John Jay (b. 1745 – d. 1829) America’s first Secretary of State, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one of its first Ambassadors, and author of some of the celebrated Federalist Papers, Jay was a Founding Father who, by a quirk of fate, missed signing the Declaration of Independence, at the time of the vote for independence and the signing, he had temporarily left the Continental Congress to serve in New York‘s revolutionary legislature.
Nevertheless, he was chosen by his peers to succeed Henry Laurens as President, serving a term from December 10, 1778 to September 27, 1779. A conservative New York lawyer, who was at first against the idea of Independence in the colonies, the aristocratic Jay in 1776 turned into a patriot, who was willing to give the next 25 years of his life to help establish the new nation.
During these years, he won the regard of his peers as a dedicated and accomplished statesman, and a man of unwavering principle. In the Continental Congress, Jay prepared addresses to the people of Canada and Great Britain. In New York, he drafted the State Constitution and served as Chief Justice during the War. He was President of the Continental Congress before he undertook the difficult assignment as Ambassador, trying to gain support and funds from Spain.
After helping Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Laurens complete peace negotiations in Paris in 1783, Jay returned home to become the first Secretary of State, called “Secretary of Foreign Affairs” under the Articles of the Confederation. He negotiated valuable commercial treaties with Russia and Morocco, and dealt with the continuing controversy with Britain and Spain over the southern and western boundaries of America.
He proposed that American and Britain establish a joint commission to arbitrate disputes that remained after the war, and proposal which, though not adopted, influenced the government’s use of arbitration and diplomacy in settling later international problems.
Jay felt keenly that the weakness of the Articles of Confederation was one of the first to advocate a new governmental compact. He wrote 5 Federalist Papers supporting the Constitution, and he was a leader in the New York Ratification Convention. As first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Jay made the historic decision that a State could be sued by a citizen from another state, which led to the 11th Amendment of the Constitution.
On a special mission to London he concluded the “Jay Treaty“, which helped avert a renewal of hostilities with Britain, but won little favor at home, and it is probably for this treaty, that this Founding Father is best remembered.