Jump to content
  • John Jay

    • Home State: New York Age at Creation: 44 Previous Occupation: Politics/Law Hometown: Rural Traits: Humble, Intelligent, Statesman, Traveler, Greedy

    John Jay (Gilbert Stuart portrait).jpg

    Early life and education[edit]

    Family history[edit]

    The Jays were a prominent merchant family in New York City, descended from Huguenots who had come to New York to escape religious persecution in France. In 1685, the Edict of Nantes had been revoked, thereby abolishing the civil and legal rights of Protestants, and the French Crown proceeded to confiscate their property. Among those affected was Jay's paternal grandfather, Auguste Jay. He moved from France to Charleston, South Carolina, and then New York, where he built a successful merchant empire.[1] Jay's father, Peter Jay, born in New York City in 1704, became a wealthy trader in furs, wheat, timber, and other commodities.[2]

    Jay's mother was Mary Van Cortlandt, of Dutch ancestry, who had married Peter Jay in 1728 in the Dutch Church.[2] They had ten children together, seven of whom survived into adulthood.[3] Mary's father, Jacobus Van Cortlandt, was born in New Amsterdam in 1658. Cortlandt served in the New York Assembly, was twice elected as mayor of New York City, and held a variety of judicial and military offices. Both Mary and his son Frederick Cortlandt married into the Jay family.

    Jay was born on December 23, 1745 (following the Gregorian calendar, December 12 following the Julian calendar), in New York City; three months later the family moved to Rye, New York. Peter Jay had retired from business following a smallpox epidemic; two of his children contracted the disease and suffered blindness.[4]


    Jay spent his childhood in Rye. He was educated there by his mother until he was eight years old, when he was sent to New Rochelle to study under Anglican priest Pierre Stoupe.[5] In 1756, after three years, he returned to homeschooling in Rye under the tutelage of his mother and George Murray. In 1760, 14-year-old Jay entered King's College (later renamed Columbia College) in New York City.[6][7] There he made many influential friends, including his closest friend, Robert Livingston.[8] Jay took the same political stand as his father, a staunch Whig.[9] Upon graduating in 1764[10] he became a law clerk for Benjamin Kissam, a prominent lawyer, politician, and sought-after instructor in the law. In addition to Jay, Kissam's students included Lindley Murray.[3]

    Entrance into law and politics[edit]

    In 1768, after reading law and being admitted to the bar of New York, Jay, with the money from the government, established a legal practice and worked there until he opened his own law office in 1771.[3] He was a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence in 1774[11] and became its secretary, which was his first public role in the revolution.

    Jay represented the "Radical Whig" faction that was interested in protecting property rights and in preserving the rule of law, while resisting what it regarded as British violations of American rights.[12] This faction feared the prospect of mob rule. Jay believed the British tax measures were wrong and thought Americans were morally and legally justified in resisting them, but as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774,[13] Jay sided with those who wanted conciliation with Parliament. Events such as the burning of Norfolk, Virginia, by British troops in January 1776 pushed Jay to support independence. With the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, he worked tirelessly for the revolutionary cause and acted to suppress the Loyalists. Jay evolved into first a moderate and then an ardent Patriot, because he had decided that all the colonies' efforts at reconciliation with Britain were fruitless and that the struggle for independence was inevitable.[14] In 1780, Jay was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.[15]

    Marriage and family[edit]

    Drawing of Sarah Jay by Robert Edge Pine.

    On April 28, 1774, Jay married Sarah Van Brugh Livingston, eldest daughter of the New Jersey Governor William Livingston. At the time of the marriage, Sarah was seventeen years old and John was twenty-eight.[16] Together they had six children: Peter Augustus, Susan, Maria, Ann, William, and Sarah Louisa. She accompanied Jay to Spain and later was with him in Paris, where they and their children resided with Benjamin Franklin at Passy.[17] Jay's brother-in-law Henry Brock Livingston was lost at sea through the disappearance of the Continental Navy ship Saratoga during the Revolutionary War. While in Paris, as a diplomat to France, Jay's father died. This event forced extra responsibility onto Jay. His brother and sister Peter and Anna, both blinded by smallpox in childhood,[18] became his responsibility. His brother Augustus suffered from mental disabilities that required Jay to provide both financial and emotional support. His brother Fredrick was in constant financial trouble, causing Jay additional stress. Meanwhile, his brother James was in direct opposition in the political arena, joining the Loyalist faction of the New York State Senate at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, which made him an embarrassment to Jay's family.[19]

