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Supreme Court Justices

John Jay (1745 - 1829)

John Jay was born in New York City on December 12, 1745. His only formal education was received at King's College, now Columbia University. After graduating, Jay read law, and became a successful lawyer in colonial New York. In 1774, Jay married Sarah Livingston, a member of the politically powerful Livingston family. Jay was elected to both the First and Second Continental Congresses. As hostilities between the colonists and the Crown escalated, Jay attempted to find common ground between the two. Although he thought about returning to England when independence was declared by the colonists, he remained in New York, and assisted in the drafting of the New York constitution of 1777, which was influential in the drafting, a decade later, of the federal Constitution. In 1782, Jay, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were sent to Paris to negotiate a peace treaty with England. When he returned to New York in 1784, he chose law practice over offers to act as the United States minister to England and France. He then was asked by Congress to act as secretary of foreign affairs. Jay shortly thereafter expressed his disagreement with the Articles of Confederation. Jay wrote five of the Federalist Papers (he was too ill to write more), which were to be used as a guide to the debates concerning the Constitution. Jay was a delegate at New York's Constitutional Convention, and supported adoption of the Constitution (which New York did by a 30-27 vote). Jay was nominated and confirmed as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Jay served on the Court for six years, resigning when he concluded that the Court could not create unity among Americans. In 1794, Jay left the United States for England, and negotiated with the British a treaty that bears his name. While absent, he was elected Governor of New York. Jay then resigned from the Court. When asked by John Adams to return to the Court after the resignation of Oliver Ellsworth, Jay declined. He spent the remainder of his long life devoted to the Episcopalian church and the anti-slavery cause. 

Further reading: Walter Stahr, John Jay: Founding Father (2005); Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Janet Wedge et al. eds. 2005).