Jay, John

Jay, John

biographical name

(born Dec. 12, 1745, New York, N.Y.—died May 17, 1829, New Bedford, N.Y., U.S.) U.S. jurist, first chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He practiced law in New York City. Though he initially deplored the growing conflict between Britain and the colonies, he became a staunch supporter of independence once the revolution was launched. He helped assure the approval of the Declaration of Independence (1776) in New York, where he was a member of the provincial Congress. The following year he helped draft New York's first constitution and was elected the state's first chief justice, and in 1778 he was chosen president of the Continental Congress. In 1782 he joined Benjamin Franklin in Paris to negotiate terms of peace with Britain. On his return from abroad, Jay found that Congress had elected him secretary for foreign affairs (1784–90). Convinced of the need for a stronger centralized government, he urged ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Under the pseudonym Publius, he wrote five of the essays that later became known as the Federalist papers (the others were written by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton); published in New York newspapers in 1787–88, the essays were a masterly defense of the Constitution and republican government. As the first chief justice of the Supreme Court (1789–95), he set legal precedent by affirming the subordination of the states to the federal government. In 1794 he was sent to Britain to negotiate a treaty dealing with numerous commercial disputes. The Jay Treaty helped avert war, but critics contended that it was too favourable to Britain. Jay resigned from the court and was elected governor of New York (1795–1801).

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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