CFP: In Service to the New Nation: The Life and Legacy of John Jay

The John Jay Papers Project seeks paper proposals for a conference entitled “In Service to the New Nation: The Life and Legacy of John Jay,” to be held on September 24-25, 2020, at Columbia University. Dr. Joanne Freeman, Professor of American History at Yale University, will serve as the event’s keynote speaker. The conference coincides with a major exhibition of Jay documents and artifacts at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) and with the completion of The Selected Papers of John Jay, a documentary edition of Jay’s writings that appears as a seven-volume series published in print and digital formats. The current edition of the John Jay Papers Project commenced in the 1990s and built on the extensive collection of John Jay materials that RBML began amassing several decades earlier. The conference is sponsored by Columbia University’s Office of the Provost.

Few leaders of the new American republic were more influential than John Jay (1745-1829). A New Yorker and 1765 graduate of King’s College (now Columbia University), Jay went on to lead a life marked by a notable record of continuous service, a fact noted by Thomas Jefferson, who described Jay as “a man who has passed his life in serving the public.” Jay stood out as one of the first foreign diplomats to serve the United States, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and governor of New York, among other posts. In all of these, he displayed a steadfast devotion to carrying out principled actions on behalf of his state and nation, family, and religion.

“In Service to the New Nation” seeks to evaluate Jay’s life and legacy, as well as the current state of Jay scholarship. Given his significance as a key member of the founding generation, Jay remains a focus for those researching national and Atlantic histories of diplomacy, constitutionalism, family economies and politics, and religious and anti-slavery movements. This conference thus aims to serve as an occasion where new directions in the study of Jay can be assessed. At the same time, the connection of Jay to such broader topics as diplomatic practices and theories of foreign policy, state and national jurisprudence, and federal systems of governance has pointed the way to related but distinct areas of inquiry. The conference is particularly interested in investigating the enduring impact of Jay’s contributions and activities by exploring how they influenced later generations, including his descendants, and important institutions, including the U.S. Supreme Court, State Department, New York’s governorship, and abolitionist societies. Moreover, the conference seeks to examine the collection, organization, and presentation of John Jay’s papers and the emergence of Jay-related historical sites, monuments, and memorials in order to show how these processes and venues of public memory, commemoration, and archival formation shape current understandings of the past.

We welcome scholars from all disciplines interested in how Jay’s decades of service molded civic and political culture during his era and have implications for our own.

Topics that papers might consider include but are not limited to the following:

–New York’s Constitution of 1777 and the new nation

–The Federalist Essays and national formation

–The development of the U.S. Supreme Court and District Circuit Courts

–The New-York Manumission Society and the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1799

–Intersections of familial and state politics, social practices, and diplomacy

–Experiences of slavery in New York City and the Hudson Valley

–Indian affairs and land dispossession

–Advent of Protestant philanthropy and reform movements

–Elite families, genealogy, and the crafting of historical legacy

–Documentary editing and a sustainable public memory of the founding era

In order to be considered for the program, please send a paper proposal of 250 words and a two-page CV to The deadline for submitting proposals is December 15, 2019.

John Jay Confronts the Algerian Crisis

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome David J. Dzurec as a guest contributor to the John Jay Papers Blog. David Dzurec is Chair of the History Department at the University of Scranton. This post is adapted from his recent book Our Suffering Brethren: Foreign Captivity and Nationalism in the Early United States (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019).

Mere months after the end of the American Revolution, two American ships, the Maria and the Dauphin, carrying a total of twenty-one crewmen, fell prey to corsairs from the North African nation of Algiers. The captured Americans were carried to Algiers and sold into slavery until sufficient funds could be raised to purchase their freedom.

“Mannier Hoe de Gevange Kristen Slaven tot Algiers Verkoft Werden” (1684)

The capture of these American ships and their crews forced many citizens of the new United States to acknowledge the harsh realities of independence and the loss of the protection of the English Navy.  As a number of scholars have noted, the Algerian crisis was one of a number of foreign policy issues that raised questions about the security of the young nation.[1]

The Algerian threat laid bare the fundamental weakness of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. As Thomas Jefferson observed in the earliest days of the crisis, the United States was left with three options: payment of an annual tribute, “compelling a peace by arms,” or “abandoning the Mediterranean carriage to other nations.”[2] John Adams, argued against the idea of a military response doubting that “our States could be brought to agree in the measure” and the “we ought not fight them at all, unless we determine to fight them forever.” Without widespread support the United States was ill-prepared to engage in any such long-term conflict.[3]

By way of contrast, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson argued that the United States ought to stand firm and unlike the European powers, which paid tribute to secure safe passage in the Mediterranean, establish safe passage “by war.” Such an action, Jefferson argued “will procure us respect in Europe . . . and I think it the least expensive.”[4] Jay went further still, noting that, “the more we are treated ill abroad, the more we shall unite and consolidate at home.”[5]

Jay saw a potential upside to the crisis in Algiers.  Ultimately, Jay would incorporate aspects of this need for a stronger national government to ward off external threats in arguing in favor of the new Constitution during the ratification debates.  As Jay understood, the experience of American ill-treatment abroad had a profound effect on the American public as the young nation wrestled with the seeming existential threat of their vulnerability in the larger Atlantic world.[6]

Although the United States could afford neither war nor tribute during the Confederation Period, Jay’s observation about the power of an external threat to bring the nation together has remained true throughout the nearly two and half century history of the United States. In the near term, the need for security became “one of if not the primary reasons for constitutional reform in the 1780s.”[7] Following the ratification of the Constitution, with a new, more powerful, federal government in place, the United States was ultimately able to overcome the ‘Barbary Threat’ bringing an end to the need for either tribute or war in the Mediterranean by 1816.

