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!

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