Founders Online Adds the Papers of John Jay

In celebration of Constitution Day, the National Archives, through a collaboration between its National Historical Publications and Records Commission and The University of Virginia (UVA) Press, is pleased to announce that the Selected Papers of John Jay have been added to Founders Online. Jay’s papers join the fully-searchable database of records from  George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. The nearly 2,000 Jay documents increase the total number of Founders Online items to more than 185,000. 

Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of John Jay, 1794. National Gallery of Art.

“Adding Jay to Founders Online on Constitution Day makes eminent sense,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, “given that Jay helped draft both the New York Constitution and five of the Federalist Papers that supported ratification of the Federal Constitution. Now students and researchers can easily learn what Jay thought and wrote about these and other milestones in early U.S. history.”

The Selected Papers of John Jay is a seven-volume scholarly edition of his correspondence and writings, a wide-ranging selection of he most significant and interesting public and private documents and letters, written or received by Jay. The edition is designed to revise and complete work begun in the 1950s by the eminent Columbia University professor Richard B. Morris, who supplemented the major collection of original Jay papers at Columbia with copies of Jay documents secured from archives throughout the world. Under Morris’s direction, project staff published two volumes covering the era of the American Revolution. The current project is sponsored by the Rare Books & Manuscript Library of Columbia University Libraries.

Few leaders of the new American nation had more influence than John Jay (1745–1829), or match his contributions in all three branches of government, at both state and national levels. Perhaps he is best remembered as the first chief justice of the United States (1789-1795), but Jay was also a leading representative of New York in the Continental Congress, and one of the American commissioners who negotiated peace with Great Britain, ending the American Revolution. He served the new republic as secretary for foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation and was a contributor to the Federalist papers, arguing for ratification of the Constitution. Jay also was negotiator of the 1794 “Jay Treaty” with Great Britain and a two-term governor of the state of New York. In his personal life, Jay embraced a wide range of religious, social, and cultural concerns, including the abolition of slavery. Among his correspondents are George Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

While Jay’s peers recognized his profound influence as a statesman, he is often portrayed as a “man in the background” by many scholars of the American Revolution and early republic. The Selected Papers of John Jay will introduce a new generation of students and scholars to this founder’s role in shaping the American government and place in context his domestic life and his legacy, including the roles of his articulate wife and of their politically active sons, who solicited Jay’s advice in shaping their own careers of public service. The documentary edition complements the the Papers of John Jay digital archive, launched in 2003, which provides access to images of more than 20,000 pages of Jay and Jay-related documents.

The Selected Papers of John Jay is published by the University of Virginia Press. The first five of a planned seven-volume edition have already appeared. A digital edition has also been published by the University of Virginia Press as part of their America’s Founding Era collection on Rotunda.

The Selected Papers of John Jay is supported by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and Columbia University Libraries. Additional support has been provided by the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, the Richard Gilder Foundation, the Florence J. Gould Foundation, and Columbia University Law School.

The inclusion of Jay’s papers on Founders Online promises to deepen our understanding of the written record of the original thoughts, ideas, debates, and principles of our democracy. Users can now search across the records of all seven Founders and read first drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the spirited debate over the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the very beginnings of American law, government, and our national story. 

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