Federalist 5 published on this day in 1787

On this date in 1787, Federalist 5 was published in New York Independent Journal. Written by John Jay under the name “Publius,” this essay continues the theme of Jay’s previous three essays (Federalist 2, 3, and 4): the threat of foreign influence and the need for unity. Jay, sick with rheumatism and burdened with his duties as minister for foreign affairs, did not write another essay until March of 1788 (Federalist 64). He was prevented from writing further essays by a head injury sustained during the Doctor’s Riot of April 1788.

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Draft of Federalist 5, John Jay Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Only Jay’s drafts survive. Federalist 5 is part of the Jay Papers at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It was purchased in 1957 with funds from the Frederic Bancroft Fund and various donors. Federalist 2 is held by the Brooklyn Historical Society. This draft had been thought missing since the Civil War, but was located by the Jay Papers staff in 2015. Federalist 3 is held by the Newberry Library in the Ruggles Collection. Federalist 4 is in the collection of an unknown private collector. It was previously part of the Elsie O. and Philip Sang Collection and sold at auction by Sotheby Parke Bernet, Apr. 1978.  Federalist 64 is held by the New-York Historical Society.

Below is a transcription of Jay’s draft text. It is full of excisions, revisions, and insertions, reflecting Jay’s quest for the most precise language. For a full textual analysis of The Federalist 5, see Richard Bucci, “John Jay and ‘The Fœderalist, No. V’: A Bibliographical Discussion”, in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 105, no. 3 (September 2011): 377-406.

For more on John Jay, listen to Associate Editor Robb K. Haberman’s conversation with Liz Covart at Ben Franklin’s World.

John Jay: Draft of The Federalist 5 [New York, before 10 Nov. 1787]

Queen Ann in her Letter of the 1 July 1706 to the scotch Parliament makes several ^some^ observations on the Importance of the union then forming between England and Scotland which merit our attention. I shall therefore present the public with some ^one or two^ Extracts from it in her own words. She remarks ^observes^ there that “an entire and perfect union will be the solid foundation of lasting Peace: It will secure your Religion Liberty and Property, remove the animosities among^st^ yourselves, and the Jealousies & Differences betwixt our two kingdoms. It must increase your Strength Riches & Trade: and by this union the whole Island, being joined in affection, & free from all apprehension of different Interests, will be enabled to resist all its Enemies.[“]

“We most earnestly recommend to You Calmness and unanimity, in this great and weighty affair, that the union may be brought to a happy Conclusion, being the only effectual way to secure our present and future Happiness; and to disappoint the Designs of our and your Enemies, who will doubtless, on this occasion, use their utmost Endeavours to prevent or Delay this union, which must so much contribute to our Glory and the Happiness of our People.–[“]

It was remarked in the preceding Paper that weakness ^& Divisions^ at Home would invite Dangers from abroad; and that nothing would tend more to secure us against from foreign Insults and war than union ^them than union^ Strength and good Government within ourselves– This subject is copious & cannot easily be exhausted.

The history of Great Britain is the one with which we are in general the best acquainted, and it gives us many useful Lessons. Let us ^we may^ proffit by their Experience, without paying the price which it cost them.

However ^altho it was seems^ obvious it was to common Sense and common prudence that the People of such an Island should be but one Nation, yet we find that they were for ages divided into three, and that those three, instead of living together as good Neighbours, were almost constantly ^embroyed in^ quarrelling^s^ and fighting ^wars with one another^. notwithstanding their ^true^ Interests with respect to the continental Nations was the ^really the^ same, yet the ^by the^ arts and Policy ^and Practices^ of those nations was such as to ^cherish &^ increase their ^mutual^ Jealousies subsisting between the three ^were perpetually ^^kept^^ enflamed^, and for a long Series of Years to render ^them^ ^they were far more^ inconvenient & troublesome rather than ^than they were^ useful and assisting to each other.

If the ^should the^ People of america should divide themselves into three ^or four^ nations, would not the same thing happen? would not similar Jealousies arise, and be in like manner cherished? Instead of ^their^ being “joined in affection and free from all apprehension of different Interests” Envy and Jealousy would soon extinguish a confidence and affection and the partial Interests of each confederacy instead of the general Interests of ^all^ america would be the only objects of their Policy & Pursuits Hence like all ^most^ other bordering Nations they would always be either engaged with each other in ^envolved in constant Disputes &^ war, and live continue in ^or live in^ the constant apprehension of them

The most sanguine advocates for such a division cannot reasonably suppose that the three or four proposed confederacies ^cannot reasonably Suppose that they^ would long remain exactly on an equal Footing in Point of Strength, nor indeed would it be easy to divide america in to four Parts ^as that^, each of which ^them^ should in stren ^at first^ be equal in Strength ^even if it was possiblye to form them so at first^ But admitg. the ^that to be^ Practicab^le^ility of this, yet no ^what^ human contrivance can secure the Continuance of that ^such^ Equality?– for independent of those local circumstances which naturally tend to beget and encrease Power in one Part, and to impede its Progress ^of^ in another, we must advert to the Effects of that superior Policy and good Management with which the affairs of one may be administered ^wd. probably distinguish the Govermt of one above the others^, and by which that their relative Equality in in Strength & Consideration will wd be destroyed– For it cannot be presumed that the same Degree of sound Policy Prudence and Foresight will ^wd uniformly^ be observed by th each of these Confederacies for a long Succession of Years–

