John Jay was the son of Mary Van Cortlandt and Peter Jay, a rich merchant of French Huguenot descent. Jay graduated from King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1764 and was admitted to the bar in 1768. In 1774 he married Sarah Livingston, the daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, and a cousin of Jay’s law partner, Robert R. Livingston.
In 1773 Jay was a member of the mixed commission to establish the boundary between New York and New Jersey. Between 1775 and 1777, he was successively on New York’s Committee of Correspondence, in the first two Continental Congresses, and in the New York legislature. After helping to frame New York’s constitution, Jay was chief justice of the state supreme court from 1777 to 1779. He resigned to return to Congress, of which he was president, 1778 to 1779. Sent as special envoy to Spain, he secured $170,000 in secret aid but no recognition of independence.
As joint Treaty Commissioner with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in Paris, 1782 to 1783, he participated in the negotiation of the peace preliminaries between the United States and Great Britain. His insistence that Britain expressly recognize the commissioners as agents of the Republic of the United Stated delayed negotiation and may have barred cession of Canada to the new republic. Charges of being anti-Catholic were leveled against Jay in this matter, which he fought all his life. He joined Adams in urging Franklin to ignore the French in concluding these preliminaries, although this flouted their congressional instructions. After the general peace of 1783 Jay declined offers to become minister to Great Britain or France, but under the Articles of Confederation he was drafted by Congress as Secretary of...
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