The First Chief Justice of the United States

The First Chief Justice of the United States – By Daniel Sheridan (Twitter: @DanielWSheridan) 

#OnThisDay, December 12, 1745, John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, is born.

John Jay was born in New York City, the son of a prosperous merchant. He studied law at King’s College and worked in that field until the Revolution diverted his attention. Here is a short resume of his accomplishments. 

Jay took part in the first and second Continental Congress 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. He was a leader in his home state to ratify the Constitution, writing two of the 85 Federalist Papers supporting its ratification. George Washington appointed Jay as the United States Supreme Court’s first Chief Justice 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 for the rest of his political career. 

After he retired 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.”

John Jay, addressing the American Bible Society, said,

“The Bible will…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.

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