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History is not always just in its discriminations, or correct in its estimate of individual character and of the true worth and merit of public services. There is something so attractive to the historian in tracing successful results in administration, and brilliant achievements on the field of battle, that he is apt to lose sight of the less striking but no less valuable labors of the discreet statesman in the legislature, the jurist on the bench, and the ambassador in the field of foreign diplomacy. Thus it happens in regard to our revolutionary struggle, that while the popular admiration centres round the more prominent actors on the scene, there is a class of men, standing comparatively in the background, whose characters have never been fully appreciated, and to whose memories history has not yet done entire justice. These are the men of the Continental Congress and of the Federal and State Conventions -the Livingstons, the Rutledges, the Morrises, the Ellsworths—the men who aided, not only in achieving the American Revolution, but in laying broad and deep the foundations of liberty, and in reconstructing our political institutions. Without their aid, however successful the contest, it must have ended in ultimate defeat. The battle might have been won, but the fruits of victory never obtained. The arm of the conqueror would have fallen, paralyzed, in the moment of his triumph; for the experience of history shows that the civilian and the statesman are as necessary as the soldier to the successful issue of a revolution.
One of these men was John Jay-a man of modest virtue and unpretending merit, who quietly, faithfully and ably discharged the most important duties in the sphere he was called upon to fill. There are those who played a more imposing and brilliant part than he in the revolutionary drama, and whose names posterity has been inclined to inscribe higher on the scroll of fame; but there are few who are more deserving the respect and veneration of their countrymen. His signature, it is true, is not found with those of Jefferson and Adams, affixed to the Declaration of Independence; nor with Hamilton and Madison did he assist in raising the fabric of the Federal Constitution. But no man rendered a more zealous and energetic support to the one, and none contributed more efficiently to sustain and carry out the other, And whatever in our day may be thought of the correctness of some of his political views, no American will fail to render a ready homage to that active zeal, courage, and devotion to the common cause, as well as to that honesty of purpose and moral rectitude which characterized the public, as it did the private life of one of the purest men of the Revolution.
The name of John Jay should be especially venerated by the American lawyer:-indeed it is a name that cannot soon be forgotten. The first Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York-the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States under the Federal Constitution, he occupied a position which of itself, and without the aid of that learning, and those varied accomplishments which adorned his mind, would have left a memory that could not soon have faded from the records of American jurisprudence.
I shall have occasion in attempting a sketch of the life and services of the first Chief Justice of the United States, to consider him in the character of a lawyer and a judge, as well as in those more public capacities, legislative, diplomatic and executive, which he filled during the greater portion of his active life. It is not only as a statesman, but as a jurist, that John Jay ought to be
known to his countrymen. For it is from the record of his judicial labors, as well as from the history of his political care-r, that we are to draw a true estimate of his character, and of the extent and value of the services he rendered his country.
John Jay was born in the city of New York, on the 12ih day of December, 1745. He was descended on the father's side from French ancestry. His mother's ancestors were from Holland. His paternal grandfather, Pierre Jay, was an opulent merchant at Rochelle. A Protestant he was obliged to leave France on the revocation of the edict of Nantz, and take refuge in England. One of his three sons, Augustus, emigrated to New York, and married a daughter of Balthazar Bayard, whose ancestors, like those of Mr. Jay, had been Protestants, and had been obliged to emigrate from France to Holland. Three daughters and one son were the fruits of this union. The son, in honor of the Rochelle merchant, was named Peter. In 1728 Mr. Peter Jay married Mary Van Cortlandt, the daughter of Jacobus Van Cortlandt, a gentleman belonging to one of the oldest families of the Dutch colonists who settled Mahattan Island. Peter Jay had ten children, of whom the subject of this sketch, John, was the eighth. The family, we are told, removed to the town of Rye, on Long Island Sound, about twenty-five miles distant from New York, and John was carried there in his nurse's arms.
At the age of six or seven years, his father remarks of him, that he is “of a very grave disposition, and takes to learning exceedingly well;" and again, “My Johnny gives me a very pleasing prospect. He seems to be endowed with a very good capacity, is very reserved, and quite of his brother James' disposition for books.” At the age of eight John was sent to a grammar-school at New Rochelle, kept by the Rev. Mr. Strope, pastor of the French church at that place. At fourteen he entered King's College, in the city of New York, over which Dr. Samuel Johnson then presided. Egbert Benson, Peter Van Schaack, Richard Harrison, Gouverneur Morris and