    Jay's childhood home in Rye, New York is a New York State Historic Site and Westchester County Park

    Jay family homes in Rye and Bedford[edit]

    From the age of three months old until he attended Kings College in 1760, Jay was raised in Rye,[20] on a farm acquired by his father Peter in 1745 that overlooked Long Island Sound.[21] After negotiating the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War, Jay returned to his childhood home to celebrate with his family and friends in July 1784.[22] Jay inherited this property upon the death of his older brother Peter in 1813 after Jay had already established himself at Katonah. He conveyed the Rye property to his eldest son, Peter Augustus Jay, in 1822.

    What remains of the original 400-acre (1.6 km2) property is a 23-acre (93,000 m2) parcel called the Jay Estate. In the center rises the 1838 Peter Augustus Jay House, built by Peter Augustus Jay over the footprint of his father's ancestral home, "The Locusts"; pieces of the original 18th century farmhouse, were incorporated into the 19th century structure. Stewardship of the site and several of its buildings for educational use was entrusted in 1990 by the New York State Board of Regents to the Jay Heritage Center.[23][24] In 2013, the non-profit Jay Heritage Center was also awarded stewardship and management of the site's landscape which includes a meadow and gardens.[25][26]

    As an adult, Jay inherited land from his grandparents and built Bedford House, located near Katonah, New York, where he moved in 1801 with his wife Sarah to pursue retirement. This property passed down to their younger son William Jay and his descendants. It was acquired by New York State in 1958 and named "The John Jay Homestead". Today this 62 acre park is preserved as the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site.[27]

    Both homes in Rye and Katonah have been designated National Historic Landmarks and are open to the public for tours and programs.

    Personal views[edit]

    Record on slavery[edit]

    Main article: Slavery in New York

    Every man of every color and description has a natural right to freedom.

    —John Jay, February 27, 1792

    The Jay family participated significantly in the slave trade, as investors and traders as well as slaveholders. For example, the New York Slavery Records Index records Jay's father and paternal grandfather as investors in at least 11 slave ships that delivered more than 120 slaves to New York between 1717 and 1733.[28] John Jay himself purchased, owned, rented out and manumitted at least 17 slaves during his lifetime.[29] He is not known to have owned or invested in any slave ships.[28] In 1783, one of Jay's slaves, a woman named Abigail, attempted to escape in Paris, but was found, imprisoned, and died soon after of illness.[30] Jay was irritated by her escape attempt, suggesting that she be left in prison for some time. To his biographer Walter Stahr, this reaction indicates that "however much [Jay] disliked slavery in the abstract, he could not understand why one of his slaves would run away."[31]

    Despite of being a founder of the New York Manumission Society, Jay is recorded as owning five slaves in the 1790 and 1800 U.S. censuses. He freed all but one by the 1810 census. Rather than advocating for immediate emancipation, he continued to purchase enslaved people and to manumit them once he considered their work to "have afforded a reasonable retribution."[32] Abolitionism following the American Revolution contained some Quaker and Methodist principles of Christian brotherly love but was also influenced by concerns about the growth of the black population within the United States and the "degradation" of black people under slavery.[33][34]

    In 1774, Jay drafted the "Address to the People of Great Britain",[35] which compared American chattel slavery to British tyranny.[36] Such comparisons between American slavery and British policy had been made regularly by American Patriots starting with James Otis,and took little account of the far harsher reality of chattel slavery.[37] Jay was the founder and president of the New York Manumission Society in 1785, which organized boycotts against newspapers and merchants involved in the slave trade and provided legal counsel to free blacks.[38]

    The Society helped enact the 1799 law for gradual emancipation of slaves in New York, which Jay signed into law as governor. "An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery" provided that, from July 4, 1799, all children born to slave parents would be free (subject to lengthy apprenticeships) and that slave exports would be prohibited. These same children would be required to serve the mother's owner until age 28 for males and age 25 for females, years beyond the typical period of indenture. It did not provide government payment of compensation to slave owners but failed to free people who were already enslaved as of 1799. The act provided legal protection and assistance for free blacks kidnapped for the purposes of being sold into slavery.[39] All slaves were emancipated by July 4, 1827.[40][41][42][43][44]

