John Jay I., an American statesman, first chief justice of the United States, born in New York, Dec. 12, 1745, died at Bedford, Westchester co., N. Y., May 17, 1829. He was descended from Augustus Jay, a Huguenot merchant of Rochelle in France, who after the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685 emigrated to America, and settled first in Charleston, S. C, and afterward in New York. Peter Jay, the father of John, was a merchant. While still an infant John Jay was removed with the rest of the family to a country seat at Rye, Westchester co., on the shore of Long Island sound. He received his early education at the grammar school of New Rochelle, and at King's (now Columbia) college, where he graduated in 1764. He studied law in the office of Benjamin Kissam at the same time with Lindley Murray, the grammarian. In 1768 Jay was admitted to the bar, and formed a partnership with Robert R. Livingston, afterward chancellor of the state of New York. The revolutionary movement called him actively into the field of politics. While he deemed the course of the British ministry dangerous to the rights and liberties of his countrymen, his sentiments as to the mode of resistance and redress were moderate.
When intelligence of the passage of the Boston port bill reached New York, a meeting was held, May 16, 1774, and a committee of 51 formed to correspond with the other colonies. Jay was appointed a member of this committee, and at their first meeting, May 23, a sub-committee of four was nominated to draft an answer to the Boston committee, who had recommended the general adoption of a non-importation and non-exportation agreement until the act for blocking up their harbor was repealed. He was a member of this sub-committee, and is supposed to have been the author of the reply to the Boston address, in which the proposition to enter into an agreement of non-intercourse was pronounced premature and inexpedient, and a general congress of the colonies recommended. Though the moderation of this document gave much offence to the more ardent patriots, the suggestion of a congress was concurred in, and Philip Livingston, Isaac Low, John Alsop, and John Jay were unanimously elected delegates to it, and were soon afterward adopted as their delegates by the city of Albany and by some towns in Westchester and Dutchess counties. The congress met on Monday, Sept. 5, 1774, at the Carpenters' hall in Philadelphia. Jay, though the youngest member but one, took a leading part in its proceedings.
He was at this time strongly opposed to any attempt at independence, but desired to see the difficulties between the colonies and the mother country adjusted on terms satisfactory to both parties. When convinced, however, by the course of events, that independence had become a necessity, he embraced the measure with zeal and lent it hearty and efficient support. He participated in most of the debates that arose, and made his first speech upon the question of the mode of voting in the congress. On Sept. 6 he was appointed one of a committee of two from each colony to state the rights of the colonies in general, the violation of those rights, and the proper mode of redress. On Oct. 11 he was appointed one of a committee of three to prepare a memorial to the people of British America and an address to the people of Great Britain. The latter document, written by Jay, gave its author a great reputation throughout the country. In the second continental congress, which met at Philadelphia May 10, 1775, Jay was one of a committee of three appointed to draw up an address to the people of Canada soliciting their cooperation in the contest which had now become inevitable, and the paper reported by the committee was from his pen.
On Sept. 22 he was appointed on a committee with Franklin, Rutledge, Randolph, and others, to consider the state of the trade of America. Their report led to an animated debate, in which Jay advocated the policy of continuing the trade with Great Britain and the British West Indies from New York, North Carolina, and Georgia, in opposition to those who maintained that, as the rest of the colonies had been excluded from this trade by the "restraining act" of parliament, the three colonies excepted should voluntarily relinquish it. On Dec. 4 Jay, Dickinson, and "Wythe were appointed a committee to confer with the assembly of New Jersey, and endeavor to dissuade that body from sending a petition to the king of Great Britain, separate from the petition of united America presented by congress. The remonstrances of the congressional committee prevailed with the assembly, and the design of petitioning the king was abandoned. On Nov. 29, 1775, congress appointed Harrison, Franklin, Johnson, Dickinson, and Jay a committee to correspond with the European friends of American liberty.
A secret agent of the French government had shortly before given to a committee, consisting of Jay, Franklin, and Jefferson, indirect assurances that the revolted colonies might rely on receiving aid from France. The committee of correspondence at once entered into negotiations with friends of the American cause in England, France, and Holland, the result of which was that in the spring of 1776 Silas Deane was privately sent as a political agent of America to the court of France. His letters from Paris were addressed to Jay. In addition to his labors in congress, Jay was at this time much occupied with the affairs of New York, where the tories were numerous, and the provincial congress was suspected of being lukewarm in the cause of freedom. It was difficult at this time to induce men of standing and character to accept commissions in the militia of the state. Jay, as an example to others, allowed himself to be commissioned as colonel of the second regiment of foot in the city of New York, though his duties in congress kept him from the field. In April, 1776, he was chosen a member of the provincial congress of New York, and at the special request of that body he returned from Philadelphia to assist in its deliberations.