[1] Robbie J. Totten, “Security, Two Diplomacies, and the Formation of the U.S. Constitution: Review, Interpretation, and New Directions for the Study of the Early American Period,” Diplomatic History, 36 (January 2012), 77-117; David Hendrickson, Peace Pact: The Lost World of the American Founding (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2003); Peter Onuf, The Origins of the Federal Republic: Jurisdictional Controversies in the United States, 1775-1787 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983); Peter Onuf and Cathy Matson, A Union of Interests: Political and Economic Thought in Revolutionary America (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990); and Peter Onuf and Nicholas Onuf, Federal Union, Modern World: The Law of Nations in an Age of Revolutions 1776-1814 (Madison, WI: Madison House, 1993).

[2] Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 10 May 1786, in Julian P. Boyd et al., ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950- ) 9: 499-503; Lawrence A. Peskin, Captives and Countrymen: Barbary Slavery and the American Public, 1785-1816 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 94-96.

[3] Adams to Jefferson, 31 July 1786, in Lester Cappon, ed. The Adams and Jefferson Letters (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 146.

[4] Jefferson to Adams, 11 July 1786, Adams and Jefferson Letters,142.

[5] John Jay to Richard Henry Lee, 13 October 1785, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.;  John Jay Papers Image Database (EJ: 00157);;  Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. (Washington, D.C., 1904-37) 29: 833-34.

[6] Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, 29: 833-34; Peskin, Captives and Countrymen, 99-101.

[7] Totten, “Security, Two Diplomacies, and the Formation of the U.S. Constitution,” 79.

William Livingston: Eighteenth-Century Media and Propaganda

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome Nicole Skalenko and Victor Bretones as guest contributors to the John Jay Papers Blog. Sklaenko and Bretones are Honors undergraduate students in the Department of History at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. They collaborated on a  study of William Livingston (1723-90), the father-in-law of John Jay. Their essay on Livingston’s use of media and propaganda is based on a longer research paper presentation that won the 2019 Undergraduate Award from the Humanities Education and Research Association Conference held in Philadelphia.

When the Revolutionary War broke out in April of 1775, William Livingston faced a plethora of dilemmas. Both as Brigadier General of the New Jersey Militia and the first elected Governor of New Jersey, he faced political and military challenges that included “governmental operations and relationships with soldiers and civilians in the midst of significant armed conflict.”1 Livingston understood the power of the press and utilized this tool to help overcome political divide in New Jersey. Livingston issued both proclamations and propaganda in order to sway New Jerseyans in support of independence.

Livingston was no novice in terms of contributing to a political public sphere. After graduating from Yale College, Livingston published anonymously Philosophic Solitude: Or, The Choice of a Rural Life (1747). In 1752, he established The Independent Reflector, a political journal with William Smith, Jr. and John Morin Scott. All three men provided essays that challenged the political, religious, and educational history of New York. Although Livingston enjoyed success in New York as a lawyer, he yearned for a life in the country, surrounded by nature. Livingston therefore retired to New Jersey in 1772, but two years later, he was thrust back into politics as a delegate to the first and second Continental Congresses. Later, he was appointed Brigadier General of the New Jersey militia and on August 31, 1776, he was elected governor of New Jersey.

Livingston’s connection with print continued in collaboration with Isaac Collins, a Quaker printer. Starting in 1777 they produced The Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey and the newspaper New Jersey Gazette. Prior to working with Livingston, Collins was the Royal Printer of The Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Colony of New Jersey (1770-75). Collins consulted with Livingston on the format of the pamphlets, writing on February 7, 1777, “I have received the nine Acts of General Assembly and shall begin the work on sight of a proper title page.”2 He further asked “should not the Constitution be printed at the beginning of this pamphlet as these laws are the first published under the new government?”3 With the aid of Collins, Livingston thereby played a vital role in shaping government use of print in New Jersey.

As the American Revolution continued, Livingston took up his pen in service of the cause. The first propaganda piece attributed to Livingston was an anonymous article in the Pennsylvania Packet (reprinted in the Norwich Packet). In the article entitled “Impartial Chronicle,” Livingston poked fun at Hugh Gaine’s loyalist newspaper, New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, and fabricated claims such as, “We learn by an Indiaman loaded with tea, that the Emperor of Indostan has offered his Majesty five hundred elephants out of his own stables, to assist in suppressing the rebellion in the colonies.”4 The “Impartial Chronicle” illustrated real fears that colonists had at that time.

Livingston faced a major dilemma by late September of 1777. The British had occupied New York and captured Philadelphia. Prior to these events, New Jersey relied on print sources from neighboring colonies and had no need for their own. With the British occupation, print shops began publishing material that was largely in support of the loyalist cause. Livingston recognized the urgency in providing New Jersey with its own reliable news sources. His main concern was the lack of enthusiasm for independence within the colony and believed this was due to the effectiveness of the “Tory press.”

Livingston therefore approached the New Jersey Assembly in October 1777 arguing it would be “to New Jersey’s advantage to have its own circulating newspaper,” claiming further:

To facilitate such an Undertaking, it is proposed that the first Paper be circulated as soon as seven hundred Subscribers, whose Punctuality in paying may be relied upon, shall be procured: Or if Government will ensure seven hundred Subscribers who shall pay, the Work will be immediately begun; and if at the End of six Months there shall be seven hundred or more Subscribers who will pay punctually, the Claim upon Government to cease.5

His efforts proved successful as Isaac Collins was appointed printer of the New Jersey Gazette, and the first issue was published on December 5, 1777.

Livingston contributed numerous propaganda articles to The New Jersey Gazette. He utilized up to fourteen pseudonyms, among them Hortentius, De Lisle, Cincinnatus, Belinda, and “A True Patriot.” He often wrote sarcastically and attacked the British Monarch directly. For instance, in the September 9, 1778 issue of the New Jersey Gazette, he exclaimed, “But I am astonished that men of fashion and spirit should prefer our hopscotch, oliverian, oligarchical, anarchies, to the beautiful, the constitutional, the jure divino, and the heaven-descended monarchy of Britain.”6 In May of 1778, a difficult period for Patriot forces,  Livingston wrote three separate propaganda pieces signed under Belinda, Hortentius, and “A True Patriot” in response to the Carlisle Commission, a British peace commission sent to negotiate a peace treaty with the “rebellious colonies.” He signed under the pen name Belinda in order to garner women’s support, and declared “rather than suffer your sex to be caught by the bait of that arch-foe to American Liberty Lord North, I think ours ought, to a woman, to draw their pens, and enter our solemn protest against it. . .”7

Additionally, Livingston utilized the New Jersey Gazette as a means to affirm his reelection as governor. On October 27, 1779, Livingston signed a letter under the pen name Cincinnatus in which he provided characteristics essential to a future governor such as; “He ought to be a prodigious writer, – that is to say, he ought to be very great in the News-Paper way.”8

Livingston therefore understood the power of media to support political causes in the eighteenth century. Along with Collins, he rallied New Jerseyans to the patriot side and helped them keep the faith, even when surrounded by loyalists and disheartened by military defeats.

1.  James J. Gigantino II, William Livingston’s American Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 5.

2. Isaac Collins to William Livingston, February 7, 1777, William Livingston Papers, Reel 1, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

3. Ibid.

4. “From the Pennsylvania Packet of Feb. 28.” Norwich Packet (Norwich, Connecticut), March 24, 1777: [1].

5. Carl E Prince, and others, eds., The Papers of William Livingston vol. 2,  July 1777-December 1778 (Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1797), 91-2.

6. “To the Printer of the New-Jersey Gazette.” New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton), September 9, 1778: [4].

7.  “Trenton, May 6.” New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton), May 6, 1778: [2].

8.  New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton), October 27, 1779: [2].

“A Useful and Entertaining Work”: Christopher Colles’ Survey of the Roads

Chief Justice John Jay was constantly on the go. In order to fulfill his annual duties for the Supreme Court, he attended sessions for weeks at a time in Philadelphia1 and likewise spent months riding the circuit throughout New York and New England. The map below showing the spring 1792 term of the Eastern District highlights the extent of Jay’s work-related travels; for this particular trek, he wore himself out covering a distance of 913 miles in 87 days.

Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, et al., The Selected Papers of John Jay vol. 5 (1788-1794), 392-93

Previous posts on this blog have explored the logistics associated with Jay’s incessant travel, focusing on issues of accommodations, dining, route planning, and sightseeing (Circuit Court Diary, Traversing the Green Woods, A Pretty Good House, Politics by Other Means).2

The John Jay Receipt Book, 1789-1802, sheds additional light on how Jay handled the hardships of the road. 

Located in Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, this document provides a record of Jay’s financial transactions. Included among the hundreds of receipts is a brief entry from mid-July 1790 showing that Jay paid twenty shillings to Christopher Colles for a series of “Maps of the Roads”.

Colles published A Survey of the Roads of the United States a year earlier. The volume contained 83 strip maps covering the network of major thoroughfares that linked New York City, Albany, Stratford, Trenton, Philadelphia, Annapolis, and Williamsburg. Colles designed his work to serve as a geographic guide “specifying all the cross roads and streams of water which intersect it, the names of the most noted inhabitants of the houses contiguous to or in view of the road; the churches and other public buildings; the taverns[,] blacksmith’s shops, mills, and every object which occurs to render it a useful and entertaining work”.3

Strip map from Colles’ Survey of the Roads showing part of the route from New York City to Stratford, Connecticut

The Chief Justice embarked on five trips in the twelve months following his purchase of the Survey. Jay makes no explicit mention of Colles’ work in either his correspondence or his travel diary. Nonetheless, since the Survey offered a more efficient travel experience he more than likely consulted the guide when planning his journeys on behalf of the Supreme Court. Jay would have used it to both draw up a timetable to calculate the distance of his daily travel and to produce a schedule for arranging his overnight lodgings and meals.

1. The Supreme Court convened in New York City throughout 1790 before moving to the State House in Philadelphia for its February 1791 term.

2. See also the editorial headnotes “The Supreme Court: Procedures and Cases,” and “Riding the Circuit,” and related documents in Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, et al., The Selected Papers of John Jay vol. 5 (1788-1794) (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017), 179-202, 214-33, passim.

3. For more on Colles’ publication, see Will B. Mackintosh, “The Prehistory of the American Tourist Guidebook,” Book History 21 (2018): 89-124. 

An Enduring Amity

Editor’s Note: Jennifer E. Steenshorne is our third and final contributor to “John Jay at SHEAR 2018.” Steenshorne is the Director & Editor in Chief of the George Washington Papers. Previous to this post, she served as Associate Editor of the John Jay Papers.

The standard accounts of the Jay Treaty negotiations depict a sporadic series of private one-on-one meetings with British Foreign Secretary William Grenville, resulting in the signing of the treaty on 19 November 1794. However, Jay’s letters and dispatches, his son Peter Augustus’s diary and letters, invitations and calling cards, newspaper accounts, and his secretary John Trumbull’s memoirs reveal a more complicated series of events. Jay was reunited with the Shelburne circle, courted by both the radical opposition and the cabinet, and entertained by bankers, merchants, and aristocrats. While they tried to cultivate Jay to press their own interests, Jay strategically mined these contacts in American interests.

After a crossing of twenty-five days, Jay arrived at Falmouth on the evening of 8 June 1794. Accompanying Jay was his secretary, the painter John Trumbull; his 18-year-old son Peter Augustus Jay; and his enslaved manservant, Peter (or Peet) Williams.

Surviving calling cards, invitations to play cards, attend the theater, and dine, and lists of calls made and received, and the letters and diaries of those they encountered, show the mixture of business and pleasure in their socializing. John Julius Angerstein, Jeremy and Samuel Bentham, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir John Sinclair, Lord Amherst, the Penns, Sir Charles Blagden, Benjamin West, John Singleton Copely, Thomas Brand Hollis, Elizabeth Montagu, Baron Inchiquin, John and Lucy Paradise, and Sir Ralph Payne make frequent appearances. Cabinet ministers and the international diplomatic corps are represented. And of course, merchants and bankers with an interest in the outcome of the treaty and the American trade predominate. Merchants such as slave trader John Anderson, Patrick Colquhoun, Effingham Lawrence, James Bourdieu, and William Manning Jr. Bankers, such as David Barclay, Sir Francis Baring, Thomas Coutts, Sir William Curtis, and Sir Robert Herries.

One such encounter resulted in a lasting relationship: with William Wilberforce. Wilberforce (1759-1833), Member of Parliament and ally/friend of Pitt’s, had become increasingly critical of the British war with France (despite his relationship with Pitt), while his opposition to the slave trade and evangelicalism grew. In his diary of 7 July 1794, Wilberforce records dining at the Quaker merchant banker Samuel Hoares’s. Hoare shared Wilberforces’s anti-slavery and anti-war beliefs. The dinner was held specifically to introduce Jay and Wilberforce. Wilberforce found the Jay party to have “Simplicity of manners—” and to be “very pleasing well inform’d Men—” Peter’s diary records dining with Wilberforce several times and the two men continued to meet in other circumstances. On 22 December, Wilberforce records having breakfast with Jay “tête–à–tête” and “heard openly his opinion in Politics Friend to Peace– Many American War Anecdotes– He swore when grew more easy–” Wilberforce was clearly sounding Jay out on his feelings on the war and the U.S.’s commitment to neutrality. That night, Wilberforce would meet with Pitt for a long political discussion.[1]

The two would continue to meet for conversation and dinner for the rest of Jay’s stay. A comparison of Wilberforce’s and Peter Augustus Jay’s diaries indicates that the two men often met alone. On 9 February, they met at master of ceremonies Clement Cottrell Dormer’s country house party (although PAJ does not mention Wilberforce) and discussed France.[2] Their relationship was close enough that Wilberforce shared sensitive information with Jay. On 2 April, shortly before Jay’s departure on the 12th, Wilberforce recorded that “Jay call’d to take Leave returned my Letter, very considerately; shewed him Ld Fitz[maurice] Letter to Ld C— betraying Cab[ine]t. Secrets.”

After Jay’s return, and into the 19thcentury, Jay and Wilberforce continued their correspondence. Again, this was a mixture of the politics, reform, and personal news. They discussed abolition, exchanging pamphlets and urging cooperation on the eradication of the slave trade; the Law of Nations and the aftereffects of the Jay Treaty; religion and the peace movement; and politics and parliamentary reform. One letter in particular stands out for its intimacy, sent from the green suburb of Kensington on 18 July 1810. In it, Wilberforce expresses his satisfaction with his growing family and the happiness that marriage and fatherhood gave him:

I have a most affectionate Wife, who is always very unwilling to be at a distance from me, & Providence having bless’d us with 6 Children, the eldest of whom is not quite 12, the youngest under 2 years of age; my family are breathing pure air, & taking Exercise quietly & without restraint . . .

It seems clear that Jay was not just a political ally, but a model for living a good life.[3]

[1] References to Jay appear on the following dates in Wilberforce’s diary (UkOxU: Wilberforce Family Papers): 7 July, 4 September, 16 and 22 December 1794; 2 and 13 January, 9 February, and 2 April 1795. They would have also encountered each other at the weekly court levees. See also PAJ Diary A and B (D, NNC), 7 July and 4 September 1794 and 13 January 1795.

[2] See PAJ Diary B (D, NNC), 9 February 1795.

[3] For their later correspondence, see JJ to WW, 3 Sept. 1799, Dft, NNC (EJ: 09279); WW to JJ, 7 Nov. 1805,  ALS, NNC (EJ: 09283); JJ to WW, 14 Apr. 1806, Dft, NNC (EJ: 09284); WW to JJ, 1 Aug. 1809, ALS, NNC (EJ: 09282); JJ to WW, 8 Nov. 1809, Dft, NNC (EJ: 09281); WW to JJ, 18 July 1810, AL, NNC (EJ: 09280); WW to JJ, 18 July 1810, ALS, NNC (EJ: 09277); and JJ to WW, 25 Oct. 1810, Dft, NNC (EJ: 09278).

Profit is every hour becoming capital

Editor’s Note: Samuel Negus is our second contributor for “John Jay at SHEAR 2018”. Negus is an Upper School History Teacher at the Atlanta Classical Academy

During the autumn of 1794 John Jay and the British foreign secretary William Grenville negotiated a treaty of amity and commerce in London. Jay’s mission followed two years of transatlantic controversy complicated by attendant domestic political tumult. The Royal Navy’s seizure and forcible purchase of American-owned grain cargos bound for France incited controversy in mid-1793. Worse followed in November of that year, when commanders of a British expedition against the French Leeward Isles seized more than three-hundred U.S.-flagged merchant ships and condemned them as de facto enemy property.

Jay met with sympathy from Grenville, who shared his desire to both expand Anglo-American trade and reduce the rate of British naval depredations against neutral shipping. Partisan critics at home later attacked Jay’s treaty for agreeing to limits on the British seizure of neutral ships and cargo as contraband of war. Any such concession, though limited in duration by the treaty’s ten-year lifespan, fell short of the liberal ideal that ‘neutral ships make neutral goods’—i.e. that belligerents have no right to disrupt neutral commerce. Such criticism notwithstanding, the treaty dramatically reduced the rate at which British ships captured, and prize courts condemned, American goods. Lord Grenville explicitly wished for as much. He wrote to Jay shortly after the latter’s departure from London in 1795, mentioning Parliamentary legislation to reduce the number of vice-admiralty courts in the West Indies. Grenville hoped that “the regulation will not stop there, but that the effect of it,” under the terms of the treaty they had lately drafted, “may render the practice of those [courts] which remain more correct and cautious than I fear it has hitherto been.”[1]

Jay viewed the treaty’s commercial terms with similar optimism. Access granted for U.S.-flagged ships to British colonial ports in Asia and the West Indies fell short of the full equality to British ships that Americans desired. But, as Jay reflected to Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, “further concessions on the part of Great Britain cannot… be attained.” Grenville felt certain “that some of the [commercial] articles will be received as unequivocal proofs of goodwill.”[2] Jay professed confidence that valuable if limited concessions constituted a vital “break [in the] ice,” and that “to enlarge the aperture [in future] would be more easy… if we should be reasonably temperate and prudent.” Jay pointed to the treaty’s express stipulation “that the arrangement to succeed it shall have in view the further extension of commerce.”[3]

The frenzied political battle over ratification of and funding for the controversial treaty dragged on into the spring of 1796. In its defense, the prodigious Alexander Hamilton collaborated with New Yorker Senator Rufus King to produce thirty-four essays under the pseudonym ‘Camillus’. These influential tracts focused primarily upon the promise of shared prosperity deriving from the capital gained in expanded trade with Britain’s empire. The treaty’s commercial terms promised, Hamilton urged, “the advantages of an interchange of commodities for the supply of mutual wants and… reciprocal creation of industry.”[4]The treasury secretary’s Federalist Party allies employed like terms during congressional debate on the treaty. In urging the House of Representatives to fund its execution, Fisher Ames of Massachusetts asked whether any true America could wish to interrupt the transatlantic trade “by which our citizens are gaining everything.” Ames exulted that America’s “field for exertion is fruitful and vast,” and, if preserved, “peace and good government” could not but enable “the acquisitions of our citizens” to operate “as instruments of their future success.… Profit is every hour becoming capital. The vast crop of our neutrality is all seed and wheat, and is sown again to swell almost beyond calculation.”[5]

Louis Hacker emphasized the intimate connection in the Federalist political economy between “domestic and foreign policy—funding, a revenue, and a national bank in one part, and neutrality as war raged in the other—[these] underwrote and ensured survival and the beginnings of economic growth and prosperity.” Foreign specie gained through commerce during the Jay Treaty’s lifespan increased circulation of coin from $9 million to $20 million. As a result, “American capital eagerly embarked on promotions… by 1800 there were 34 banks, of which 27 were established after 1789.” For a retrospective on the fruits of the Federalists’ symbiotic trade and financial policies Hacker quotes the Earl of Liverpool’s 1820 statement to Parliament that since independence the United States had grown “in wealth, commerce, [industry], population, and strength, more rapidly than any nation in the history of the world.”[6]

Liverpool was correct in his appraisal. And though much derided by some at the time, John Jay’s Anglo-American treaty of 1795 proved a great catalyst of this economic fecundity.

[1] Lord William Grenville to John Jay, 11 May 1795. Henry Phelps Johnston, Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, 1763-1826 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93), 4:173-76 [hereafter cited CPJJ]; John Raithby, Statutes Relating to the Admiralty, Navy, Shipping, and Navigation of the United Kingdom (London: Eyre and Strathan, 1823), 645-48.

[2] John Jay, draft treaty of amity and commerce, 6 August 1794.CPJJ, 4: 69-70; Jay to Oliver Ellsworth, 19 November 1794. CPJJ, 4: 132-33.

[3] James Monroe to Jay and reply, 17 January and 5 February 1795. CPJJ, 4:154-7. For Jay’s comments on the Whiskey Rebellion see Jay to Washington, 25 February 1795.CPJJ, 4: 160-62; Jay to Washington, 6 March 1795.CPJJ, 4:162-70.

[4] ‘The Defence’ no. 10. Harold Coffin Syrett and Jacob Ernest Cooke, eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-87), 19:172-86.

[5] Winfred Bernhard, Fisher Ames: Federalist and Statesman, 1758-1808 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965), 257-75; Joseph Gales, ed., The Annals of the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1834), 5: 1239-64.

[6] Louis M. Hacker, The Course of American Economic Growth and Development(New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1970), 55-69.

John Jay and Grand Strategy

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Den Hartog kicks off our Posts for “John Jay at SHEAR 2018.” Den Hartog is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and serves as Chair of the History Department.  His published scholarship includes Patriotism & Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation (2015).

It was great to participate in the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) panel on “John Jay and the Construction of American Foreign Policy in the Early Republic” this summer.

For my part of the panel, I presented a paper on “John Jay’s Grand Strategy for American Diplomacy.”

I began my paper highlighting the many ways Jay shaped foreign policy in the Early Republic: as minister to Spain during the War for Independence, as co-negotiator of the Treaty of Paris that ended the war, as Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as a participant in the conflicts around the French Citizen Genet, and as “Envoy Extraordinary” to England to negotiate the Jay Treaty. I highlighted all these moments to ask, “Did anything tie these events together? What did Jay bring to his diplomacy that linked his various endeavors?”

To think about these activities, I introduced the concept of “grand strategy,” which has become a significant topic of discussion in the field of International Relations. I highlighted also how the term has been used in other settings for the Early Republic. For instance, Charles Edel in his book Nation Builder argued that John Quincy Adams followed a grand strategy for the early republic. In a similar way, I wanted to suggest that Jay had a consistent vision for how to pursue foreign policy in the new nation.

If so, it would be important to define a “grand strategy.” Here, one pithy definition comes from the eminent Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, who defines it as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.” I also found a helpful discussion of the concept from Hal Brands of Duke University. Brands defines it as “the intellectual architecture that gives form and structure to foreign policy.” I highlight that because I do believe we can trace an “intellectual architecture” in the directions Jay pushed his foreign policy.

In detailing the various components of Jay’s foreign policy thinking, I was particularly struck by the distance between some of his use of language and how we receive that language today. That is, Jay’s ideas truly need historical interpretation.

The most obvious one to me was Jay’s use of the concept of national “greatness.” In the midst of the struggle for independence, for instance, Jay told George Washington of his confidence that, “Things will come Right, and these States will be great and flourishing.” <Jay to Washington, 21 April 1779> Such words could be easily misconstrued in our day, when politicians argue over how great the country is or whether we should “make America great again.” Such stylings are far from what Jay intended.

Rather, Jay provided several explanations of his meaning. One of the best came in a letter to Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress, where he declared, “it is Time for us to think and act like a sovereign as well as a free People & by temperate and steady self-Respect, to command that of other nations.” <Jay to Charles Thomson, April 7, 1784> Here, Jay is asserting that national greatness was about internal flourishing, the practice of self-government, and earning the respect of other nations.

For Jay, this respect was gained in several ways. It came through making and keeping treaties that were made betweenequals—and Jay worried about this in the 1780s. It was also gained through paying back contracted debts—also a concern in the period. Finally, as Jay stated in the Federalist Papers, it came through being able to defend one’s territory—not to menace other countries.

Another divide came in Jay’s realism. Jay always aimed to be a political realist, but he was no practitioner of realpolitik, nor did he, like twentieth-century Realists, aim to define all things by national power.

Instead, Jay cautioned careful attention to situations—to examine them as they were, not as policy-makers hoped they would be. This also pushed Jay to contextual analysis—he wanted to acknowledge changing conditions and respond accordingly. Thus, both in his negotiations with Spain in the 1780s and in his dealings with England in the 1790s, Jay sought for deals that recognized power imbalances at a given moment but that would also strengthen the United States for renegotiation down the road.

Jay’s foreign policy strategy was not always popular—it had many detractors in its own day. Yet, he still made important contributions for propelling the country toward greater stability and presence in the international arena.

John Jay at SHEAR 2018

One of America’s key diplomats, John Jay, was featured in a panel session at this year’s meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR), held this past July in Cleveland, Ohio. The panel was entitled “John Jay and the Construction of American Foreign Policy in the Early Republic,” and it brought together several scholars to consider Jay’s significance—Todd Estes, Jonathan Den Hartog, Benjamin Lyons, Jennifer Steenshorne, and Samuel Negus.

We are excited to share this week the research of three of the panelists:  Jonathan Den Hartog (University of Northwestern-St. Paul), Jennifer Steenshorne (Papers of George Washington), and Samuel Negus (Atlanta Classical Academy)

The Panelists introduced their efforts with this statement:

In his career, John Jay would become one of the new nation’s premier diplomats, serving as minister to Spain (1780-1782), co-negotiator of the Treaty of Paris (1783), Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation (1784-1789), and “Envoy Extraordinary” to England while negotiating the Jay Treaty (1794). Even his term as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1789-1795) was focused on cases related to foreign affairs. Despite this significant involvement in creating an American foreign policy, Jay has received much less scholarly attention than other American founders. This panel seeks to change that through contextualizing both Jay’s efforts and his effects in the realm of American foreign policy. To do this, the papers of the panel address Jay’s interpretation and application of the Law of Nations, Jay’s Grand Strategy in regard to foreign affairs, the networks of connections Jay worked through while negotiating the Jay Treaty, and the contribution of the Jay Treaty to Federalist visions of international trade.

This panel’s discussion contributes to three important reassessments in the field of the early republic. First, it builds on the growing scholarly interest in Jay himself—a product of the fine editorial work being produced by the John Jay Papers Project at Columbia University. Second, it adds to the on-going reconsideration of the Federalist Party, as historians come to understand the significance of the Federalists for foreign policy setting, national state-building, economic innovation, cultural elaboration, and institutional development. Third, it furthers discussion of the new approaches to American foreign policy that have percolated in the last decade. Such a discussion is timely: America’s shifting place in global affairs in the contemporary world has challenged historians to rethink how America has operated in multiple ways in the past, and this reconsideration should point to a revision of our understanding of how the new nation initially established itself on the world stage. In this endeavor, John Jay was indispensable.

We hope you enjoy the findings of the panelists, as they seek to understand Jay’s actions in their contexts of the 18th century!

Don Quixote and Sally Jay

Sara Georgini, of the Adams Papers, has written a fascinating post “Men of La Mancha” on the popularity of Cervantes’s novel in early America, for the group blog the Junto. Sara writes that “No other foreign novel seemed to claim the American mind with such fervor until the Civil War”.

The Jays were no different than Adamses, Franklin, and Washington in their love for Don Quixote. While journeying to Madrid in 1780, where John Jay would assume his position as Minister Plenipotentiary to Spain, Sarah Jay wrote her sister Susan:

“When we came to La Mancha we naturally recollected the exploits that had been there atchieved by the renowned knight of the rueful countenance and looked but in vain for those large trees that some time afforded a safe retreat for the affrighted squire.” (28 August 1780).

A “pretty good House”: John Jay and the Phelps Taverns of Connecticut

We tend to imagine taverns as spaces of drinking, merrymaking, and leisure. Yet in the eighteenth century, taverns also served as essential places of rest for weary travelers, including those like Jay, who traveled far and wide on the business of the new nation. Although justices of the Supreme Court today hear their cases in Washington, D.C., the first justices, including Jay, had to do what was called circuit riding. For Jay, who was in charge of the Eastern Circuit, this entailed sometimes exhausting stints of travel across New England and New York to preside over court sessions.

The fact that Jay had to ride circuit puts Jay’s frequent—and sometimes critical—comments about public houses in his circuit court diary into new perspective. Jay spent many nights in taverns and inns, and the conditions he found could determine whether he would get a good night’s rest or something less desirable. In particular, Jay patronized various establishments owned by the Phelps family in Connecticut, including those located in the Green Woods. As we’ll see, looking into the history of these establishments sheds light on what Jay was looking for in lodgings, as well as the history and significance of taverns and inns in the early United States.

The earliest Phelps who settled in New England arrived in 1630 and hailed from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, England.1 Shortly thereafter, the family migrated to Windsor, Connecticut, where they prospered and became prominent in politics. One William Phelps (1599-1672), for example, served as an assistant magistrate for the colony.2 By the time of the American Revolution, the Phelps could be found throughout Connecticut, residing mostly in Hartford and Litchfield Counties.

Tavern-keeping proved a popular occupation for family members. By 1800, there were at least four Phelps taverns situated in northwestern Connecticut and located within twenty-five miles of one another. It is therefore probable that the Phelps proprietors would advise Jay and other patrons to stay with their relatives in the region.

Moses Park, The Plan of the Colony of Connecticut (1766)

Moses Park, Plan of the Colony of Connecticut (1766)

Darius Phelps (1752-1818) kept a public house in Norfolk, which served as the meeting place for the local chapter of Freemasons.3 In nearby Colebrook, Arah Phelps (1761-1844) ran an inn built in 1787 that later became known as the Red Lion.4 Upon obtaining a license in 1786, Noah Phelps (1740-1809) of Simsbury in Hartford County opened a tavern in the home formerly occupied by his brother Elisha Phelps (1737-1776).A fourth Phelps tavern was located in Litchfield. Built by David Buell in 1787, the impressive three-and-a-half story structure was acquired by John Phelps (1756-1833) nearly a decade later.6

Litchfield Tavern

Phelps Tavern (torn down in 1939), Litchfield, Connecticut, Library of Congress

Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale College, noted the potential dangers of staying at a public house, describing it as “a place where travelers must trust themselves, their horses, baggage and money.”7 At the same time, the public house played an important role in the local community. In addition to selling alcohol to residents, this establishment also provided them with a space for civic, commercial, and cultural activities. The person running a tavern or inn had a social responsibility and had to be concerned with more than just making a profit. Dwight observed that in Connecticut, those who operated a tavern “must be recommended by the selectmen and civil authority, constables and grand jurors of the town, in which he resides; and then licensed at the discretion of the court of common pleas. . .In consequence of this system, men of no small personal respectability have ever kept inns in this country.”In the eyes of the law and local citizenry, tavern keeping was not an occupation to be taken lightly.

