuade the newly minted Americans to accepted the Constitution, which would replace the Article of Confederation, which were the first governing document for the United States. Jay was quite influential in getting New York to ratify the Constitution.

Jay's role changed again in 1798 when President George Washington appointed him as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the country. At the time, there was nothing to stop the Chief Justice from actively participating in the country's politics. Proving this, Jay ran for governor of New York in 1792, only to lose to George Clinton. In 1794, Jay was appointed an envoy to Britain to negotiate issues, such as border disputes, that caused continuing tension between the two countries. Among the terms of the treaty, the British would leave their forts on the United States' western border, and the United States granted Most Favored Nation trading status to the British. However, there were issues that were left unaddressed, such as impressment, which upset the American public. Although public was not in favor of Jay's Treaty, the Senate ultimately ratified it.

Upon Jay's return to the United States in 1795, he discovered that he had been elected governor of New York. After resigning as Chief Justice, Jay served two terms as governor of New York, and addressed issues such as fortifying the cities against possible attack and Indian relations. Jay retired in 1801. President Thomas Jefferson attempted to get Jay to return to the Supreme Court bench, but Jay refused.

Once out of politics, Jay continued to pursue some of his other interests. One of which was his religion. Jay was a practicing Anglican and served as warden of Trinity Church in New York. He became president of the American Bible Society. Another interest was the anti-slavery movement, which seems contradictory since Jay owned slaves. Jay's interest in abolishing slavery dated back to legislation he presented in New York in 1777 to free all slaves in New York. In 1785 he founded the New-York Manumission Society. In 1799 Jay helped pass a bill entitled "An Act for the Gradual Prohibition of Slavery" which led to the eventual emancipation of all slaves in New York.

John Jay died on May 17, 1829.