He was thus prevented from becoming a signer of the Declaration of Independence, which passed the continental congress while he was serving in the congress of New York. He however gave that measure his cordial approval and support. In the next New York congress, or convention as it was called, he took a leading part, serving on the most important committees, and was also actively engaged in taking measures to repel the incursions of the enemy up the Hudson, and to suppress the conspiracies of the tories. To arouse the people from the gloom occasioned by the reverses of the army, he drew up an address which was issued by the convention, Dec. 23, 1776. This document was deemed of such importance that the continental congress specially recommended it to the perusal of the people of the United States, and ordered it to be translated into German and printed and circulated at the national expense. When the convention undertook in August, 1776, to form a government for the state of New York, he was appointed one of the committee to frame a constitution and bill of rights. The report of the committee, made March 12, 1777, was written by him, and the constitution was chiefly his work.
The convention, just before its dissolution, May 13, appointed a council of safety invested with dictatorial powers consisting of 15 members, of whom Jay was one. The convention also appointed Jay chief justice of the state until the legislature should meet, and the constitutional power of appointment be organized, and he presided at the first term of the supreme court at Kingston, Sept. 9. On the next day the legislature met, and Jay was duly reappointed chief justice under the constitution. On Nov. 4 he was elected by the legislature a delegate to the national congress, on the ground that the withdrawal of Vermont from the jurisdiction of New York furnished a special occasion for requiring his services at Philadelphia. He took his seat Dec. 7, 1778, and on the 10th was elected president of congress, Laurens, the former president, having resigned. On Sept. 27, 1779, he was appointed minister to Spain, and reached Cadiz Jan. 22, 1780, and Madrid on April 4. His mission had two objects, to obtain a loan of $5,000,000, and to secure the right to the free navigation of the Mississippi. The Spanish court received him coldly, and many months passed in fruitless negotiations.
Congress, without waiting to hear even of his arrival in Spain, had directed its treasurer to draw on him at Madrid for $500,000. When these bills arrived, rather than let the credit of the country be damaged by their going to protest, he accepted them at his own risk. He was afterward enabled to meet them when due, partly by remittances from Franklin at Paris, and partly by some smaller sums reluctantly given by the Spanish government. He quitted Madrid, May 20, 1782, and proceeded to Paris to assist in the negotiation of a treaty of peace with Great Britain, congress in 1781 having appointed him a commissioner for that purpose, together with Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and Laurens. He arrived in Paris June 23. Of his colleagues, Franklin alone was there, Jefferson being detained in America by the delicate health of his wife, Laurens a prisoner in the tower of London, and Adams in Holland negotiating a loan. On Franklin and Jay therefore the primary formation of the treaty devolved. To the value of Jay's services in this important negotiation we have the testimony of Adams, who says that all his colleagues were very able and attentive, "especially Mr. Jay, to whom the French, if they knew as much of his negotiations as they do of mine, would very justly give the title with which they have inconsiderately decorated me, that of le Washington de la negotiation; a very flattering compliment indeed, to which I have not a right, but sincerely think it belongs to Mr. Jay." Jay quitted Paris in May, 1784, and arrived in his native city, July 24, after an absence from it of eight years.
The freedom of the city was presented to him in a gold box, with an address by the corporation. He intended on leaving Europe to resume the practice of his profession, but on reaching New York he learned that congress had appointed him secretary for foreign affairs. He was also, in the succeeding autumn, elected by the state legislature a delegate to congress. He took his seat in congress Dec. 6, and held it till Dec. 21, when he accepted the secretaryship for foreign affairs, and performed its duties for five years, till the adoption of the federal constitution in 1789. In the conflict of opinion with regard to the constitution that should be formed, Jay shared in Hamilton's preference for a strong central government. When the constitution was formed, however, he urged its adoption with earnestness and ability, and wrote in its defence in "The Federalist," in conjunction with Hamilton and Madison. In April, 1788, occurred the riot in New York, known as the doctors' mob, occasioned by violations of the grave for the purpose of procuring subjects for dissection. Several physicians had been lodged in prison to protect them from the popular fury. The mob attempted to force the prison, and were resisted by Hamilton, Jay, and a body of citizens.
