John Jay (December 12, 1745 – May 17, 1827) was an American politician, diplomat, and judge. He was the Secretary of State and the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was also governor of New York State.
Youth and study
Jay was born into a wealthy merchant family in New York. His ancestors were descended from French Huguenots. He attended King's College, the forerunner of Columbia University. After completing his studies in 1764, he became a clerk. In 1768 he received his license to become a lawyer and then worked in the office of Robert Livingston. In 1771 he started his own law firm.
American independence movement involvement and start of political career
At the same time, he became active as secretary to the New York Committee of Correspondence. This was a shadow government set up by American patriots to counterbalance the British. America was a colony of Great Britain at the time. Jay counted himself in the Conservative faction. He mainly stood up for the protection of property rights. They disagreed with the UK tax measure and saw it as a violation of US rights. In 1774, he was a member of the New York State delegation attending the First Continental Congress. There Jay was still on the side of those seeking reconciliation with the British Parliament. However, several actions, such as the burning of the city of Norfolk, Virginia, in January 1776, drove Jay to the camp of independence advocates, and once independence was declared, he committed himself to it.
Jay was elected to the New York State Provincial Congress and drafted that state's constitution in 1777. In 1778, he was offered to become president of the Continental Congress, the predecessor of the United States Congress. He accepted and served in this position for more than nine months.
In September 1779, Jay resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to Spain. He campaigned for financial aid, trade treaties and the recognition of American independence by Spain. The Spanish royal court refused to recognize the United States until 1783, fearing that the spark of independence would spread to its own colonies. Jay did manage to secure a loan of $170,000. He left Spain again in May 1782.
The American diplomat traveled on to Paris, where negotiations were underway to end the American Revolutionary War. Benjamin Franklin was the most experienced diplomat in charge of the US delegation and Jay wanted to learn from him. In the fall of 1782, an agreement was reached with the British recognizing independence from the United States.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
After returning to America in 1784, Jay became the second secretary of state. As a minister, he pursued strong ties with foreign European powers, and he wanted to build a strong US currency, with the help of loans from foreign banks. At the same time, the great war debt of the United States had to be paid off as quickly as possible. Another responsibility was to defend the borders against Spain, France, England and Indians. A merchant fleet also had to be built and American skippers had to be protected against pirates.
Jay believed that all of this was only possible with a strong, central government. In it, he stood side by side with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. He himself believed that the federal government was given too little powers in the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor of the American Constitution. For example, the federal government would have the power to start a war, but not the