Whigs during the Revolutionary War

Jay’s elite family also influenced his choice of a profession. After graduating from King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1764, Jay settled
immediately upon the elite profession of law. He next managed to find a rare apprenticeship at a time when the lawyers in the province were trying, with
considerable success, to restrict the numbers of entrants into the legal field to protect the livelihoods of those already admitted to the bar. In 1764, Jay
became a law clerk in the office of Benjamin Kissam, a prominent Tory. As a clerk, Jay mastered the techniques of draftsmanship, pleading, and legal
research. After completing four years of this apprenticeship, he was admitted to the New York bar in 1768.

A lawyer and Anglophile from New York, John Jay became a reluctant but staunch supporter of the Revolutionary cause, an accomplished foreign
diplomat, and the first chief justice of the United States (1789 1795). (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania)

Jay enjoyed a successful law practice, earning about 1,000 pounds annually in the years before the Revolution. He attempted, without success, to obtain
a position as a jurist in 1772 and 1774. Being on the bench would have provided Jay with increased social and professional status. It would also have
meant that he would not have had to work so hard to obtain business, thereby enabling him to spend more time with his wife and family. On April 28,
1774, Jay married Sarah Van Brugh Livingston, a member of another powerful Dutch clan and the daughter of a future governor of New Jersey. The
couple, who were known to be very devoted to each other, had seven children.

Jay retired from the active practice of law in 1774. Along with a desire to spend more time at home, he probably found his energies consumed by political
demands. In 1774, he was elected to the Committee of Correspondence in New York City. He served as a delegate to both the First Continental
Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775.

Jay drafted the Second Continental Congress’s Address to the People of Great Britain, justifying the actions of the American Revolutionaries. In the
address, he denounced Parliament for claiming the right to tax the colonists without their consent and proclaimed that Americans would never consent to
be hewers of wood or drawers of water. 

Described by his contemporaries as being scrupulously honest in fiscal matters, Jay was a stickler for law and order. He feared that independence from
Great Britain would be followed by mob rule, and he certainly did not lead the push for revolution. After opposing the Declaration of Independence,
however, he chose to support the patriot cause.

His willingness to compromise with enemies made Jay one of the most influential Founding Fathers, and he became president of the Continental
Congress in 1778. He joined with Benjamin Franklin in negotiating the peace treaty with Great Britain and later coauthored the Federalist Papers with
Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. In 1789, Jay became the first chief justice of the Supreme Court.

He may be best known for the unpopular 1794 Jay’s Treaty, which failed to guarantee America’s rights as a neutral on the high seas (protecting American
ships from warring British and French fleets), although it did ensure continued peace with Britain. As governor of New York from 1795 to 1801, Jay was
noteworthy for abolishing slavery in the state.

Upon his wife’s death in 1801, Jay retired from politics. He returned to his home in Bedford, New York. There, he pursued various intellectual, as well as
agricultural, interests, and became president of the American Bible Society. He died at his home on May 17, 1829.
Caryn E. Neumann
See also: Continental Congress, First; Continental Congress, Second; Politics and Government (Chronology); Politics and
Government (Essay); Revolutionary War.
Johnson, Herbert A. John Jay: Colonial Lawyer. New York: Garland Publishing, 1989.
Smith, Donald L. John Jay; Founder of a State and Nation. New York: Teachers College Press, 1968.
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