Whenever and from whatever Causes it might happen, and happen it would, that ^any^ one of these Nations ^or Confederacies^ should rize ^on the Scale of political Importance^ much above the Level ^Degree^ of their Neighbours in political Consideration, that moment would those ^they^ ^those^ Neighbours behold her ^Pre^ with Envy & with Fear– both those Passions would lead them in measures to ^to countenance if not to promote whatever might promise to^ diminish her Importance, and ^wd. also^ restrain them from measures calculated to advance ^or even to secure^ her Prosperity.– much Time would not be necessary to enable her to perceive that she was envied and fear feared ^suspected^, and as Distrust begets Distrust, and Fear and Envy are ever followed by neglect & Contempt ^discern these unfriendly Dispositions^; she will imp immediately ^wd soon^ begin not only to lose Confidence in her Neighbours but to feel a Disposition ^equally unfavorable to them^ to take advantages which occasions ^any opportunities^ may put in her power– for they who find themselves unjustly suspected of unkind Intentions, are by that very Circumstance naturally led to be entertain them; by for ^Distrust naturally creates Distrust and^ ^by^ nothing is good will & Fair ^kind^ Conduct more speedily changed, than by invidious Jealousies & uncandid Im tho implied Imputations whether expressed or implied

The North is generally the Region of Strength and many [illegible] local circumstances tend to render render it probable that the most northern of the th proposed Confederacies would at a Period not far ^very^ distant, be unquestionably more formidable than any of the others. As soon as ^No sooner wd.^ this should become evident, ^than^ the northern Hive would excite the same Ideas in ^&^ Sensation in the more Southern Parts of America, that ^wh.^ it formerly did in the Southern Parts of Europe. Nor does it appear to be a rash conjecture that its young swarms may ^might often^ be tempted to gather Honey in the ^more^ blooming Fields and the more inviting ^milder air of^ their less hardy & less enterprizing Neighbours ^more luxurious & delicate Neighbours^

If this Reasoning be fair, then it follows undeniably follows that these three or four Confederacies ^They who well consider the History of similar divisions & confederacies, will find abundant Reason to apprehend that those men in contemplation^ would in no other Sense be Neighbours further than as they would be Borderers– for never in the Language of Queen Ann, would be ^they^ be joined in affection or free from all apprehension of different Interest–what then whi would such Confederacies and Divisions give us but ^that they wd nether love nor trust one another, and but on the contrary would forever be a prey to^ Discord, mutual Jealousy, and mutual Injuries?– if so, should we not then be ^[in] short they wd place us^ exactly in the Situation which our Enemies if we have any would ^some other Nations doubtless wish^ wish ^to see^ us vizt. formidable only to one ^each^ another– whether such a ^any^ Situation could be imagined ^Let candid men judge whether any Situation wd be^ more likely to expose one confœderacy urged by apprehensions of Dangers would put have a ^provide^ little military Establishment– the others to be equally well prepared would do the like– by Degrees they would increase ^be augmented^– and standing armies wd. ^after a while^ be^come^ as common here as they are in Germany and from for the same Reasons and Purposes– Like them too they would often^er^ be turned against each other than against a foreign Enemy; for there are very few Ins when did a foreign Army eve carry fire & sword into Germany would ^without^ being guided and assisted by the Counsels and arms of one or more of its States.

Are not the People of America there^fore^ wise in thinking that their Safety depends on their union?

^From^ These considerations teach h us ^m^ lead me to think ^it appears^ that those Gentlemen are greatly mistaken who expect suppose that these Confederacies might to easily be or ^alliances offensive and defensive between might be formed between^ these Confederacies & would produce that combination and union of Wills of arms & of Resources wh. would be necessary to put & keep them in a formidable State of Defence agt. foreign Enemies–

When did the independent States into which Britain & Spain were formerly divided combine in such alliances or unite their Forces agt. a foreign Enemy? The proposed confederacies will be distinct nations– Each of them will have its commerce to regulate with Foreigners by distinct Treaties, and as their Productions and commodities and ^are^ different and proper for different markets so with ^wd^ these Treaties be essentially different– different commercial Concerns will ^must^ create different Interests and ^of course^ different modes and Degrees of att political attachmt. to and connection with different foreign Nations hence Hence it would ^might often & probably wd^ happen that the foreign Nation with whom the Southern Confederacy might be at war, would ^might^ be the one with whom the northern Confederacy might ^wd^ be ^the^ most desirous ^of^ wh preserving Peace & Friendship– In that Case an offens alliance so contrary to their immediate Interest wd. not therefore be easy to form, nor if formed wd. it be performed ^observed & fulfilled^ with perfect good Faith–

Nay it is far more probable that in America as in Europe neighbouring Nations ^acting under the Impulse of opposite Interest and unfriendly Passions^ would be ^frequently be^ found taking different Sides. Wicked Men of great Talents & ambition are the growth of every Soil, and seldom hesitate to precipitate their Country into ^any^ wars and Connections that wh. ha may promote their Desg Designs– Considering our Distance from Europe it will wd be more natural that ^for^ these confederacies should be more ^to^ apprehen^d^sive of Danger from one another than from distant Nations, and thereby^fore that each shd be more^ be disposed more to guard agt. the others by the aid of foreign alliances than to guard agt. foreign Dangers by alliances between themselves.