In the conflict Jay received a wound in the temple, which confined him for some time to his bed and interrupted his contributions to "The Federalist." About the same time he was elected by a nearly unanimous vote a delegate to the New York state convention called to adopt or reject the proposed federal constitution. The convention assembled at Pough-keepsie, June 17,1788. Of its 57 members, 46 were opposed to the constitution; but its adoption was advocated by Jay, Hamilton, and Robert R. Livingston, and after a warm debate of more than five weeks, New York gave her assent to the Union by a vote of 30 to 27. President Washington tendered to Jay a choice of the offices in his gift. He preferred the chief justiceship of the supreme court of the United States, and was confirmed by the senate, Sept. 26, 1789. The first term of the court was held at New York in February, 1790. In 1792, at the April election, Jay was the federal candidate for governor of New York, in opposition to George Clinton. Clinton was declared elected, the legislative committee rejecting on technical grounds the returns of three counties where Jay had large majorities.
The federalists were greatly exasperated, and at many public meetings Jay was declared to be the rightful governor of the state; but he counselled submission to the letter of the law. In 1794 the difficulties between the United States and Great Britain, growing out of unsettled boundaries and the attacks of the latter power on American commerce, became so serious that war was imminent. Washington wished to appoint Hamilton as special minister to England; but such was the animosity against Hamilton in the senate, that he finally nominated Jay, who embarked at New York May 12, and reached London June 15. He immediately entered into negotiations with Lord Grenville, the minister for foreign affairs, and a treaty was agreed upon, Nov. 19, 1794. It provided for constituting three boards of commissioners: one to determine the eastern boundary of the United States, by fixing on the river intended by the treaty of 1783 as the St. Croix; another to ascertain the amount of losses experienced by British subjects in consequence of legal impediments to the recovery of pre-revolutionary debts, that amount, when ascertained, to be paid by the United States; and a third to estimate the losses sustained by Americans from illegal captures by British cruisers, those losses to be paid by the British government.
The amount subsequently recovered by Americans under this clause was $10,345,000. The western posts occupied by the British were to be surrendered on June 1, 1796. There was to be a reciprocity of inland trade and intercourse between the North American territories of the two nations, including the navigation of the Mississippi, the British also to be admitted into all American harbors, with the right to ascend all rivers to the highest port of entry; but this reciprocity did not extend to the admission of American vessels into British North American harbors or rivers. These articles were declared to be perpetual; the following were limited to two years after the termination of the war in Europe: American vessels were to be admitted into British ports in Europe and the East Indies on terms of equality with British vessels; Americans might trade to the British West Indies in vessels not exceeding 70 tons burden, but without the right to transport from America to Europe any of the principal colonial products; British vessels were to be admitted into American ports on the same terms as those of the most favored nation. Privateers were to give bonds to respond in any damages they might commit against neutrals.
The list of articles contraband of war was to include, besides ammunition and warlike implements, all articles serving directly for the equipment of vessels, except unwrought iron and fir plank. No vessel entering a blockaded port was to be captured unless she had first been informed of the blockade and turned away. Neither nation was to allow enlistments within its territories by any third nation at war with the other; nor were the citizens or subjects of either to be allowed to accept commissions from such third nation, or to enlist in its service. The rest of the articles were similar to these, and were intended to preserve neutrality upon the ocean, and its observance in the American ports, so that neither French nor British privateers should be exclusively favored or supplied. A provision was made for the mutual surrender of fugitives from justice charged with murder or forgery. Jay returned to New York May 28, 1795. The treaty was submitted to the senate on June 8, and on the 24th that body advised the president to ratify it, with the exception of the articles relating to the West India trade. It was published in Philadelphia on July 2, and caused a prodigious storm of popular excitement, clamor, and misrepresentation.
It was denounced as a pusillanimous surrender of American rights, and a shameful breach of our obligations to France. Meetings were held against it in all the principal cities. Copies of it were publicly burned by mobs in New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and other places. An attempt was made at Philadelphia to burn Jay in effigy on the 4th of July. Washington, though he considered the crisis the most important and dangerous that had yet occurred in his administration, ratified the treaty on Aug. 14. This, however, did not quiet the agitation. Some of the Boston democrats paraded the streets of that town with an effigy of Jay, which they finally burned; they also attacked the house of a federalist editor, but were fired on and repulsed. On the other hand, the treaty, Jay's treaty as it was familiarly called, was defended with energy by Hamilton and other federalists. Many public meetings also were held in support of the ratification of the treaty, and the Boston chamber of commerce passed a resolution in favor of it, with only one dissenting voice, while a memorial taking the same ground was numerously signed by the merchants of Philadelphia. In the house of representatives Fisher Ames made his greatest speech in defence of the treaty, and in favor of passing the laws necessary to give it effect.