    In the close 1792 election, Jay's antislavery work was thought to hurt his election chances in upstate New York Dutch areas, where slavery was still practiced.[45] In 1794, in the process of negotiating the Jay Treaty with the British, Jay angered many Southern slave owners when he dropped their demands for compensation for slaves who had been freed and transported by the British to other areas after the Revolution.[46]


    Jay was a member of the Church of England and later of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America after the American Revolution. Since 1785, Jay had been a warden of Trinity Church, New York. As Congress's Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he supported the proposal after the Revolution that the Archbishop of Canterbury approve the ordination of bishops for the Episcopal Church in the United States.[47] He argued unsuccessfully in the provincial convention for a prohibition against Catholics holding office.[48] While considering New York's Constitution, Jay also suggested erecting "a wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of Catholics."[49]

    Jay, who served as vice-president (1816–21) and president (1821–27) of the American Bible Society,[50] believed that the most effective way of ensuring world peace was through propagation of the Christian gospel. In a letter addressed to Pennsylvania House of Representatives member John Murray, dated October 12, 1816, Jay wrote, "Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war. Almost all nations have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."[51] He also expressed a belief that the moral precepts of Christianity were necessary for good government, saying, "No human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty apart from the moral precepts of the Christian Religion. Should our Republic ever forget this fundamental precept of governance, we will then, be surely doomed."[52]

    During the American Revolution[edit]

    Those who own the country ought to govern it.

    —John Jay[53]

    Having established a reputation as a reasonable moderate 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. Jay was originally in favor of rapprochement. He helped write the Olive Branch Petition which urged the British government to reconcile with the colonies. As the necessity and inevitability of war became evident, Jay threw his support behind the revolution and the Declaration of Independence. Jay's views became more radical as events unfolded; he became an ardent separatist and attempted to move New York towards that cause.

    In 1774, upon the conclusion of the Continental Congress, Jay elected to return to New York.[54] There he served on New York City's Committee of Sixty,[55] where he attempted to enforce a non-importation agreement passed by the First Continental Congress.[54] Jay was elected to the third New York Provincial Congress, where he drafted the Constitution of New York, 1777;[56] his duties as a New York Congressman prevented him from voting on or signing the Declaration of Independence.[54] Jay served for several months on the New York Committee to Detect and Defeat Conspiracies, which monitored and combated Loyalist activity.[57] New York's Provincial Congress elected Jay the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature on May 8, 1777,[54][58] which he served on for two years.[54]

    The Continental Congress turned to Jay, a political adversary of the previous president Henry Laurens, only three days after Jay became a delegate and elected him President of the Continental Congress. In previous congresses, Jay had moved from a position of seeking conciliation with Britain to advocating separation sooner than Laurens. Eight states voted for Jay and four for Laurens. Jay served as President of the Continental Congress from December 10, 1778, to September 28, 1779. It was a largely ceremonial position without real power, and indicated the resolve of the majority and the commitment of the Continental Congress.[59]

    As a diplomat[edit]

    Minister to Spain[edit]

    On September 27, 1779, Jay was appointed Minister to Spain. His mission was to get financial aid, commercial treaties and recognition of American independence. The royal court of Spain refused to officially receive Jay as the Minister of the United States,[60] as it refused to recognize American independence until 1783, fearing that such recognition could spark revolution in their own colonies. Jay, however, convinced Spain to loan $170,000 to the U.S. government.[61] He departed Spain on May 20, 1782.[60]

    Peace Commissioner[edit]

    Main article: Treaty of Paris (1783)
    The Treaty of Paris, by Benjamin West (1783) (Jay stands farthest to the left). The British delegation refused to pose for the painting, leaving it unfinished.

