John Jay papers
Language of Materials
John Jay took on many important roles during the United States' early years, including statesman, foreign diplomat, Chief Justice, and governor of New York. This collection contains materials from his time in those positions as well as materials from his family which pre-date the American Revolution.
John Jay Chronology
There are a variety of reasons why John Jay is a historical figure of note. He was a Founding Father, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a politician, and a diplomat, to name only a few. Jay was born on December 12, 1745 in New York City to Peter Jay and his wife, Mary Van Cortlandt. Jay was the sixth out of seven surviving children. Of those seven children, two were left blind by smallpox.
Jay was educated at Kings College (later renamed Columbia University) in 1760. Upon his graduation in 1764 he became a law clerk and was admitted to the bar in 1768. During this period, Jay served on the New York-New Jersey Border Commission. After his admission to the bar, Jay joined with Robert R. Livingston Jr. to form a law firm. He later went on to his own practice in 1771.
In 1774 Jay married New Jersey governor William Livingston's daughter Sarah. That same year Jay also got involved with politics in New York that would eventually escalate into the American Revolution. As far as the Revolution went, Jay began as a moderate. He was involved in New York's Committee of 50 and the Continental Congress where he served as a delegate from 1774-1776. Jay was also a member of the New York Constitutional Convention and served as First Chief Justice of New York in 1777. In 1778 he was a delegate and later elected to President of the Continental Congress. Jay's diplomacy went international when he was appointed Minster to Spain in 1779, Minister to treat the peace with Great Britain in 1782, and then Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1784.
In 1787 and 1788, Jay's attention returned to domestic matters. Joining in with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Jay contributed to what became known as the Federalist Papers. Jay authored essays two, three, four, five, and sixty-four. (He suffered from an illness that limited his involvement after the fifth essay.) This collection of essays was meant to persuade the newly minted Americans to accepted the Constitution, which would replace the Article of Confederation, which were the first governing document for the United States. Jay was quite influential in getting New York to ratify the Constitution.
Jay's role changed again in 1798 when President George Washington appointed him as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the country. At the time, there was nothing to stop the Chief Justice from actively participating in the country's politics. Proving this, Jay ran for governor of New York in 1792, only to lose to George Clinton. In 1794, Jay was appointed an envoy to Britain to negotiate issues, such as border disputes, that caused continuing tension between the two countries. Among the terms of the treaty, the British would leave their forts on the United States' western border, and the United States granted Most Favored Nation trading status to the British. However, there were issues that were left unaddressed, such as impressment, which upset the American public. Although public was not in favor of Jay's Treaty, the Senate ultimately ratified it.
Upon Jay's return to the United States in 1795, he discovered that he had been elected governor of New York. After resigning as Chief Justice, Jay served two terms as governor of New York, and addressed issues such as fortifying the cities against possible attack and Indian relations. Jay retired in 1801. President Thomas Jefferson attempted to get Jay to return to the Supreme Court bench, but Jay refused.
Once out of politics, Jay continued to pursue some of his other interests. One of which was his religion. Jay was a practicing Anglican and served as warden of Trinity Church in New York. He became president of the American Bible Society. Another interest was the anti-slavery movement, which seems contradictory since Jay owned slaves. Jay's interest in abolishing slavery dated back to legislation he presented in New York in 1777 to free all slaves in New York. In 1785 he founded the New-York Manumission Society. In 1799 Jay helped pass a bill entitled "An Act for the Gradual Prohibition of Slavery" which led to the eventual emancipation of all slaves in New York.
John Jay died on May 17, 1829.
The John Jay Papers were arranged at some point by an unknown individual and preserved on microfilm. This finding aid attempts to work with the pre-set arrangement. The series should be taken broadly. Each series has its own scope and content note which describes the series and notable items within the series that may not be readily apparent by the series' title.
- Series I: Revolutionary War Era History and Correspondence
- Series II: Negotiations with Britian
- Series III: Governing New York
- Series IV: Documents Concerning Law and Government
- Series V: Documents Concerning Scholastic, Professional, Religious, and Community Organizations
- Series VI: Law Papers
- Series VII: New York-New Jersey Boundary Dispute
- Series VIII: Assorted Correspondence, Documents, and Notes
Scope and Content
The John Jay Papers cover a significant period of American History, from 1664-1820. The bulk of the papers are from Jay and his work as a statesman, foreign diplomat, and two-term governor of New York. There are a variety of materials from Jay including correspondence, dispatches, official documents, legal papers, and notes. Some of these materials are from significant projects or moments—the New York - New Jersey Line War, Jay's Treaty, Spanish and French negotiations, and Federalist #64. The earlier material which pre-dates the American Revolution as well as Jay's birth seems to be from his relatives, both the Jay and Van Cortlandt families.
At some point, this collection was arranged and put on microfilm. Because of this, the arrangement was set prior to the creation of this finding aid. The series should be interpreted broadly as a means of encompassing as much as possible. There are descriptions of each series to highlight what may not be apparent from series and folder titles.
It should be noted that there are materials within this collection that, for whatever reason, are not on microfilm. Any material in the collection that does not appear on the microfilm can be easily identified because it does not have a reel number listed after the folder title.
All material that is on microfilm must be viewed in that format. For the materials that do appear on the microfilm, the reel number is included as well as the ordered number the original processer gave the information after the folder title. When consulting the microfilm, please be aware that on Reel 1, #3 there is no "S," and on Reel 3 there is no #9 or #13.
Open to qualified researchers.
All material that is on microfilm must be viewed in that format.
Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote to: Manuscript Curator, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Preferred Citation Note
This collection should be cited as the John Jay Papers, MS 330, The New-York Historical Society.
The John Jay Papers are availabe on microfilm for researchers at the New-York Historical Society. Whatever material that is on microfilm must be viewed in that format.
Columbia University provides a digitized version of many of John Jay's papers at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/digital/jay/. The John Jay Papers is an image database and indexing tool comprised of thousands of pages scanned from photocopies of original documents gathered by the John Jay publication project staff during the 1960s and 1970s. The database is fully searchable and includes more than 750 documents from the New-York Historical Society's manuscript collections related to John Jay.