Childhood & Early Life
John Jay was born on December 12, 1745, in New York City, New York, British America, to Peter Jay and Mary Van Cortlandt as one of their ten children. His father was a wealthy trader of furs, wheat, timber, and other commodities.
After being educated by his mother at home until he was about eight years old, he was sent to New Rochelle to study under Anglican priest Pierre Stoupe. He returned home after three years and continued his education under his mother and George Murray.
He joined King’s College in 1760 and met many people during this period who would greatly influence his thinking. He grew deeply interested in politics and became a staunch Whig. He graduated with the highest honors in 1764.
He proceeded to study law under Benjamin Kissam, a prominent lawyer and politician and completed his legal studies in 1768 following which he was admitted to the bar of New York.
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Personal Life & Legacy
John Jay married Sarah Van Brugh Livingston, eldest daughter of the New Jersey Governor William Livingston and his wife, in 1774. The couple had several children.
In addition to his wife and family, Jay also took care of his ill and disabled siblings after the death of their father.
He died on May 17, 1829, in Bedford, New York, U.S. after suffering from palsy, probably caused by a stroke. He was 83.
A qualified lawyer, he went on to establish his own legal practice in 1771. During the 1770s he became a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence and eventually became its secretary.
In September 1774, he attended the First Continental Congress as a delegate. Even though he believed that the British tax measures were wrong and thought Americans were morally and legally justified in resisting them, he was not in support of separation of the Americas from Britain.
When the American Revolution broke out, Jay played an active role in suppressing the Loyalists and eventually came to accept that the Americas’ struggle for independence from the British colonial rule was inevitable. He was tirelessly involved in the revolutionary cause and gained a name for himself as an ardent patriot.
The United States of America achieved independence from British colonial rule in 1776. Following the independence he drafted the Constitution of New York, 1777, and served on the committee to detect and defeat conspiracies, which monitored British Actions.
Even though he had once been a slave holder himself, he adopted an anti-slavery approach later on. He became actively involved in the anti-slavery movement after 1777 and founded the New York Manumission Society in 1785 to promote the abolition of the slavery of African descendants within the state of New York.
In May 1777, the New York's Provincial Congress elected Jay the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, a position he held for two years. He was appointed Minister to Spain in 1779.
In this position, he was made responsible for getting financial aid, commercial treaties and recognition of American independence from Spain. However, the royal court of Spain refused to officially receive Jay as the Minister of the United States as it refused to recognize American Independence. Frustrated, he left Spain in May 1782.
He then travelled to Paris to participate in the negotiations to end the American Revolutionary War. Benjamin Franklin was also among the negotiators. The negotiations culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September 1783.
Upon returning to America, he served as the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1784 to 1789. President George Washington appointed Jay as the Chief Justice of the United States in 1789. As the Chief Justice, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1790.
In 1792, Jay ran for the governor of New York as a Federalist candidate but was defeated by Democratic-Republican George Clinton.
In 1794, Washington sent John Jay to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain, in order to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries. This resulted in the Jay Treaty which proved to be extremely controversial but was nonetheless approved of by the Washington administration.
He returned to America in 1795 and discovered that he had been elected the new Governor of New York in his absence. He served two terms as the governor and dealt with issues related to judicial reform, penal reform and the abolition of slavery before retiring from public life in 1801.