Study Guide

John Jay in The Federalist Papers 10 and 51

By James Madison

John Jay

Pulling up the rear of the Federalist Paper trio is John Jay…the greatest Founding Father you've probably never heard of.

It doesn't help that he has a kinda forgettable name.

John Jay was born in the middle of New York, New York to a merchant father and a mother who was the daughter of a twice-mayor of New York. He got his education, same as Hamilton, at King's College, from which he would enter the Continental Congress on behalf of New York.

He urged for the colonies' reconciliation with England…until he saw that they weren't going to budge on any of the colonies' grievances and gave up that lost cause. Jay was an even-handed savant of international relations, and knew that if the United States was going to survive long-term it needed to build relationships with other nations.

He spent the Revolutionary War as the fledgling United States' not-quite-Minister to Spain, because Spain didn't acknowledge the US as a nation until later on in 1783. However, he did manage to coax Spain to slip some funds under the table towards the American Revolution. That being done, he helped negotiate the super-important Treaty of Paris, where Great Britain acknowledged the United States' independence.

Having done his foreign policy jet-setting, he settled back in the freshly won United States to pursue a peace-time political career. He served as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs starting in 1784 until the position turned into the Secretary of State, and he held that instead until 1790. His goal in foreign policy was to make friends—European friends, wealthy, established European friends who could keep the United States afloat financially and help keep the borders stable.

In the middle of his Secretary of State stint, he joined Hamilton and Madison to write Federalist Papers in defense of the new Federal Government, which he was a huge supporter of.

Unlike his fellows he wasn't a representative at the Constitutional Convention, and also unlike his fellows he wrote less than ten essays—only able to get through five before falling ill—calling in sick works for getting out of Federalist paper writing, it seems. His five papers focused on foreign affairs, which he was fortunately a pro at.

You know what they say: when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

After the Constitution was ratified, George Washington offered him a longer tenure as the Secretary of State, which Jay actually declined. Washington's counter-offer was offering him the position as the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, which Jay accepted.

In 1795 he became the governor of New York State, where he became a tireless advocate for the abolition of slavery—finally passing a law to gradually abolish slavery in the state. By the time of his death in 1829, slavery had been ended in New York—probably a better legacy to leave then a couple of newspaper articles.

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