John Jay - The First Chief Justice

John Jay - The First Chief Justice

New York Leader

John Jay of New York was educated at King's College (now Columbia) and began his career as a lawyer.  In 1774 he joined the New York Committee of Correspondence and acted as its Secretary.

The same year, he attended the First Continental Congress.  He helped write the Olive Branch Petition.  At this convention Jay signed both the Continental Association and Declaration and Resolves.  These documents outlined the colonists grievances and called for a boycott of all British goods until the problems were remedied.

By 1777, at the age of only 31, Jay was one of three men who drafted the Constitution of New York.  In the same year he was elected Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court.

At the end of 1778 Jay returned to Philadelphia where he was elected President of the Continental Congress.  He won this position over his rival Henry Laurens of South Carolina.


Foreign Minister

Jay was later sent as a Minister to Spain where he unsuccessfully attempted to get their recognition of the United States as a nation. 

After three years he went to France as a Peace Commissioner.  He, along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution.

Upon returning to America, Jay spent five years serving as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Congress of the Confederation.



When debates began over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Jay was in strong support of federalization.  He came to this decision based on his experience working for the Congress of the Confederation.  His feelings were stated in his Address to the People of the Sate of New-York, on the Subject of the Federal Constitution.

To help support ratification, Jay joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison as an author of The Federalist Papers.  These letters were justification for the need of the stronger Constitution.  Jay only wrote five of the articles, however, as he became sick and was confined to his bed during much of this time.

When George Washington became President, Jay served as acting Secretary of State until Thomas Jefferson arrived to take over the position.


Chief Justice

He was then confirmed to be the First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.  His tenure on the Supreme Court was mostly notable for establishing the procedures of the Judicial System more than hearing cases, however, these are still the rules followed in the courts today. 

The Jay Court's main contribution to the current government was that it established the principle of judicial review, meaning the courts could determine if laws passed by congress and actions of the president were constitutional.  This decision truly gave the three branches of government equal power.

While still Chief Justice Jay was sent by Washington to represent the United States on a special diplomatic mission to Britain.  Tensions were still high between the two countries and Jay's mission was to cool things down.  This resulted in the Jay Treaty, managing to avoid war but leading to one of the first great divides in American Politics.



While still overseas as an ambassador and serving as Chief Justice Jay was elected Second Governor of New York.  He resigned his seat in the Supreme Court to take this position, which speaks significantly on how even Federalists at the time had stronger attachment to their state than to the country as a whole.

Jay's most notable achievement as Governor of New York he oversaw the passing and implementation of the regulation outlawing slavery in the state.  This was a cause he was passionate about throughout his life, have twice previously introducing bills to this effect and having been a founding member of the New York Manumission Society.

After six years a Governor, Jay would retire at the age of 55 to his home, 'The Locusts.'  His contributions to the creation of the United States, the Supreme Court, the State Department and New York State are significant, though unfortunately, often overlooked.  He should be known to all as one of the Great Revolutionaries due to his remarkable achievements and dedication to his country, as well as the respect he received from his peers.

Further Reading

Check out these John Jay related books we like on Amazon:

Robert Morris - The Founding Father We're Supposed To Know

Robert Morris - The Founding Father We're Supposed To Know

William Bingham

William Bingham