John Jay

An Awkward Mission

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"The grateful impression made on these States by the friendly disposition manifested by his Catholic Majesty, by the proofs given of it in the measures which he has taken, and which it is hoped he will further take"
John Jay, 1780

Born in New York in 1745, John Jay, jurist and politician, was a distinguished member of the Continental Congress, special envoy to Spain, and negotiator of the peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States that ended the War of Independence.

Jay was New York representative in the Continental Congress. He was also a member of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, charged with soliciting foreign support for the revolution. He was appointed Plenipotentiary Minister to Spain in 1779 and arrived in September of that year, with the purpose of negotiating an alliance with the Spanish kingdom. He lived in Madrid until May, 1782, and during those years suffered serious economic setbacks as well as several family problems. During the reign of Carlos III, it was customary for the Spanish Court to relocate with every change of season, which made it very difficult for Jay to schedule meetings and audiences with various ministers. His Anglo-Saxon upbringing and firm Protestant beliefs (strongly republican and anti-Catholic) also hindered his relations with the Court and probably explain why his writings make scarce mention of the important aid he received in Madrid. Indeed, records show that he was given at least 265,000 pesos in cash and credit by Diego de Gardoqui, as well as royal vouchers and bills of exchange from the financier Francisco Cabarrús and others. In the summer of 1781, he was instructed by Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance for the Continental Congress, to request an urgent loan of 5,000,000 pesos from Spain, to which Spain agreed in part. The Spanish Court also approved the shipment, from Cádiz, of a large number of uniforms, which Admiral Cordoba and his squadron had confiscated from the British.

John Jay served as negotiator of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, acting as congressional representative. The treaty did not fully satisfy the interests of the allies and caused discontent in both the French and Spanish Courts. In 1789, Jay argued for a law barring Catholics from holding public office. In 1799, he was one of the most ardent supporters of legislation to abolish slavery. He was appointed the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1789, and in 1795 he negotiated a treaty with Great Britain that made him deeply unpopular because its terms were unfavorable to American commerce. He also served as governor of New York and died in Bedford, New York, in 1829.

José Manuel Guerrero Acosta
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