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Mr. Jay's ancestors were, origi. nally, from France. His grandfather, Augustus Jay, was the third son of Pierre Jay, an opulent mer. chant of Rochelle. Pierre was a Huguenot, who, on the revocation of the edict of Nantz, fled to Eng. land. Augustus Jay was educated in England, and was absent on a voyage when his famity were driven from France. Upon his return, he joined his father in England. Many of the French emigrants were, at this time, emigrating to South Ca. rolina; and Augustus embarked for that part of the American conti. nent; but, disliking the climate of Carolina, he removed to New. York. In this province, he, for a while, established himself in business, at Esopus, on the Hudson. He afterwards removed to the city of New-York, where, in 1697, he married Anne Maria, daughter of Balthasar Bayard. He died, much respected, at the advanced age of 85, leaving three daughters, and one son, Peter, born in 1704, who in 1728, married Mary, daughter of Jacobus Van Cortlandt, of New. York. Peter, the father of John Jay, continued in New-York until about the year 1746, when he retired to his estate, at Rye. Here he remained, till the approach of the British army, at the commence. ment of the revolutionary war, forced him to remove. He died at Poughkeepsie, in the year 1782.
John Jay, the son of Peter, was born in the city of New-York, on the 12th day of December, 1745, old style. When eight years old, he was sent to a grammar school, kept by the Rev. Mr. Stoep, rector of the French Episcopal Church at New-Rochelle, where he com. menced the study of the Latin language, and remained until 1756,
when he was taken home to receive instruction from a Mr. Murray, who was employed as a private tutor in the family. In the month of August, 1760, he entered King's, (now Columbia) College, then lately founded in the city of New-York. Dr. Johnson was, at that time, president of the college. Under his supervision, and that of his successor, Dr. Cooper, he became an excellent Latin scholar, and together with the late Richard Harison, read Grotius with Porfessor Cutting. He had, from his infancy, been unable to pronounce certain letters; and acquired, besides, a habit of read. ing in a hurried and unintelligible manner. By attention and perseverance, he finally overcame these habits. After taking his bachelor's degree, May 15th, 1764, he entered the office of Benjamin Kissam, and, October 26th, 1768, was admitted to the bar.
The next year he was appointed secretary to the commissioners named by the king for settling the dispute in relation to the boundaries between the provinces of NewYork and New-Jersey.
In the year 1774, Mr. Jay married Sarah Livingston, the daughter of William Livingston, afterwards governor of New-Jersey. He had, by this time, acquired great reputation as a lawyer, and was employed in the most important causes, not only in New-York, but in the adjacent provinces of Connecticut and New-Jersey. He began, also, to be looked up to by his fellow-citizens, as one who was to direct and guide them through the contest which seemed to be approaching. The American revolution found him singularly well fitted for his country's service, by a rare union of the dignity and
gravity of manhood, with the zeal and energy of youth. After having acted a few months as a member of the general committee of safety in the city of New-York, Mr. Jay was elected, in 1774, by the citizens of N. York, Westchester, Albany, and Duchess counties, as one of their delegates, and took his seat in the first American congress. At the opening thereof, Sept. 5th, the high estimation in which he was held, even in this illustrious body, was evinced, by his being placed on a committee with Mr. Lee and Mr. Livingston, to draft an address to the people of Great Britain; and the eloquent production they reported was written by Mr. Jay himself. In the spring of 1775, he was chosen a member of the provincial convention of New. York, and by that body was chosen, the second of April, a delegate to the continental congress, which was to assemble the 10th of May, 1775. Mr. Jay hastened to take his seat in congress, and was immediately appointed chairman of a committee to prepare an address to the people of Canada. He was shortly after chosen, June 3d, with Franklin, Dickenson, Johnson and Rutledge, to draft a petition to the king. Within a fortnight after this, he was again appointed, with the same colleagues, except Dickenson, whose place was supplied by Mr. Livingston, to prepare a declaration for General Washington, upon assuming the command of the army in the name of congress. On the 12th of July, 1775, he is one of a committee to provide for the protection of the trade of the colonies, and was re-appointed, on the same committee, in the ad. journed congress, which met the ensuing September. He was also on the committee to examine the Dd
qualifications of persons applying for military commissions; and with Franklin, Jefferson, Deane, and Hooper, composed the committee to prepare the instructions for the provisional government, to whose care the public affairs were to be committed, upon the adjournment of congress. He was also, with Franklin, Harrison, Johnson, and Dickenson, on the committee of secret correspondence with the friends of the colonies in foreign countries. This important committee was appointed the 29th November, 1775, and was the origin of the future department of foreign affairs. He was on various other committees; and it may be safely asserted that, while in congress, no members, except Franklin and John Adams, were appointed to more numerous and important du. ties.
