John Jay epitomized the selfless leader of the American Revolution. Born to a prominent New York family, John Jay gained notoriety as a lawyer in his home state. He favored a moderate approach to Britain but joined his fellow Patriots once the Declaration of Independence was signed. Jay’s fellow Founders regarded him so highly that they elected him President of the Assembly, the highest office in the land under the Articles of Confederation.
Ten years later, President George Washington appointed him the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. He reluctantly resigned from the Supreme Court because he had been elected Governor of New York—an office he neither desired nor sought. As Governor, Jay fought for the emancipation of slaves by organizing and mobilizing abolitionist groups and signing an emancipation bill.
Jay left his mark on the new nation despite being somewhat marginalized by history. Jay wrote five essays in The Federalist Papers, but James Madison and Alexander Hamilton receive recognition for the now classic commentary. He worked for the Treaty of Paris, but history has given Benjamin Franklin and John Adams most of the credit. He negotiated a trade treaty with Great Britain that helped avoid a war, but history emphasizes his failures. He led the fight against slavery in New York, but his efforts are often overlooked on the national scale. He affected several of the foundations that were invaluable to a struggling infant nation and appreciated by his fellow Founding Fathers.
“This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.” – 1787