On this day, December 12, 1745, John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is born.
One Founding Father we don’t hear much about is John Jay. Jay was born in New York City the son of a successful merchant. He studied law at King’s College and worked in that field until the Revolution diverted his attention.
Jay took part in the first and second Continental Congress’s and was the head of the committee that created the New York State Constitution. Jay was also a successful diplomat working with John Adams and Ben Franklin to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain.
John Jay was a leader in his home state in the effort to ratify the Constitution writing two of the 85 Federalist Papers in support of its ratification.
Jay was appointed the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court under the new Constitution. After his service in the Supreme Court, Jay did more diplomatic work and then returned home to New York where he served as Governor the rest of his political career. After his retirement from politics Jay was elected President of the American Bible Society.
His son, William Jay, wrote a large volume about his dad called “The Life of John Jay” which includes selected writings and letters of John Jay.
Of slavery he wrote,
“It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”
Also on slavery,
“The Holy Gospels are yet to be preached to these western regions, and we have the highest reason to believe that the Almighty will not suffer slavery and the gospel to go hand in hand. It cannot, it will not be.”
On May 13, 1824, addressing the American Bible Society, he said,
“By conveying the Bible to people thus circumstanced, we certainly do them a most interesting kindness…We thereby enable them to learn that man was originally created and placed in a state of happiness, but, becoming disobedient, was subjected to the degradation and evils which he and his posterity have since experienced…The Bible will also inform them that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer, in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; that this Redeemer has made atonement ‘for the sins of the whole world,’ and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy has opened a way for our redemption and salvation; and that these inestimable benefits are of the free gift and grace of God, not of our deserving, nor in our power to deserve.”
On May 28, 1802, John Jay wrote to his children after his wife’s death,
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?…Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed….Death is swallowed up in victory (I Corinthians 15).”
On MAY 17, 1829, John Jay, near death, responded thus when asked if he had any words for his children,
“They have the Book.”
On this day, December 12, 1745, John Jay, the first Supreme Court Chief Justice is born.