John Jay was born on December 12, 1745, to a wealthy family of merchants in New York City. John attended King’s College (now Columbia University) and began practicing law in 1768. John’s political career soon began, and he was appointed secretary of New York’s committee of correspondence. In 1774, he was elected as a New York delegate to the first Continental Congress. Although he initially sought a compromise with Parliament concerning the tax issues, he became a tireless supporter of the Patriot cause after repeated attempts at compromise proved unsuccessful.
During the Revolution, John became an indispensable figure in New York politics. Not only did he serve in the New York Provincial Congress and draft the first New York state constitution, but he also served as the first chief justice of the New York Supreme Court. He also argued furiously for the abolishment of slavery. Then, in 1778, John was chosen as the president of the First Continental Congress. Although he held that position for less than a year, he soon became an important diplomat and peace commissioner.
From 1784–1789, John served as America’s first secretary of foreign affairs (a position that would soon be renamed secretary of state). During his tenure, John hoped to convince strong European nations to recognize the new American nation, pay off America’s war debt, quell colonial boundary conflicts, find new economic and trade partners, and establish a powerful shipping economy. John, however, soon realized that the accomplishment of his goals was impossible under the new nation’s weak Constitution—the Articles of Confederation. John, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, argued for the creation of a new government and constitution, which was first drafted in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. Together, the trio penned the Federalist Papers, a landmark document that described the benefits of a powerful, centralized, but balanced three-tiered form of government. Ultimately, the Federalist Papers succeeded in convincing the former colonies to ratify the Constitution. Delaware became America’s first state after ratifying the Constitution in December of 1787. Rhode Island became the last of the colonies to ratify in 1790. The colonies were now states.
In 1789, George Washington nominated John Jay as America’s first chief justice. As chief justice, John was instrumental in defining the position and championing the United States Constitution as the supreme law of the new nation. In 1794, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton formulated the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. The Jay Treaty prevented ongoing hostilities with the British, settled territorial boundary, and established the two nations as trade partners. The signing of the Jay Treaty not only prevented another war with Great Britain, but also established relatively peaceful relations between the two countries for a period of about a decade.
While John was in England, he was elected governor of New York, a post he held until 1800. In 1802, John retired to work on his farm in Westchester County, New York. He died in 1829.