Let candid Men therefore determine whether the People of america are not right in their opinion that that the Preservation of ^their^ Peace and Safety agt. foreign Force does not consist in their being firmly united under one well ballanced fœderal Government

^[in margin] and here let us not forget that it must must ^^how much more^^ easy to to ^^it is to^^ receive foreign Fleets into our Ports & foreign armies into our Country than it is to persuade or compel them to depart– How many Conquests did the Romans make not in the Character of allies, and what Innovations did they under the same Character make ^^introduce^^ into the Governments of those whom they pretended to protect? Let candid Men judge then whichether the Division of America into a Nu any given Number of independent Sovereignties tends to secure the Pe us against the hostilities or im improper Interference of foreign Nations^

Defending “this damned treaty”: Jay, Washington, and the 1794 Anglo-American Treaty

The Selected Papers of John Jay is pleased to feature a guest blog post written by David Hoth, Senior Editor, The Papers of George Washington.

The treaty that John Jay negotiated with Great Britain in 1794 was among the most important events of George Washington’s second term as president—significant not only as a matter of foreign policy but also for its effect on domestic politics. This post, however, will focus on GW’s relationship with Jay in connection with the treaty.

Once GW began considering the appointment of a special envoy to adjust differences with Great Britain, Jay was on his list of possibilities. Few could match Jay’s varied diplomatic and governmental experience. Federalists, however, preferred Alexander Hamilton, and Jay was opposed by some Republicans as too pro-British. On 14 April 1794 Hamilton wrote a long letter to GW, arguing the necessity of an envoy, declining the post, and recommending Jay.[1] The next morning, GW wrote Jay, requesting a meeting to converse “on an interesting subject.”[2] Presumably the two men discussed what an envoy might do and Jay accepted the post. GW submitted his nomination to the Senate on 16 April. Jay thus embarked on his mission not only with “full knowledge of the existing temper and sensibility of our Country”,[3] but with knowledge of GW’s views as well.

Such clarity was important because any treaty would be very much the result of decisions made by Jay alone. Any negotiator sent to Europe had to be given discretion to respond to unexpected proposals or events—slow ship passages did not allow close monitoring from America—and Jay’s instructions were pretty open-ended. He was to address the “vexations and spoliations committed on our commerce” and seek compensation, and he was to try to obtain the British withdrawal from frontier posts promised in the 1783 peace treaty. He was given “discretion” to consider a commercial treaty, but he was to agree to nothing that would “derogate from” U.S. treaties with France.[4]

Nonetheless, the information about negotiations in Jay’s letter to the State Department of 13 September so horrified Secretary of State Edmund Randolph that he immediately (on 12 November) sent Jay “remarks” objecting to a number of points, and he followed with another short letter on 3 December and then a detailed and very negative analysis on 15 December. Presumably Washington shared many of Randolph’s reservations. His 18 December response to Jay’s September letter, merely referred Jay to Randolph’s correspondence. Jay, however, had signed the treaty on 19 November.

While at London, Jay was careful to maintain his connection to GW, writing him nine letters from 23 July through 19 November, mostly conveying optimism about the negotiations. On the dates of Jay’s most significant reports to Randolph, he also wrote GW, giving information and referring him to the State Department letter. After receiving Randolph’s critiques, he wrote GW on 25 February, noting that treaty ratification would be decided before any reply could arrive, but assuring GW that only considerations of “public Good, under the Directions of my Instructions” had influenced his judgment and reminding him that no “attainable” treaty could have given “universal Satisfaction” and that “Demagogues” were likely “to employ improper arts against those who will not be their Instruments”.[5]

In fact (Jay having entrusted the treaty to ships whose arrival was inordinately delayed) that letter likely arrived (as did Jay himself) before GW’s ratification decision. News of the treaty reached New York by the end of January 1795, but the official copy did not arrive until after Congress had adjourned in early March, necessitating a special Senate session. Then the Senate ratification in June was conditional, requiring renegotiation of article 12, about trade with the West Indies. All the while, a vigorous newspaper debate raged, based on British reports of the treaty’s provisions (and later Senate leaks). When the hitherto-secret treaty was published by an opposition Senator in early July, citizen meetings were promptly organized to urge GW not to ratify. GW, who still had reservations about the treaty[6] and about his authority in light of the conditional ratification, turned to Hamilton for a “dispassionate” analysis of the treaty’s strengths and weaknesses.[7]

GW’s choice of an advisor suggests that he was already inclined toward ratification, for he must have known Hamilton’s leanings. Hamilton’s replies have not been found, but a surviving draft indicates that he assured GW it was in “the true interest of the U States” to ratify the treaty.[8] Not long after, GW announced that he would ratify.

And a storm broke. The anonymous newspaper writers who had criticized the treaty now opened up on GW as a president “whose austere inflexibility of character” had led to ratification “in defiance of the loud thunders of popular indignation.” Some writers now attacked the entirety of GW’s presidency as productive of numerous “public evils”.[9]

Such criticism was painful to GW, but it seems to have strengthened his belief in the treaty’s benefits and the opponents’ demagoguery. Certainly, neither the critics nor his own concerns about the treaty’s provisions reduced his trust in Jay’s judgement. He soon thought Jay’s views on the appointment of commissioners under the treaty and on rumors of possible French actions in response to the treaty, because, as he wrote Hamilton, “I have great confidence in the abilities, and purity of Mr Jays views, as well as in his experience.”[10]

Where not otherwise specified, citations are to The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series.

[1] (Hamilton to GW, 14 April, 15:581-94).

[2] (GW to JJ, 15 April, 15:596).

[3] (GW to the Senate, 16 April, 15:608-9).

[4] (American State Papers, Foreign Relations, 1:472-74).

[5] (JJ to GW, 25 February, 17:577-80).

[6] (GW to Hamilton, 13 July, 18:337-41).

[7] (GW to Hamilton, 3 July, 18: 282-83).

[8] (Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 18:404-54).

[9] “Valerius” to GW, 22 Aug.; “Belisarius” to GW, 11 Sept., 18:580-81, 660-61).

[10] (GW to Hamilton, 26 June 1796, DLC: Hamilton Papers).

Politics By Other Means

Twice a year, Chief Justice John Jay embarked on a grueling journey that lasted on average seventy-two days and covered approximately eight hundred and fifty miles on horseback. During these marathon rides, Jay kept to a set timetable that had him preside over the opening and subsequent sitting of each of the six district courts (New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont) that comprised the Eastern Circuit.[1]

Whereas Circuit Court duties usually left Jay with little time for either recreation or relaxation, periodic breaks occurred within his traveling schedule that allowed him to adopt a more leisurely pace. These breaks presented opportunities to schmooze with old friends, make new acquaintances, and take in the scenic vistas, civic structures, and other sites on display that dotted the urban centers, townships, and countryside of New England.

Jay enjoyed the benefit of downtime while in Boston for the spring 1790 term of the Massachusetts District Court, which met in early May. With few cases on the trial docket, Jay and his fellow judges—John Lowell and William Cushing—spent the afternoon of May 4 outside the courtroom. On this day, the trio crossed the Charles River Bridge into Cambridge for a visit to Harvard College. Jay relished the trip, noting in his diary that they received “much attention from [Harvard’s] Presidt.  [Joseph] Willard.”[2]  A letter to his wife Sally provides further description: “I had two days ago a pleasant ride to Cambridge over the new bridge, of which you have often heard; we extended our excursion to some pretty seats not far distant from the College, and among others Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry’s.”[3]


View of the Bridge over Charles River, Massachusetts Magazine (September 1789)

Jay had more opportunities to sightsee and socialize once the spring term in Boston came to a close on May 5. The adjournment left him two weeks before he was due to arrive in Portsmouth for the opening of the District Court of New Hampshire. Jay welcomed the lull in his travel itinerary. “The business of the court having been finished yesterday,” he confided to Sally, “I shall have an opportunity of seeing whatever is worthy of notice in and about the place.”[4]  Jay was true to his word; he explored Dorchester Heights and Castle William during the day and dined with the former governor James Bowdoin in the evening.[5]  On his tour of the historic grounds, Jay was joined by an escort of state officials consisting of Benjamin Lincoln, who had commanded the Massachusetts Militia in 1775-76 and now served as Collector for the port of Boston, Christopher Gore who was appointed State Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Jonathan Jackson, the District Marshal, and Samuel Bradford, the Deputy Marshal.[6]

Castle William

A North View of Castle William in the Harbour of Boston, Massachusetts Magazine (May 1789)


William Henry Bartlett, Boston from Dorchester Heights, 1836 (1836)

Social visits and leisure outings around Boston proved a welcome respite that afforded opportunities for Jay to engage in camaraderie, indulge his interest in the revolutionary past, and foster his admiration for achievements in American engineering and education. Yet these activities also served a largely unacknowledged and arguably far more important purpose of creating bonds of trust and good will between the chief justice and local elites. The names of the men who spent time with Jay —Willard, Gerry, Bowdoin, Lincoln, Gore, Jackson, and Bradford—reads like a veritable who’s-who of power and influence in Boston and the Commonwealth. By cultivating friendly relations with these men, Jay was exercising a form of “soft power” that potentially bolstered the legitimacy of both his judicial authority and that of the fledgling federal government in communities located far from the seat of national power.[7]

So how did Jay himself view his socializing and sightseeing in Boston? Did he see them as commensurate with public diplomacy and outreach? Unfortunately, Jay’s personal papers are largely silent on the subject. Supporting evidence does suggest, however, that he recognized the political potential of such activities. For instance, when President Washington decided to tour New England in the fall of 1789 in order “to acquire knowledge of the face of the Country. . .and the temper and disposition of the Inhabitants towards the new government,” Jay not only supported the idea but also urged the President to tour the southern states, which Washington visited in the spring of 1791.[8]   Jay’s seemingly unrelated comments on courtship and marriage made four years earlier to John Adams shed further light on how he conceptualized interstate personal relations as a foundation for national consensus. When two Massachusetts statesmen (Elbridge Gerry and Rufus King)  chose brides (Ann Thompson and Mary Alsop) from New York families,  Jay applauded their decision: “I am pleased with these intermarriages,” he announced, as “they tend to assimilate the States and to promote one of the first wishes of my Heart vizt. to see the people of America become one nation in every respect.”[9]  It would be no great stretch to presume that Jay felt similarly about friendships established across state lines.

