From Publishers Weekly
The greatest founders--such as Washington and Jefferson--have kept even the greatest of the second tier of the nation's founding generation in the shadows. But now John Jay (1745-1829), arguably the most important of this second group, has found an admiring, skilled student in Stahr, an international lawyer in Washington. D.C. Since the last biography of Jay appeared 60 years ago, a mountain of new knowledge about the early nation has piled up, and Stahr uses it all with confidence and critical detachment. Jay had a remarkable career. He was president of the Continental Congress, secretary of foreign affairs, a negotiator of the treaty that won the United States its independence in 1783, one of three authors of The Federalist Papers
, first chief justice of the Supreme Court and governor of his native New York. Very few men exceeded Jay in importance and influence. Yet he presents a problem for any biographer: he was a conservative man of unfailingly sober disposition who left his mark more in significant deeds than in memorable words and commanding decisions. Stahr, however, captures both his subject's seriousness and his thoughtful, affectionate side as son, husband, father and friend. In humanizing Jay, Stahr makes him an appealing figure accessible to a large readership and places Jay once again in the company of America's greatest statesmen, where he unquestionably belongs. B&w illus. (Mar.)
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John Jay's writings lacked Jefferson's passionate eloquence in defense of liberty; his demeanor did not radiate the gravitas of Washington; he apparently did not share Madison's zest for and grasp of political theory. Yet, as this well-done biography illustrates, Jay was a vital figure in the founding of our republic, and he deserves an ample share of credit for the nurturing of our nation in its infancy. Stahr, an international lawyer, has written a fast-paced narrative account of Jay's life that stresses his deep religious connections, strength of moral character, and dedication to duty. By nature, Jay was conservative, and he was a reluctant revolutionary with the usual Federalist fears about unrestrained democracy. As an attorney and as first chief justice of the Supreme Court, he understood implicitly the need for the rule of law to prevail over the tendency to seek salvation from "great" men. He was a gifted diplomat whose negotiations in Europe helped our vulnerable nation to avoid conflicts with European powers, and he was an effective governor of New York. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved