The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Casimir Gregory Stapko (after Gilbert Stuart))
John Jay was born to a prominent New York family. He was tutored at home and attended King's College, graduating at nineteen. He was admitted to the bar four years later.
Jay was New York's representative at the First and Second Continental Congress. In 1788, Jay was elected president of that body. He was sent on diplomatic missions and he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the war with Great Britain.
Jay was a strong advocate for a strengthened national government. Though he did not attend the Constitutional Convention, he did contribute five essays to a series of newspaper articles (later called "The Federalist Papers") in support of ratification.
Jay declined Washington's offer to serve as secretary of state. Washington returned with an offer as the first chief justice, which Jay accepted. Jay continued diplomatic missions while on the Court. He negotiated a treaty with England in 1794 to ease growing hostilites between the two countries.
Upon his return from the treaty negotiations, Jay discovered that he had been elected governor of New York. He immediately resigned his position as chief justice. He served two three-year terms as governor.
In 1800, President John Adams nominated Jay for a second appointment as chief justice. The nomination was quickly confirmed by the Senate, but Jay refused citing his poor health and because he concluded that the Court lacked "the energy, weight, and dignity which are essential to its affording due support to the national government."