Regardless of whether Jay viewed sightseeing and socializing as a continuation of politics by other means, his time spent in Boston during the spring of 1790 points to the fact that we should pay closer attention to his travel-related activities and consider how they helped usher in an age of federalism.

 [1]  Jay rode the Eastern Circuit from 1790-92. When Jay started his first circuit ride in April 1790, the Court met in only four districts (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire) before expanding to include Rhode Island (fall 1790) and Vermont (spring 1791).

[2]  John Jay Circuit Court Diary, 4 May 1790, (EJ: 7351).

[3]  Elbridge Gerry served as a representative from Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress.  John Jay to Sarah Livingston Jay, 6 May 1790, Henry P. Johnson, ed., The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 3, 1782-1793 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1891), 398.

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  John Jay Circuit Court Diary, 7 May 1790, (EJ: 7351).

[6]  Massachusetts Centinel (Boston) 8 May 1790.

[7]  The city of New York served as the nation’s capital until the federal government relocated to Philadelphia in August 1790.

[8]  Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 5, July 1786-December 1789 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979), 453, 454.

[9]  Elbridge Gerry wed Ann Thompson in January 1786 and Rufus King wed Mary Alsop in March of that year. Both men married into wealthy mercantile families and the Kings later moved to New York City in 1788. John Jay to John Adams, 4 May 1786, (EJ: 7461).

Happy Independence Day!

The Jays celebrated the Fourth of July, 1783, at Passy, outside Paris, in the company of Benjamin Franklin and various American and French friends. Franklin began this practice in 1778. The following is an excerpt of a letter from Sarah Livingston Jay to her sister, Kitty Livingston, of 16 July 1783, describing her feelings on the occasion.

On the 4th. of July we celebrated the Anniversary of our Independence here at Passy, but the next I hope to celebrate in yr. company, & I’m sure that our pleasure will not be less animated even tho’ we shou’d substitute butter-milk in lieu of champagne to commemorate the illustrious event. I’ll inclose you a copy of the toasts Mr. Jay prepar’d for the occasion & a song composed and sung by a french gentleman who was of our Party– how nearly my dear Kitty! does extreme felicity approach a painful sensation. I’ve more than once experienc’d it; nor were my feelings divested of that kind of sensibility on the 4th. of July, for I found it difficult to suppress the tears that where ready to flow to ye. memory of those who in struggilng to procure that happiness for their Country wh. we were then celebrating had fallen in the glorious attempt.

The toasts:

1  The United States of America, may they be perpetual

2  The Congress

3  The King & Nation of France

4  General Washington & the American Army

5  The United Netherlands & all other free States in the  world

6  His Catholic Majesty & all other Princes & Powers who have manifested Friendship to America–

7  The Memory of the Patriots who have fallen for their Country–  May kindness be shown to their Widows & Children

8  The French Officers & Army who served in America

9  Gratitude to our Friends & Moderation to our Enemies

10 May all our Citizens be Soldiers, & all our Soldiers Citizens

11 Concord, Wisdom & Firmness to all American Councils

12 May our Country be always prepared for War, but disposed to Peace

13 Liberty & Happiness to all Mankind.–

Joseph Ellis QUARTET podcast

Listen to Joseph Ellis talk about his latest book, Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. Hint: John Jay is a featured soloist in the ensemble.  Stacy Schiff moderated the May 14th 2015 talk, in which Ellis explains “how Washington, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison helped orchestrate the complex political process that ultimately resulted in the Constitutional Convention and the Bill of Rights.” The author also gave a shout-out to the Jay Papers staff (and yours truly asks the last question of the Q&A.)


Thomas Howdell, SE View of NYC, showing King’s College, 1763. MCCNY.

The Graduate

Today, Columbia University held its 261st commencement ceremony. May 22 will mark the 251st anniversary of John Jay’s graduation from Columbia, or rather King’s College (founded 1754).

John Jay entered King’s in 1760 (age 14 1/2). King’s was the logical choice for Jay to attend, and not merely because of its location; his family had numerous connections to the young institution. The first president of King’s College, the Reverend Dr. Samuel Johnson, had close ties to the Jay family through Trinity Church, where Peter Jay was a vestryman.1 Jay’s uncle, John Chambers, was a trustee of the college. Sir James Jay, Jay’s older brother, was knighted for his fund-raising efforts for the college and later promoted the founding of its medical college.

At King’s, Jay met many future friends and colleagues, such as Robert R. Livingston, Gouverneur Morris, and Egbert Benson. (He did not meet Alexander Hamilton until later, as Hamilton was born in 1755 and did not enter King’s until 1773). Jay was a serious and adept student, who wished to eventually study law. Under Johnson’s direction, the King’s curriculum was an innovative mix of classical studies, natural sciences, government, agriculture, and business. Many of these classes were taught by Johnson himself, who treated his students in a paternal manner.2

However, Samuel Johnson’s relationship with the King’s College Board of Governors was often difficult. These tensions, coupled with Johnson’s age, led the governors to request that the Archbishop of Canterbury suggest a successor. The chosen candidate, the Reverend Myles Cooper,3 was a graduate of Queen’s College, Oxford, and while not noted for his scholarship or preaching, he was amenable to going to New York. Cooper arrived in October of 1762 and was appointed assistant to Johnson and professor of moral philosophy. On 1 March 1763, Johnson officially retired and Cooper became president of King’s College. He immediately began the “Oxfordisation” of King’s, revising the curriculum and rules in imitation of Oxford’s. Gone were the practical courses in business; the new curriculum emphasized the classics, with some natural philosophy retained. Discipline was tightened, and students were required to wear academic robes. Students were required to sign these new statutes, just as they had the older ones.4

