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John Jay: Founding Father Paperback – May 17, 2006
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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 Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Stahr cover Jay’s entire life unlike the other biographers. Jay graduated from King’s College (later called Columbia University) and then read law with a prominent New York lawyer. Like John Marshall John Jay joined a debating club and was active in debate. As an attorney Jay was active in negating disputes about boarder lines between the colonies. This helped to become an excellent negotiator. Jay married Sarah Van Brugh Livingston (1756 1802) in 1774. Sarah was a well educated woman for her day and was fluent in English and French. Unlike women of her day Sarah chose to travel to Spain and France with Jay when he was appointed the peace commissioner (The U.S. was not recognized as a country in those days so he could not be called an Ambassador). Crossing the Atlantic was dangerous in those days. Sarah gave birth to three children during their years aboard in Spain and France. Sarah was more political astute than her husband, he often sought her advise on politics. As the wife of the Nations Chief diplomat she put on elegant dinners for government and foreign dignitaries. When the first lady of New York she drew upon her European experience along with her instinctive charm, she quickly came to be regarded as New York’s most glamorous hostess. John and Sarah wrote long letters to each other. He often discussed government matters with her and sought her advice much as John and Abigail Adams. When he was gone on business, she managed the family domestic affairs, overseeing the purchase and sale of land, stock and directing the improvements at their property in Bedford New York. She also kept informed about the political scene in New York.
Jay drafted the New York constitution and was Chief Justice of New York Supreme Court. Unlike many of the founding fathers Jay was a religious man. Jay neglected the job of Chief Justice because of his work in negotiating a peace settlement with Britain. His rigid and formal nature was palatable to the English more than was Adams and Franklin. Dr. Stahr argues that it was Jay’s Treaty that paved the way for future relations with the British. Jay vision of America was with a robust and powerful central authority was in line with Washington, Madison and Marshall but opposed by Jefferson. Jay envisioned a larger America and wasted no effort in taking the Mississippi away from Spain, France and England. Jay was an advocate of the rule of law and property rights. When Jay was chief Justice there were only a few cases toward the end of his term, therefore he set up of guidelines for operating the court. There were only five justices in those day and they had to ride circuit as a judge. These cases may be appealed to the Supreme Court and Jay thought this was not appropriate they had to set in judgment of themselves. Jay attempted unsuccessfully to have other judges appointed as circuit judges.
The author obviously cares about his subject matter and writes in a passionate and meaningful way. Stahr is an excellent writer and writes in an easy and accessible manner. The writing and research are excellent. I now not only have a feeling for who jay was as a person but also what his place in history is.
Walter B. Stahr is an international attorney also interested in the American Revolution. He graduated from Stanford, Harvard and the Kennedy School of Public Policy. I had read his biography of William Henry Seward published in 2012 which I thoroughly enjoyed. I understand he is currently working on a biography of Edwin McMasters Stanton. I have been so impressed with his writing and research ability I will have to read his next book. Now whenever I get to the east coast I would like to visit the John Jay Homestead in Bedford Hills, New York. I read this as an e-book on my Kindle app for my iPad.