John Jay (lawyer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
John Jay
John Jay II.jpg
United States Minister to Austria-Hungary
In office
June 1, 1869 – March 31, 1875
PresidentUlysses S. Grant
Preceded byHenry M. Watts
Succeeded byGodlove S. Orth
Personal details
Born(1817-06-23)23 June 1817
New York City, New York
Died5 May 1894(1894-05-05) (aged 76)
New York City, New York
Political partyFree Soil

John Jay (23 June 1817 – 5 May 1894) was an American lawyer and diplomat to Austria-Hungary, serving 1869-1875. He was the son of William Jay and a grandson of Chief Justice John Jay of the United States Supreme Court. Jay was active in the anti-slavery movement, elected president of the New York Young Men's Antislavery Society while still in college. He published several speeches and pamphlets on slavery and history, and was elected in 1889 as president of the American Historical Association.

Jay defended numerous fugitive slaves in court and helped several gain freedom. In 1852 Jay led a team of attorneys in New York City in Lemmon v. New York, gaining the freedom of eight Virginia slaves brought to New York by their owners in transit to Texas. The ruling survived appeals through the state courts. In 1854 Jay was among the founders of the Republican Party in the United States. In 1883 he was appointed as the Republican member of the New York Civil Service Commission, founded to reduce patronage and corruption in government, and later was selected as its president.


John Jay was born in 1817 in New York City to William Jay, an attorney later appointed as judge in Westchester County, and his wife Augusta McVickar. The young Jay was prepared at Dr. William A. Muhlenberg's highly respected Institute at Flushing, Long Island (Class of 1832). Muhlenberg's pupils often entered higher education as third-year students then distinguished themselves further. Jay completed his degree at Columbia College in 1836, and was admitted to the bar three years later after reading the law. He early became intensely interested in the anti-slavery movement, much like his father and namesake grandfather.

In 1834, while Jay was still attending college, he became president of the New York Young Men's Antislavery Society. Jay was also active in the Free Soil Party movement, presided at several of its conventions, and was once its candidate for Attorney General of New York.

As an attorney in private practice in New York City, Jay represented a number of fugitive slaves in freedom suits, including George Kirk,[1] three Brazilians,[2] and Henry Long.[3] He gained the freedom of Kirk and the Brazilians (who were aided in escaping by the Underground Railroad before a judge decided in their favor), but Long was returned to Virginia and slavery in 1851.

Long was working in a restaurant after having been a fugitive in New York for several years. As his self-proclaimed owner John T. Smith from Richmond, Virginia sued for his return under the new Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Horace Greeley and the American Anti-Slavery Society tried to gain Long's freedom after he was captured. This was one of several test cases of the new law. Fear of its implementation resulted in hundreds of fugitive slaves going to Canada from New York and Massachusetts, as they felt vulnerable to slave catchers. Prominent fugitives and abolitionists Ellen and William Craft migrated from Boston to England to ensure their safety. Long's case was first given to a federal commissioner, newly appointed under the law. He referred it to federal court. Despite the defense by Jay, Judge Judson found in favor of the owner. Many in New York were outraged, and 200 police were called on to enforce Long's being taken to the ferry for passage to New Jersey, where he was taken by railroad to Virginia. There he was sold to a planter from Georgia and forced to work on a cotton plantation.[4]

In 1852 Jay successfully led a team of attorneys in a freedom suit, Lemmon v. New York, gaining the release in New York City's Superior Court of eight slaves brought to New York by their Virginia owners, who were stopping over in the city prior to sailing to relocate to Texas. New York had passed a law prohibiting slave transit. Like some other free states, New York said that slaves brought voluntarily to the state by their owners in transit would be considered free.[2] A considerable network of black and white activists kept watch for fugitive and transit slaves and took action to free them. In the case of the Lemmon slaves, activist Louis Napoleon, one of an important trio, was alerted and gained a habeas corpus writ requiring them to be presented to court. Jay, Erastus D. Culver and the young Chester A. Arthur (future president of the United States) defended them. The ruling was upheld through two levels of appeals in state courts, the second ruling made in 1860. The case was never heard by the US Supreme Court, because the civil war broke out.

In 1854 Jay organized the series of popular political meetings in the Broadway Tabernacle. The next year he was prominently identified with the founding of the Republican Party.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Jay as the United States Minister to the Austria-Hungary empire, where he served from 1869 to 1875. In 1877 Secretary of State Sherman appointed him chairman of the special commission to investigate Chester A. Arthur's administration of the New York Custom House. In 1883 Democratic Governor Grover Cleveland appointed Jay as the Republican member of the New York Civil Service Commission, of which he later became president.

Jay published several speeches and pamphlets on slavery and other issues. In 1889 he was elected as president of the American Historical Association.

Jay died in Manhattan at the age of 76. He was buried in John Jay Cemetery, established for his grandfather and owned by his family in Rye, New York.


Jay wrote a biographical article for Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography about his grandfather John Jay, Chief Justice; it included sections on his father, and himself.[3]

Other published works included:[3]

  • "America Free, or America Slave" (1856)
  • "The Church and the Rebellion" (1863)
  • "On the Passage of the Constitutional Amendment abolishing Slavery" (1864)
  • "Rome in America" (1868)
  • "The American Foreign Service" (1877)
  • "The Sunday-School a Safeguard to the Republic"
  • "The Fisheries Question"
  • "The Public School a Portal to the Civil Service."



  • Wikisource-logo.svg Jay, John (1892). "Jay, John" . In Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J. Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 3. New York: D. Appleton. p. 408.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Jay, John, American diplomatist" . Encyclopedia Americana.