    On June 23, 1782, Jay reached Paris, where negotiations to end the American Revolutionary War would take place.[62] Benjamin Franklin was the most experienced diplomat of the group, and thus Jay wished to lodge near him, in order to learn from him.[63] The United States agreed to negotiate with Britain separately, then with France.[64] In July 1782, the Earl of Shelburne offered the Americans independence, but Jay rejected the offer on the grounds that it did not recognize American independence during the negotiations; Jay's dissent halted negotiations until the fall.[64] The final treaty dictated that the United States would have Newfoundland fishing rights, Britain would acknowledge the United States as independent and would withdraw its troops in exchange for the United States ending the seizure of Loyalist property and honoring private debts.[64][65] The treaty granted the United States independence, but left many border regions in dispute, and many of its provisions were not enforced.[64] John Adams credited Jay with having the central role in the negotiations noting he was "of more importance than any of the rest of us."[66]

    Jay's peacemaking skills were further applauded by New York Mayor James Duane on October 4, 1784. At that time, Jay was summoned from his family seat in Rye to receive "the Freedom" of New York City as a tribute to his successful negotiations.[67]

    Secretary of Foreign Affairs[edit]

    Jay as he appears at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

    Jay served as the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1784 to 1789, when in September, Congress passed a law giving certain additional domestic responsibilities to the new Department and changing its name to the Department of State. Jay served as acting Secretary of State until March 22, 1790. Jay sought to establish a strong and durable American foreign policy: to seek the recognition of the young independent nation by powerful and established foreign European powers; to establish a stable American currency and credit supported at first by financial loans from European banks; to pay back America's creditors and to quickly pay off the country's heavy War-debt; to secure the infant nation's territorial boundaries under the most-advantageous terms possible and against possible incursions by the Indians, Spanish, the French and the English; to solve regional difficulties among the colonies themselves; to secure Newfoundland fishing rights; to establish a robust maritime trade for American goods with new economic trading partners; to protect American trading vessels against piracy; to preserve America's reputation at home and abroad; and to hold the country together politically under the fledgling Articles of Confederation.[68]

    The Federalist Papers, 1788[edit]

    With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice, that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people; a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general Liberty and Independence.

    —John Jay, Federalist No. 2[69][70][71]

    Jay believed his responsibility was not matched by a commensurate level of authority, so he joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in advocating for a stronger government than the one dictated by the Articles of Confederation.[3][72] He 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 an ineffective form of government, contending:

    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 [e]nforce them at home or abroad ... —In short, they may consult, and deliberate, and recommend, and make requisitions, and they who please may regard them.[73]

    Jay did not attend the Constitutional Convention but joined Hamilton and Madison in aggressively arguing in favor of the creation of a new and more powerful, centralized but balanced system of government. Writing under the shared pseudonym of "Publius",[74] they articulated this vision in The Federalist Papers, a series of eighty-five articles written to persuade New York state convention members to ratify the proposed Constitution of the United States.[75] Jay wrote the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixty-fourth articles. The second through the fifth are on the topic "Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence". The sixty-fourth discusses the role of the Senate in making foreign treaties.[76]


    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    • Administrators

    Leadership 20
    Martial 10
    Intelligence 10
    Charisma 15
    Stewardship 10
    Surrogates 0
    Health 55
    Link to comment
    • Administrators

    Leadership Martial Intelligence Charisma
    7 2 3 5
    Stewardship Surrogates Health Cash
    3 N/A N/A N/A


    Leadership Martial Intelligence Charisma
    1 2 10 N/A
    Stewardship Surrogates Health Cash
    7 N/A N/A N/A


    Leadership Martial Intelligence Charisma
    5 5 5 5
    Stewardship Surrogates Health Cash
    5 1 N/A N/A


    Leadership Martial Intelligence Charisma
    4 4 6 4
    Stewardship Surrogates Health Cash
    6 N/A -2 N/A


    Leadership Martial Intelligence Charisma
    -9 -2 N/A -2
    Stewardship Surrogates Health Cash
    3 N/A N/A N/A
    Link to comment
    • Administrators

    March 27, 1790

    John Jay has been killed in a carriage accident in New York city. He was recently confirmed as President Washington's Secretary of Foreign Affairs. 

    Link to comment

    Join the conversation

    You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

    Add a comment...

    ×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

      Only 75 emoji are allowed.

    ×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

    ×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

    ×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...