With John Jay, author Walter Stahr has revisited a Founding Father who has not been the topic of an extensive biography for almost seventy years. John Jay held a number of important offices and positions: member of the first Continental Congress, President of the Second Continental Congress, American representative to Spain and then France, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, American representative to Britain and a two-term Governor of New York. Jay participated in the negotiations for the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War and single-handedly negotiated the Treaty of 1794 (Jay's Treaty) with Britain. Many though he would be President, but aside from three essays contributed to the Federalist Papers, he did not get involved in the partisan politics that emerged during Washington's Presidency.
Unfortunately, a thorough look at Jay's life has been difficult because many of his personal papers have been lost. Even so, Stahr has used new material to give an extensive look at Jay's life. Jay was a dour man and one who often worked to compromise, but several times in his life, he defends himself from personal attacks in a very public manner. Stahr evenly covers various segments of Jay's life, although he is able to explore certain aspects in greater detail because of the availability of more material.
An aspect of Jay's life that Stahr explores in early pages, but disappears for pages at a time during discussion of his various political lives is Jay's faith. Stahr then spends most of the last chapter describing Jay's involvement in religous pursuits following his retirement from politics. This reviewer doesn't believe that Stahr was minimizing Jay's faith, but rather only able to draw on materials available, which were mostly letters of a political nature. Since many of Jay's personal papers have been lost, it would be fair to assume that many letters of a personal and religious nature have been lost. Actually, even though Jay's faith is not invoked very much, when it is, Stahr treats it with respect. Most modern biographers have tended to minimize or omit the influence of religion on the Founding Fathers, so Stahr's treatment of Jay's faith is a breath of fresh air for this reviewer.
In addition to Jay's many political achievements, Stahr also explores Jay's relationship with his wife, Sarah, who travelled with him to Europe, experiencing Spain and Paris. Upon their return, she managed a busy social hosting calendar which brought many important men of politics to the Jay home, who engaged in discussion with Jay. All in all, Walter Stahr does a nice job of giving a comfortably readable biography that covers Jay's remarkable life and its impact, which has gone largely unheralded in modern times.
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