Sunday, September 4, 2011

John Jay (1745 - 1829)

John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. President George Washington appointed Jay to the Supreme Court.

He was born in New York and studied law at King’s College which is known today as Columbia University. His paternal ancestry was not English; his French Huguenot ancestry set him apart from the other American patriots. The historical experience of his family as Huguenots was pivotal in his passionate defense and commitment to religious freedom in America. John Jay would recount to his children the stories of his lineage of ancestors and recorded their history.  

As a leading revolutionary patriot he was among the illustrious men whom we address as the Founding Fathers. John Jay was a member of both, the First and Second Continental Congresses and served as President of the Continental Congress. John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton were the authors of the Federalist Papers, an influential set of documents written to persuade citizens to ratify the United States Constitution. Jay served as minister to Spain during the American Revolution. He served as secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation from 1784 until the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789.

In 1777, John Jay helped compose the Constitution of New York and in 1795, Jay resigned from the position of chief justice to become the governor of New York. He held the position of Governor of New York from 1795 to 1801.

John Jay, John Adams, and Ben Franklin negotiated the peace treaty with England that ended the American Revolution. He authored the Jay Treaty in 1794 which prevented the United States from getting entangled in the war between France and England.

In succeeding years, John Jay became the President of the American Bible Society. He was deeply concerned over the matter of slavery and frequently corresponded with William Wilberforce, the leader of the abolition movement in British Empire. He met with Wilberforce in 1795 while negotiating a treaty with the United States and Great Britain. The papers of John Jay were assembled by his son, William Jay.

“But to return. – I have been informed that our family is of Poictou, in France, and that the branch of it to which we belong removed from thence to Rochelle. Of our ancestors anterior to Pierre Jay, who left France on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, I know nothing that is certain. Pierre Jay was an active and opulent merchant, extensively and profitably engaged in commerce. He married Judith, a daughter of Monsieur Francois, a merchant in Rochelle. One of her sisters married Monsieur Mouchard, whose son was a director of the French East India Company. Pierre Jay had three sons and one daughter. The sons were Francis, whowas the eldest; Augustus, who was born 23rd March, 1665; and Isaac. The daughter’s name was Frances. Mr. Jay seemed to have been solicitous to have one of his sons educated in England. He first sent his eldest son, but unfortunately died on the passage. Notwithstanding this distressing event, he immediately sent over his son Augustus, who was then only twelve years old. In the year 1683, Mr. Jay recalled Augustus, and sent him to Africa, but to what part or for what purpose is unknown."
"The troubles and violences which preceded the revocation of the Edict of Nantes are related in five quarto volumes, entitled ‘Historie de L’Edict de Nantes,’ which you will find among my books. As those detestable proceedings are amply detailed in that history, I decline taking particular notice of them here. To me it appears extraordinary, that such proceedings did not sooner lead the more discreet and considerate Protestant to foresee the necessity they would be under of leaving the kingdom, and the prudence of making timely provision for their retreat. Such, however, is human nature. We all know with absolute certainty that we are to pass from this to another world, and yet how few of us prepare for our removal!"
"Pursuant to an order passed on January 1685, the Protestant church at Rochelle was demolished. The ensuing summer a number of troops were marched into the city, and quartered on the Protestant inhabitants, and these troops were soon followed by four companies of dragoons. The attempts made to convert or intimidate Mr. Jay proving fruitless, some of these dragoons were sent to his house to live and act at their discretion. I have not understood that they offered any personal insults to Mr. Jay or his family, but in other respects they behaved as it was intended they should. Such a situation was intolerable, and Mr. Jay lost no time in removing his family from it. He found means to withdraw them, together with some articles of value, secretly from the house, and succeeding in putting them on board a vessel which he had engaged for the purpose. They fortunately set sail without being discovered, and were safely landed at Plymouth, in England. He thought it advisable to remain behind, doubtless with the design to save what he could from the wrecks of his fortune…”
"As soon as Mr. Jay’s departure was known, his estate in France was seized; and no part of it afterward came to the use of either himself or his children."
"Having escaped from the fury of persecution to a friendly country, nothing remained to excite his anxiety but the fate of his son Augustus, whom he had sent to Africa, and who would probably arrive without having been apprized of the troubles and flight of his family. This accordingly happened. On his arrival at Rochelle, he found himself in a situation not easy to be described. The persecution was proceeding with increasing severity, and every circumstance and prudential consideration pressed him to decide without delay on the measures proper for him to take and pursue. He determined to remain true to his religion, and to meet the risks and dangers to which it exposed him. The kindness of his friends facilitated every necessary arrangement for his departure from the country, and in a very short time he embarked in a vessel bound to Charleston, in South Carolina. Thus by Divine Providence every member of the family was rescued from the rage and reach of persecution, and enabled to preserve a portion of property more than adequate to their actual necessities.”
"From what had been said, you will observe with pleasure and with gratitude how kindly and how amply Providence was pleased to provide for the welfare of our ancestor Augustus. Nor was his case a solitary or singular instance. The beneficent care of Heaven appears to have been evidently and remarkably extended to all those persecuted exiles. Strange as it may seem, I never heard of one of them who asked or received alms; nor have I any reason to suspect, much less to believe, that any of them came to this country in a destitute condition. The number of refugees who settled here was considerable. They did not disperse or settle in different parts of the country, but formed three societies or congregations; one in the city of New York, another at the Paltz, and the third at a town which they purchased and called New-Rochelle [Westchester County, New York]. At New-Rochelle they built two churches, and lived in great tranquility; none of them became rich, but they all lived comfortably.”

On October 12, 1816 John Jay cautioned:

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

As President of the American Bible Society, on May 13, 1824, John Jay gave this address:

“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 who 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.”

He forthrightly declared:

“In forming and settling my belief relative to the doctrines of Christianity, I adopted no articles from creeds but such only as, on careful examination, I found to be confirmed by the Bible…At a party in Paris, once, the question fell on religious matters. In the course of it, one of them asked me if I believed in Christ? I answered that I did, and that I thanked God that I did.”

In 1826, the corporation of the City of New York invited John Jay to celebrate with them the fiftieth anniversary of the United States of America. He replied to their invitation:

“Earnest hope that the peace, happiness, and prosperity enjoyed by our beloved country may induce those who direct her national counsels to recommend a general and public return of praise to Him from whose goodness these blessings descend.”

John Jay’s Last Will and Testament declares:

“Unto Him who is the author and giver of all good, I render sincere and humble thanks for His merciful and unmerited blessings, and especially for our redemption and salvation by his beloved Son.”

On May 17, 1829, John Jay’s son, Judge William Jay recorded his final words addressed to his children as he approached death after a lifetime of service to his country.

“They have the Book.”

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