From his gifted mind proceeded many of those celebrated state papers, whose grave eloquence commanded the admiration of Europe, whilst, by the evidence which they furnished of the wisdom and talent that guided the councils of the United States, they contributed to their ultimate success, as much as the most signal triumphs of their arms.
Whilst in this congress, Mr. Jay was appointed, by the provincial convention of New-York, colonel of the second regiment of the city militia; but before he was released from the more arduous and pressing duties imposed upon him, the city itself had fallen into the hands of the enemy.
In the month of May, 1776, he was recalled from congress by the provincial convention, to aid in forming the government for the province, which, in pursuance of a recommendation of the general congress,it had determined to adopt.
To the urgent demands for Mr. high treason to oppose the AmeriJay's presence in his own province, it is owing that his name does not appear among the signers to the declaration of independence.
Immediately upon his return, he was put in requisition. On the 13th of June, he was placed on the committee to take up disaffected persons; and, on the 21st of the same month, appointed chairman of the committee of safety. The 9th of July he reported resolutions approving of the declaration of independence.
Shortly after this, New-York be. came the principal theatre of action. A numerous party of Tories existed in the state, and its central position, together with other considerations, rendered it the object of the enemy's attack.
After a disastrous defeat, Gene. ral Washington was obliged to evacuate the city, and finally to retreat to the Highlands. The lower part of the state was relinquished to the undisputed possession of the British army, whose winter quarters were extended through NewJersey to the Delaware.
The American army was obliged to seek refuge behind the Delaware, and the provincial congress of New-York retired to Pough. keepsie, protected from the enemy more by the difficulties of the Highlands, than by the American forces.
In this trying conjuncture, when the hopes of America seemed at the lowest ebb, Mr. Jay never wavered, but assumed a tone corres. ponding to the emergency. The 11th of December, 1776, he was appointed chairman of the com. mittee to detect and suppress conspiracies against the country, and proposed that it should be deemed
On the 23d of the same month, a few days before the battle of Trenton, he prepared an address from the convention to the people of the state of New-York, exhorting them to act with vigour and courage in that critical emergency. Whilst performing these duties, and amidst these distracting exigencies, he was engaged in preparing a constitution for the government of the state, and, on the 12th of March, 1777, he reported to the convention the draft of that instrument. Under this constitution, the government of the state was administered for nearly half a century, during which, the community rapidly advanced in pros.. perity and happiness. Many of its original and distinctive provisions were adopted in the constitutions of other members of the Union; and the changes which have been subsequently made in that instrument have not, in the opinion of many intelligent judges, improved the chances of the community for an able and enlightened administration of the government. Upon the organization of the state go. vernment, May 3d, 1777, Mr. Jay was appointed chief justice, which office he held until August 18th, 1779, when he resigned, finding himself unable to perform its duties, in consequence of the more imperious duties devolved upon him as president of congress.
His moral courage, and the decision and determination with which in his judicial capacity, he carried the laws into effect against the domestic enemies of the state, imparted confidence to his fellow citizens, and materially tended to
strengthen the Whigs in this divided member of the confederacy.
The 10th of November, 1778, he was again chosen a delegate to the continental congress, and took his seat on the 7th of the next month. Three days afterwards, he was chosen president of congress, on the resignation of Mr. Laurens. While in that station, he prepared, pursuant to a resolution of congress, passed September 8th, 1779, an address to their constituents, on the state of the public finances, in which he exhorted the people, in the most glowing terms, to enable congress to keep its faith, and to carry through the contest so gloriously begun.
