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an address to the people of the state of New York, in favor of the adoption of the constitution, and when the legislature called a convention to decide the question, Mr. Jay was elected one of the delegates from the city. The convention consisted of fifty-seven members, forty-six of whom were understood at the time to be antifederalists ; nevertheless, the constitution was adopted; but only by a majority of three votes.
Mr. Jay received the very gratifying testimony of the respect and confidence of President Washington, who, on the organization of the departments, requested him to select any office he might prefer. He did so, and was accordingly appointed the first chief justice of the United States.
In April, 1794, he was appointed envoy extraordinary to Great Britain, to negotiate a treaty for the regulation of commerce, and a settlement of the disputes between the two countries, in relation to the infractions of the treaty of peace. On the 19th of November following, he concluded and signed with Lord Grenville a treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, between his Britannic majesty and the United States. This treaty gave great offence to France, and produced a fearful excitement in the United States. Forty years have since passed away, and at no subsequent period has the stability of the government been placed in more imminent peril. The judgment of Washington, however, approved the treaty, and his firmness carried the country through the crisis, but the minister who negotiated the treaty was assailed and denounced by a numerous and powerful antagonist party. For this Mr. Jay was prepared, as his letters written at that time declare. “I carried with me to Europe,"> said he to Edmund Randolph, “and I brought back from thence a fixed opinion, that no treaty whatever with Great Britain would escape a partial, but violent opposition. I did clearly discern that any such treaty would be used as a pretext for attacks on the government, and for attempts to diminish the confidence which the great body of the people reposed in it.” In another letter, addressed to General Henry Lee, after expressing a sentiment similar to the above, he said, “ apprised of what had happened in Greece and other countries, I was warned by the experience of ages not to calculate on the constancy of any popular tide, whether favorable or adverse, which erroneous or transitory impressions might occasion. The treaty is as it is, and the time will certainly come, when it will universally receive exactly that degree of commendation or censure which, to candid and enlightened minds, it shall appear to deserve."
Mr. Jay arrived at New York, in May, 1795, and found that he had been elected governor of the state. He felt bound by the circumstances under which he had been elected, to accept the honor conferred, and accordingly resigned the office of chief justice. He held the station of governor until 1801, when, having declined to be considered again a candidate, he withdrew from public life to the peaceful shades of his paternal estate at Bedford.
President Adams attempted to retain his services for the public, by nominating him to the senate for his former seat on the bench of the supreme court, but he had deliberately made up his mind to retire, and declined the honor, on the ground “that his duty did not require him to accept it.” The public services of Mr. Jay fill a broad space in the history of his country, but the value of them has been variously estimated amidst the zealous strife of contending political parties, and it is perhaps even yet too soon to attempt an adjustment of the balance. We shall therefore be content to leave it to the calm judgment of our readers.
That Mr. Jay, at the age of fifty-six, should have abandoned all participation in public affairs, excited some surprise at the time; but a view of his private character and motives affords a sufficient explanation.
Through all his life, he was influenced mainly by a sense of duty. At no period the creature of impulse, whatever he undertook to do, was the result of cool, dispassionate conviction, so that whatever was the labor or the difficulty of the performance, he pressed forward regardless of the consequences. So long as he believed it to be his duty to serve the public, he remained at his post, and having
borne the heat and burden of the day," until he saw the institutions of his country, which he had assisted to rear, effective and prosperous, he naturally turned towards a station and mode of life that from early youth had been his desire. Firm in his political principles, and decidedly attached to one of the great parties of his day, he was yet tolerant of the opinions of others; he never deserted his friends, nor sought to purchase an opponent; he never asked a vote nor an office, nor did he ever remove an officer for his political views. Being therefore neither factious, ambitious, nor anxious for distinction, he was willing, when he saw the administration of the government passing out of the hands of his political friends, to give a fair trial to their successors.
In 1802, he had the misfortune to lose his excellent and beloved
wife, which left a breach in the family circle at Bedford, that was long and painfully felt.
Mr. Jay's life exhibited a beautiful illustration of the power of religion. It was never laid aside for convenience, nor brought forward on special occasions for effect, but it was a pervading influence equally acknowledged and obeyed from day to day, in public and in private. In the very storm and tempest of political passion—and there is none more reckless —his private character was always respected by his antagonists. By his friends he was venerated. In his retirement, he devoted much of his time to study and reflection; and while he was prudent, economical and diligent in the improvement of his estate, he lived in constant preparation for “another and a better world."
He was a plain republican in his manners; warm and enduring in his friendships, and liberal in his benevolence. He was a member of most of the great religious associations of his time, and succeeded Elias Boudinot, as president of the American Bible Society.
For several years before his death, Mr. Jay's health had gradually declined. In 1827, he was dangerously ill, so that his recovery was not expected. When apprised of his danger by his son, he received the information without any apparent emotion, but in the course of the day he conversed with cheerfulness and animation.
On being urged to tell his children on what his hopes were founded, and whence he drew his consolation, he replied, "they have THE BOOK.” From this attack, however, he recovered, but continued feeble and gradually declining until the 14th of May, 1829, when he was suddenly seized with palsy, which almost deprived him of the power of speech, though his mind remained perfect to the last.
He departed on the 17th of the same month, in the eighty-fourth year of his age.
The public acts of Mr. Jay form an important part of our early national history. A memoir of his life by his son, William Jay, with selections from his correspondence and miscellaneous papers, has recently been published in two octavo volumes, which we hope will find a place in the library of every American, who designs to set before his children a bright example of public and private virtue.
“ It would be difficult,” says a late writer, " to point out a character in modern times more nearly allied to the Aristides drawn by Plutarch, than that of John Jay. Justice, stern and inflexible, holds the first place in his exalted mind." Yet Plutarch admits, “that although in all his own private concerns, and in those of his fellowcitizens, Aristides was inflexibly just, in affairs of state he did many things, according to the exigency of the case, to serve his country, which seemed often to have need of the assistance of injustice.” In this respect the resemblance fails between the ancient and the modern, John Jay never departed from the strictest rule of right; and the patriot and the Christian may equally point to him with admiration and applause.