John Jay apparently had a less cordial relationship with Cooper than with Johnson. After Johnson’s departure, Jay remained in contact with, and sometimes visiting, his old professor. While Jay continued to be a diligent and well-behaved student, he opposed Cooper on a matter of principle and bested him. A cryptic remark in Jay’s 1817 “Memoranda” on his life reads, “April 1764 Dispute with ^between^ Dr. Cooper & students abt. wooden Horse.” According to Jay family tradition, “a few weeks before he was to take his degree” in the spring of 1764, John Jay was present in the college hall at King’s when some of his fellow students “either through a silly spirit of mischief, or in revenge for some fault imputed to the steward, began to break the table.” Jay replied to Cooper’s interrogation with the words “I do not choose to tell you, sir.” He insisted that this refusal to identify the students did not violate the college statutes. Cooper and the faculty disagreed, and Jay was suspended and sent home. Jay was allowed to return in time to receive his B.A. degree on 22 May 1764.5

For more on John Jay’s education, see The Selected Papers of John Jay, 1: 4-34. For more on the history of Columbia University, see Robert McCaughey, Stand, Columbia: A History of Columbia University in the City of New York, 1754-2004 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).

Note: King’s College suffered from small classes, with even fewer students finishing the course. JJ’s class of 1764 had two graduates out of a class of five, with Benjamin Hildreth (attended 1760–63), Benjamin Payne (attended 1760–62), and James Van Horn (attended 1760–62) not graduating.

The following account the King’s College Commencement was published in the N.Y. Mercury, 28 May 1764. It also appeared in the New-York Gazette; or, The Weekly Post-Boy, 31 May 1764.

[New York, 28 May 1764]

A publick Commencement was holden on Tuesday last, at St. George’s Chapel,6 in this City. The Procession from the College Library, was headed by the young Gentlemen of the Grammar School, to the Number of 50, with their Masters, and then the Students of the College, all uncovered. His Excellency General Gage,7 was pleased to honour the Ceremony with his Presence, accompanied by several of the Members of his Majesty’s Council, the Judges of the Supreme Court, the President8 and Governors of the College, and many of the Clergy and Gentlemen of the City and Country. The President having offered up suitable Prayers, after relating the Occurrences of the preceeding Year, in an elegant Latin Speech, addressed a very pathetic and instructive Exhortation to the young Gentlemen who were to be graduated. Then followed a salutatory Oration, by Mr. Richard Harrison,9 a young Gentleman of Seventeen; which was equally admired by the Audience, for Elegance and Purity of Diction, Propriety of Sentiment, and the graceful Elocution with which it was delivered. To this masterly Performance succeeded a spirited and sensible English Dissertation, on the Happiness and Advantages arising from a State of Peace, by Mr. John Jay. The Audience was next entertained with a Dispute in English, on the Subject of national Poverty, opposed to that of national Riches; masterly discussed, by Messrs. Jay and Harrison. A Syllogistic Dispute in Latin, on the Question—An Passiones sint indifferents10 was next handled by Messrs. Van Dyck and Holland,11 with great Precision and Judgment. These Performances being ended, the President conferred on the Candidates their respective Degrees. Mr. Van Dyck then acquitted himself with great Honour, in an elegant and pathetic valedictory Oration, pronounced with very becoming Emphasis and Gestures. The Whole was concluded with a Prayer applicable to the Occasion.

The numerous and polite Audience expressed great Pleasure and Approbation at the Performance of the young Gentlemen, and the Order and Decency with which every Thing was conducted.

The Gentlemen who attended the Procession, returned in the same Order to the College-Hall, and dined together in Honour of the Day.

It would be injurious to the Reputation of the College, not to observe, that ample Amends were made for the Number of Candidates, by the Display of their Proficiency in the Elegance of their Performances.

1Samuel Johnson (1696–1772), a Yale graduate of Yale, was ordained a Congregationalist minister in 1720. He became skeptical of the “Connecticut Way” and was a follower of Bishop George Berkeley and in 1722, sailed to England to seek holy orders in the Anglican Church. Johnson was ordained in 1724 and became a missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (S.P.G.). He served as president of King’s College from 1754 to 1763.

2 The Laws of King’s College in Force during Dr. Johnson’s Presidency, 29 Aug. 1760. AD, in the hand of JJ, signed by JJ and Samuel Johnson, NNC.

3Myles Cooper (1737–85), M.A., D.C.L., LL.D., Anglican minister, president of King’s College, and Loyalist. Cooper was born in England, earning his B.A. and M.A. from Oxford in 1756 and 1760, respectively. He was ordained in 1761. In the years immediately preceding the Revolution, Cooper wrote numerous Loyalist pamphlets, and became a target of mob violence on 10 May 1775, legendarily saved by student Alexander Hamilton. He returned to England shortly thereafter.

4 Statutes of King’s College in the City of New York, adopted 2 March 1763. AD, in the hand of JJ, signed by JJ and Myles Cooper, NNC (EJ: 12960).