Jay certainly did not take his visits to taverns lightly. Jay would seek out establishments that were clean, orderly, and inexpensive. The travel diary shows that the Phelps taverns and inns generally met with Jay’s approval. For instance, on 15 October 1790, he dined with Noah Phelps in Simsbury and rated the establishment as a “pretty good house.”9 Two days earlier, Jay had eaten supper in Colebrook, which he identified as the “Gr[een] Woods,” at the inn owned by Arah Phelps. Apparently pleased with his meal, Jay recorded that the house was “tolerably clean.”10 He returned to this same place several months later in June 1791. Unfortunately, this visit proved less satisfactory than the previous one. Jay recorded in the diary that his dining experience was “not very good.” After his evening meal in Colebrook, Jay rode some six miles to Norfolk and lodged at the inn of Darius Phelps. He rated his overnight stay at the Norfolk house as “pretty good.”11

Although no longer operating today, the Phelps inns and taverns have not disappeared from the landscape. The house run by Arah Phelps still stands in the Colebrook North Historic District near the intersection of Route 183 and Prock Hill Road.

Colebrook Tavern   Phelps Inn, Colebrook, Connecticut, Connecticut State Library

 The tavern of Noah Phelps, managed by three generations of his family for nearly sixty years, currently operates as a museum overseen by the Simsbury Historical Society.

 Simsbury TavernPhelps Tavern, Simsbury, Connecticut, Wikipedia Commons

It is fortunate that a few signs advertising the services of the Phelps inns and taverns have also survived. The Simsbury Historical Society, for instance, has one that displays an American eagle and bears the name of proprietor Jeffrey Orson Phelps (1791-1879), the grandson of Noah Phelps.

Simsbury Phelps Sign

William Rice, Phelps Tavern Sign, Simsbury Historical Society, author’s collection

The above piece was painted by William Rice (1777-1847) of Hartford, a prolific artist of Connecticut tavern and inns signs. Rice was celebrated for his “large signs, bold imagery, vivid colors, and a dazzling repertoire of special effects.”12 He completed dozens of these two-sided compositions in the early 1800s, including twenty signs still in existence. His surviving work includes the Arah Phelps Inn of Colebrook, shown below,  which boasts an eye-catching design with a red lion on one side and an eagle on the other.

Red Lion Sign  William Rice, Phelps Inn Sign, Connecticut Historical Society

Colebrook Eagle SignWilliam Rice, Phelps Inn Sign, Connecticut Historical Society

The Arah Phelps piece, along with sixty-five other tavern signs, are housed at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford.

John Jay would not have seen these two particular signs since they were created decades after he visited the Phelps houses in Simsbury and Colebrook. Nonetheless, their design and imagery illustrates their potential for attracting travelers in search of shelter, food and drink. In his diary, Jay described two such signs that caught his eye while he was passing through an area near Enfield, Connecticut, in the autumn of 1791. He noted the presence of an inn painted brown that “looks well” and bore the sign of “7 Stars.” He observed another house owned by “Reynolds” that was “painted of a light Stone Color” and had a sign of “crossd. Keys.”13 If Jay ever planned a return visit to the environs of Enfield and was in need of lodging and dining, he could consult the above diary entry and view the available options. For Jay, it was important to do what he could to ensure his comfort on long and frequent journeys.

  1. Oliver Seymour Phelps and Andrew T. Servin, The Phelps Family of America, and their English Ancestors, with Copies of Wills, Deeds, Letters, and other Interesting Papers, Coats of Arms and Valuable Records vol. 1 (Pittsfield, Mass., 1899), 72.
  2. Ibid., 77.
  3. Theron Wilmot Crissey, History of Norfolk, Litchfield County, Connecticut (Everett, Mass. 1900), 521.
  4. Phelps and Servin, Phelps Family, 288.
  6. Federal Writer’s Project for the State of Connecticut, Connecticut: A Guide to its Roads, Lore, and People, Written by Workers of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Connecticut (Boston, 1938), 197.
  7. Timothy Dwight, Travels in New-England and New-York vol. 1 (London, 1822), 389.
  8. Ibid.
  9. John Jay Circuit Court Diary, 15 October 1790, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.
  10. Ibid., 13 October 1790.
  11. Ibid., 28 June 1791.
  12. Susan P. Schoelwer, “William Rice: At the Sign of the Red Lion,” Folk Art 26 (Spring 2001): 40. For a more information about Connecticut tavern signs, see Susan P. Schoelwer, ed., Lions & Eagles & Bulls: Early American Tavern and Inn Signs from the Connecticut Historical Society (Hartford, 2000).
  13. John Jay Circuit Court Diary, 15 November 1791.