John Jay

Advocate for the adoption of the Constitution, Chief Justice, and critical diplomat

John Jay helped ensured the ratification of the Constitution, was the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and was a leading diplomat for the Founding Fathers.

Jay was born in New York City on December 12, 1745.  A lawyer, he served as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress, and was elected President of the Second Continental Congress in 1778.

He later served as as minister plenipotentiary to Spain, peace commissioner, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs. 

Although he did not attend the Constitutional Convention, Jay contributed five articles to The Federalist Papers. A series of newspaper articles published in New York, The Federalist Papers advocated the ratification of the Constitution while explaining its underlying theories. The Federalist Papers were vital to the passage of the Constitution in New York as well as other states. Thomas Jefferson reflected that The Federalist Papers was “the best commentary on the principles of government ever written.”

George Washington tapped Jay to serve as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. During his tenure, the Court issued Chisholm v Georgia (1793), which was a fundamental decision establishing the supremacy of the Constitution over state governments.

While still serving as Chief Justice, Washington sent Jay on a critical diplomatic mission to Great Britain to negotiate a treaty regarding festering, unresolved issues from the American Revolution.  Jay negotiated a treaty (dubbed the Jay Treat) which was controversially approved by the U.S. Senate, and the laid the groundwork for peaceful relations with Britain for several years.

After leaving the Supreme Court, Jay served as governor of New York. 

He passed away on May 17, 1829.

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Picture: “John Jay, Head-and-Shoulders Portrait, Facing Right.” Engraving after a painting by Joseph Wright. Century Magazine, 1888 or 1889. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.


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