After a long struggle the resolution that it was expedient to pass the laws necessary for carrying the treaty into effect was agreed to by a vote of 58 to 51, only four New England members voting against it, and from the states south of the Potomac only four for it. Jay himself, amid all this excitement and obloquy, relied upon the ultimate judgment of his countrymen. - During his absence in England his friends had put him in nomination as candidate for governor of New York, without his knowledge. He was elected by a large majority, and the result was officially declared two days before he reached New York. His administration, by reelection, lasted six years, during which time he dismissed no one from office on account of his political opinions. In 1799 the legislature passed an act for the gradual abolition of slavery, a measure which Jay had strenuously urged in 1777 upon the convention which formed the constitution of the state. In 1785 he became the president of a society formed in New York "for promoting the manumission of slaves, and protecting such of them as have been or may be liberated." He continued at the head of this society till he became chief justice of the United States, when, thinking it possible that questions might be brought before him in which the society was interested, he deemed it proper to dissolve his official connection with it.
In November, 1800, as the end of his second term approached, he was solicited to become a candidate for reelection, but declined. In December he was nominated by the president and confirmed by the senate to his former office of chief justice, made vacant by the resignation of Oliver Ellsworth. He firmly declined the honor, and at the age of 55 bade adieu for ever to public life, and retired to his paternal estate at Bedford, Westchester co., where he lived for upward of 28 years. He was very regular and exact in all his habits, was a member of the Episcopal church, and took great interest in the religious movements of his day, being president of several religious societies. In 1827 he was seized with a severe illness, and, after two years of weakness and suffering, was struck with palsy, May 14, 1829, and died three days afterward. In character Jay was eminent for the elevation and purity of his principles and conduct both in public and in private life. He had a high sense of justice and of humanity, and a profound feeling of religion. His mind was vigorous, exact, and logical, and characterized rather by judgment and discrimination than by brilliancy. The Bible was his constant study, and Cicero his favorite author.
His public reputation as a patriot and statesman of the revolution was second only to that of Washington. II. William, an American jurist and philanthropist, son of the preceding, born in New York, June 16, 1789, died at Bedford, N. Y., Oct. 14, 1858. He received his early education at Albany, and graduated at Yale college in 1807. He studied law at Albany, but having injured his eyes by intense study, relinquished the practice of the profession and retired to Bedford, where he assisted in the management of the large landed estate which descended to him on the death of his father in 1829. In 1815 he began his career of philanthropic effort in the founding of the American Bible society, and was its recognized champion against the attacks of Bishop Hobart and other members of the Episcopal church, to which Jay himself belonged, during a controversy which lasted many years. As president of the Westchester Bible society he delivered a long series of annual addresses. He organized a society for temperance reform in 1815. He also took an active part in the tract, missionary, and educational movements of the day, and was frequently president of the Sunday school and agricultural' societies of his county.
In 1818 he was appointed a judge of the court of common pleas, and in 1820 was made the first judge of Westchester co., which office he held till 1842, when he was superseded on account of his anti-slavery opinions. In 1835, when the legislature had in contemplation a law restricting freedom of speech on the subject of slavery, he advised the grand jury that it would be the duty of every citizen to resist such a law as a violation of the constitution. The same year, on behalf of the executive committee of the American anti-slavery society, he prepared a reply to the current charges against the abolitionists, and published a work entitled "An Inquiry into the Character of the American Colonization and Anti-Slavery Societies." In 1838 he published "A View of the Action of the Federal Government in behalf of Slavery." In 1843-4 he visited Europe, and proceeded thence to Egypt, where he made the acquaintance of Sir Gardner "Wilkinson, in conjunction with whom he investigated the subject of Egyptian slavery. He was for some years president of the American peace society, and in 1848 published a volume entitled " War and Peace: the Evils of the First, with a Plan for supporting the Last," which was reprinted by the London peace society.
His plan consisted in treaty stipulations for the settlement of differences by arbitration. The committee on foreign relations of the United States senate, to whom a memorial on the subject was referred, reported in favor of his plan; and Mr. Cobden wrote to him: "If your government is prepared to insert an arbitration clause in the pending treaties, I am confident that it will be accepted by our negotiators." By his will he left a bequest of $1,000 for " promoting the safety and comfort of fugitive slaves." His publications on all subjects were 43 in number, many of which were widely circulated and exercised much influence on public opinion. His largest work was the " Life and Writings of John Jay" (2 vols. 8vo, New York, 1833). He left in manuscript an elaborate commentary on the Bible. III. John, son of the preceding, born in New York, June 23,1817. He studied and practised law, became prominent in the anti-slavery and other political movements, was active in the affairs of the Episcopal church, was for many years a manager and corresponding secretary of the New York historical society, and has published numerous pamphlets, addresses, and reports relating to these subjects.
He was one of the founders and for some time president of the Union league club of New York. In 1869 he was appointed minister to Austria, which post he still holds (1874).