On the 27th of the same month he was appointed minister pleni. potentiary to the court of Spain, and resigned the chair of congress, with the thanks of that body for the manner in which he had discharged the duties of his office. He left the United States in the American frigate Confederacy, accompanied by Mr. Gerard, the French minis. ter. In consequence of the loss of her bowsprit and all her masts, in a gale of wind off the banks of New. foundland, the frigate was compelled to steer for Martinique, where she arrived, in a very disabled state, on the 19th of December, 1779. The French authorities here despatched them, in the French frigate Aurora, to Spain, and they arrived at Cadiz, January 22d, 1780. Upon the invitation of the Spanish minister, who had been informed of his arrival by Mr. Carmichael, the secretary of legation, Mr. Jay was invited to Madrid, where he arrived the 4th of April, and entered upon the business intrusted to him.
The objects which congress had
in view, in this mission, were to obtain from Spain an acknowledg. ment of our independence, to form a treaty of alliance, and to procure pecuniary aid.
On the two first points, the Span. ish minister had determined, before acceding to the secret convention with France, preparatory to the war with England, against the wishes of the United States; but still with the design of ascertaining the views of the United States, in relation to their western boundary, and probably in the hope of obtaining some admissions concerning it, and even the relinquishment of territorial claims, he entered upon the negotiation, but made no proposition, nor statement of the claims of Spain, and by all the arts of diplomacy, avoided coming to any definite conclusion. Among other obstacles which he threw in the way, to the formation of a treaty, were his objections to the claims of the United States to the navi. gation of the Mississippi, from the point where it leaves the territory of the United States to the sea. Mr. Jay entertained some hopes of bringing Spain to an equitable ar. rangement on this head, but congress had, on the 15th of July, 1781, passed a resolution, permitting him to yield the navigation of this river, although with closed doors. Mr. Jay soon discovered from the conduct of Count Florida Blanca, the Spanish minister, that he was acquainted with its passage. Believing it useless, therefore, to keep back the proposition, he made the offer, but limited it to the present time, apprizing the Spanish minister, that if a treaty should not be concluded with Spain, before a general peace took place, the motives to that relinquishment would
end, and that the govrenment of the United States would not consider itself bound to make a similar proposition. Although this limitation to the offer had not been dictated by congress, its policy was so clear, that a resolution was passed Apri. 30th, 1782, approving this limitation to the proposition, and declaring that after the peace, all motive for the sacrifice would be taken away. As the influence of France was then generally supposed to be very powerful at the court of Madrid, Mr. Jay deemed it extraordinary, that the latter should refuse to acknowledge our independence, at a time when it had already been acknowledged by the French government. In the spring of 1782, Mr. Jay communicated to congress his suspicions, that the government of France had interfered to prevent the accomplishment of this part of the object of his mission. An examination into the official correspondence of the French government, has excited some doubt whether these suspicions, although natural, were well founded, and the conduct of Spain, on that point, may perhaps be accounted for, to the entire exculpation of our earliest ally. The policy of Spain, towards the New World, has always been narrow, short-sighted, and exclu. sive, and, deeming her acknow. ledgement of our independence, an object of great importance to the United States, she was willing to compel them to purchase that acknowledgement, by territorial ces. sions, or rather by relinquishing ter ritorial claims. By this course, she would gratify her absurd vanity, increase her colonial possessions, augment their security, and partly justify her departure from the ab.
stract principle of colonial dependence. The preamble of the secret convention, between France and Spain, made shortly before the declaration of war, by the latter power, sets forth that France was desirous that Spain should acknowledge the independence of this country, but that Spain, though willing that that object should be effected, and resolved to unite in the war with France, still from motives of her own, had declined making sich acknowledgment. This preamble, if sincere, would prove that the influence of France was fairly exerted with Spain, to induce her to acknowledge our independence, and that the refusal of that power, proceeded from a latent dislike to the existence of an independent power, on this side of the Atlantic. To a similar policy, may be attributed the defeat of Mr. Jay's application for pecuniary aid. At an early period of the official intercourse between Mr. Jay, and the Spanish minister, he was authorized by that minister to accept certain bills of exchange, drawn upon him by order of congress, under the pressure of necessity, and in the expectation of obtaining a subsidy or loan from Spain.
He was indeed told, that it was inconvenient to advance the money at that time, but that, before the beginning of the next year, the king would be able to advance from £25,000 to £40,000, and in the mean time, the holders of the bills should be satisfied, by the engagement of the Spanish government to pay them. Relying upon this assurance, Mr. Jay accepted such bills, drawn upon him, by order of Congress, as were presented. Before, however, all the bills authorized to be drawn on Mr.