5JJ, Memoranda, 1817 (EJ: 12954). William Jay, The Life of John Jay, 1: 14–15.

6St. George’s Chapel, constructed between 1749 and 1752 on the corner of Chapel Hill, now Beekman Street, and Van Cliff Street, now Cliff Street. It was built by Robert Cromelin, who also built the King’s College buildings.

7General Sir Thomas Gage. Gage succeeded Jeffrey Amherst, first as acting commander in chief for North America in 1763 and then as commander in chief in 1764, making his headquarters in New York.

8Myles Cooper.

9Richard Harison (1747–1829), B.A. King’s College 1764; M.A. King’s College 1768; LL.D. Edinburgh 1792; delegate, New York State convention to ratify the Constitution; member New York Assembly, 1788–89, for New York County; U.S. district attorney, New York, 1789–1801; and recorder, New York City. Thomas, Columbia U. Officers and Alumni, 1754–1857, 99.

10An Passiones sint indifferents: literally, “whether the passions are indifferent,” meaning “whether the passions are neither good nor evil.” “Passiones” in this case refers to the modern “emotions.” The correct Latin is An Passiones sint indifferentes. Translation and comments by David M. Ratzan.

11Henry Van Dyck (1744–1804), D.D. Rutgers 1792, and Henry Holland (d. 1806), member of the New York Assembly 1761–69, were members of the class of 1761 who received their M.A. degrees in 1764. Fuld, King’s College Alumni, 98.

Traversing the Green Woods with John Jay

While taking notes on John Jay’s Circuit Court Diary, I came across a brief entry, which at first glance, seemed fairly typical of the information that Jay recorded in his journal. Penned in the fall of 1790, the single line read as follows:

[Octr]  13 Dine’d at Phelps in Gr[een] Woods tolerably clean[1]

Much of my work on the diary consists of transcribing and annotating passages like this one. As Jay crisscrossed the northeastern states on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court, he filled his journal with evaluations of tavern food, service, and accommodations, as well as notes on road conditions and distances between towns. The diary therefore often reads like a regional travel guide — an 18th century combination of TripAdvisor and Yelp.

Yet this particular entry had me asking questions that made it anything but a routine exercise. First, the identity of Phelps proved troublesome because at least three different tavern proprietors in the region shared this surname. Moreover, the tavern’s location presented a second problem; beyond the fact that the Green Woods was situated in Connecticut, very little information existed about it. I was therefore uncertain whether the Green Woods referred to an actual forest or town or a larger geographic area. Setting aside the Phelps Tavern for a future blog post, I will focus for now on the mysterious Green Woods.

Riding the Eastern Circuit and presiding over federal court cases throughout New York and New England ranked among Jay’s more unpleasant duties as the nation’s chief judicial officer. Jay was forced to forgo the comforts of home and family as he embarked on a grueling eighty-day trek that took him to court sessions in Albany (Oct. 4-5), Hartford (Oct. 22-26), Boston (Nov. 3-5), Exeter, N.H. (Nov. 20-24), and Providence (Dec. 4-7). By the time Jay returned to New York City, he had covered a distance of some 860 miles.

 Jay’s itinerary began with a trip up the Hudson River Valley to Albany and then turned southward before crossing into neighboring Massachusetts and continuing into Connecticut. Jay had been on the road for two weeks and was en route to Hartford when he stopped for an evening meal in the Green Woods on October 13. The diary’s recording of his travels in Connecticut helped to pinpoint the general location of the Green Woods. Since he left Norfolk on October 12 and arrived in Simsbury three days later (see map below), I concluded that the Green Woods must be located in the vicinity of these towns.

Park, Plan of Connecticut (1766)

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

Primary sources in the form of newspaper advertisements and Jay’s personal papers shed more light on the Green Woods. Items from the local press suggest that the Green Woods was a region comprised of mountainous, winding terrain. For instance, a notice in the Connecticut Courant informed readers that one Caleb Bull had been hired to repair a section of road that ran through the Green Woods from New-Hartford to Norfolk.[2]  Sarah Livingston Jay mentioned the Green Woods in a letter penned to her husband in early June 1792.  Jay was then riding the Eastern Circuit and was considering whether he would alter his route and travel from Providence by boat rather than by horseback. Upon learning of this development, she observed that his revised plans would deprive him “the superlative pleasure of traversing the ^green^ woods.”[3]

SLJ to JJ, 2 June 1792

Sarah Livingston Jay to John Jay, 2 June 1792. The John Jay Papers. Courtesy of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

While her comment certainly points to the region’s sublime scenery, it also sardonically alludes to the arduous conditions awaiting those travelers who passed through northwestern Connecticut. A state-sponsored history from 1933 that discussed the construction and use of roads in colonial Connecticut described the Green Woods as an “impenetrable wilderness” found in northern Litchfield and Hartford Counties that was filled with “deep and narrow valleys, jutting cliffs, rugged and precipitous declivities, all thickly covered with dark forests of evergreens.”[4]  Collectively, the information gathered from the primary and secondary sources provided me with both the location and a physical description of the Green Woods, an area frequently visited by Jay on his circuit rides. Moreover, these documents prove invaluable because they help us to better comprehend the rigors associated with overland travel in eighteenth-century America.

[1] John Jay Circuit Court Diary, 16 April 1790 – 4 August 1792, (EJ: 7351).

[2] Connecticut Courant (Hartford), June 28, 1783.

[3] Sarah Livingston Jay to John Jay, June 2, 1792, (EJ: 6550).

[4] Isabel S. Mitchell, Roads and Road-Making in Colonial Connecticut (New Haven: Published for the Tercentenary Commission by the Yale University Press, 1933), 3.



King George III’s private papers to go online…and of course Mr. Jay is there.

According to the BBC, George III’s private papers are to go online. Noted in their article is “a letter from US Founding Father John Jay to George Washington, dated 1781.” However, the letter they are referring to is not from Jay, but to Jay from Washington, dated 22 October 1781. In it, Washington sent Jay a copy of Cornwallis’s surrender.

The Jay letter mentioned is a part of a bound collection of letters related to the Revolutionary War, presented to Edward VII while he was Prince of Wales by Jay’s grandson, John Jay II. “Bertie” made a tour of North America in 1860. Other letters include ones from Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette, Robert R. Livingston, Gouverneur Morris, and Benjamin Franklin.

“As the Transmission of the inclosed paper through the usual Channel of the Department of foreign Affairs, would, on the present Occasion, probably be attended with great Delay–and recent Intelligence of Military Transactions, must be important to our Ministers in Europe, at the present period of affairs– I have tho’t it wold be agreeable both to Congress and your Excellency, that the Matter should be communicated immediately by a French Frigate dispatched by Admiral de Grasse. Annexed to the Capitulation is a summary Return of the prisoners and Cannon taken in the two places of York & Gloucester–”

Thanks to Prof. Herbert Sloan for alerting us to this most interesting story. And thank you, BBC, for recognizing John Jay as a Founding Father!

Mary Wigge, a research editor with The Financial Papers of George Washington, posted a fascinating piece yesterday in their project blog on George Washington’s Spanish donkey, Royal Gift, a gift to Washington from King Charles III of Spain. Now, you may not usually associate donkeys and George Washington, but Washington was largely responsible for the development of the Mammoth American Donkey (also known as the Mammoth Jack or American Mammoth Jack), an important breed not only for the work they performed, but their use in breeding mules. Mules are the off-spring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). They are infertile, so having good breeding stock is important. Even more than horses, mules and donkeys provided the “horse power” that ran America, indispensable for agriculture, transportation, and the military.


This piece is even more interesting to me because of John Jay’s involvement. While serving as Minister to Spain during the Revolution (a mission explored in volume 2 of The Selected Papers of John Jay), Jay wrote home to his father, Peter, describing the agriculture and manufactures of that country. While he had much negative to say about Spain’s inns and social inequality, he greatly admired the quality of the horses, asses, and mules.

The Asses are of two kinds very large and very small, they being of distinct Breeds, as much so as our common Horses & Poneys– The little asses are by far the more common because they live with less than the others and are the chief Porters of this Country– Carts & Waggons being very little used– The large Asse is very ugly they call them fine, I suppose when compared with those of other Countries– I have seen none yet that exceeded fourteen Hands and I think them rather heavy limbed– they certainly have a great Deal of Bone It is more than probable that when I return I shall bring a Couple of them with me– I am satisfied that for Labor two very good mules are at the least worth three very good Horses– [23 May 1780]

One thing that stands out in the extensive correspondence between Jay and Washington is their interest in agricultural improvements, both for their personal use and for the nation as a whole. On 3 February 1788, Jay wrote to Washington:

It is a prevailing and I believe a just opinion that our Country would do well to encourage the breeding of mules, but the Difficulty of obtaining good male asses, as yet, much retards it. as you have one of the best kind, would it not be useful to put him to some of the best females now in the Country, and by that means obtain at least a tolerable Breed of asses. The few that I have seen are indeed very small, and it is to be wished that two or three Females of the largest Size could be imported; for we might then soon have from yours as good a Race of those animals as any in the World.

Washington replied on 3 March, offering Royal Gift’s services:

I have two imported female asses from the Island of Malta; which, tho’ not quite equal to the best Spanish Jennies, will serve to establish a valuable breed of these animals in this Country.– Besides, I have dissiminatd the breed of my Spanish Jack to many of the smaller kind of this Country.– And if you have one of these, or a better sort, and should think the trouble of sending her here not too great, she shall have the free use of the Jack–every necessary attendance–and I shall have a great pleasure in obliging you.

Jay’s reply of 12 April informed Washington that a group of New York and New Jersey gentlemen were “in Contemplation to form a Society to promote the breeding of good Horses and Mules. in that Case we will endeavour to introduce some Jennies, and send them to your Jack” again showing the general interest in agricultural improvements during this time period. The draft of the letter (located in the Jay Papers at Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library) contains an interesting excised passage. Jay, so cool, so prudent in his public and private correspondence, often revealed a more fiery side to his personality in his drafts. Here he shows his frustration with the political situation in New York:

As yet to say that we have no four footed asses in this State and I sincerely wish we could exchange some of the other Sort for those wd. be saying too much– of the right Sort we have none I wish we wd. exchange a few of them for Jacks & Jennies we might then obtain a much more Valuable Race of mules than those we now have. 

We’ll be exploring Jay’s agricultural interests further in coming postings, including his correspondence with Sir John Sinclair and a gift of apple trees to English statesman Edmund Burke