Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

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the colonies " as a day of public humiliation, fasting
and prayer," and congress, in a body, attended divine
service, both in the morning and afternoon, and
listened to sermons from preachers, whom they had
requested to officiate on that occasion.

America had nov/ commenced a struggle for her
rights, trusting to the justice of her cause, and proba-
bly without the remotest expectation of foreign aid.
But a singular incident occurred in November of this
year, 1775, which excited a gleam of hope. Congress
was informed that a foreigner was then in Philadel-
phia, who was desirous of making to them an impor-
tant and confidential communication. This intimation
having been several times repeated, a committee, con-
sisting of Mr. Jay, Doctor Franklin and Mr. Jefferson,
was appointed to hear what the foreigner had to say.
These gentlemen agreed to meet him in one of the
committee rooms in Carpenter's Hall. At the time
appointed, they v/ent there, and found already arrived
an elderly lame gentleman, having the appearance of
an old wounded French officer. They told him
they were authorized to receive his communication;
upon which he said, that his Most Christian Majesty

jojm JAY. 67

had heard with pleasure of the exertions made by
the American colonies in defence of their rights and
privileges ; that his majesty wished them success,
and would, whenever it should be necessary, mani-
fest more openly his friendly sentiments towards

The committee requested to know his authority for
giving these assurances. He only answered by
drawing his hand across his throat, and saying,
•'Gentlemen, I shall take care of my head." They
then asked what demonstrations of friendship thev
might expect from the king of France. " Gentlemen,"
answered the foreigner, " if you want arms, you shall
have them ; if you want ammunition, you shall have
it; if you want money, you shall have it." The
committee observed that these assurances were indeed
important, but again desired to know by what authority
they were made. " Gentlemen," said he, repeating
his former gesture, "I shall take care of mj^ head;"
and this was the only answer they could obtain from
him. He was seen in Philadelphia no more. It
was the opinion of the committee that he was a secret
agent of the French court, directed to give these
indirect assurances, but in such a manner that they
might be disavowed if necessary. These commu-
nications were not without their effect on the pro-
ceedings of congress. On the 29th of November, a
secret committee was appointed, including Mr. Jay,
for corresponding "with the friends of America in
Great Britain, Ireland, and other parts of the world."
There is reason, therefore, to believe that the myste-
rious stranger, whether acting by authority or not,


was the immediate occasion of those steps which
resulted, at last, in obtaining the assistance of

In the spring of 1776, though still a member of
congress, Mr. Jay was called to New York, to take
part in a colonial convention there. This assembled
in May. On the 29th of June, Lord Howe and his
army arrived off the harbor of New York, and the
convention, apprehending an attack upon the city,
ordered all the leaden window sashes, which were
then common in Dutch houses, to be taken out for
the use of the troops ; an order that strikingly shows
how ill the colony was prepared for the arduous con-
flict that ensued. The next day, the convention
adjourned to White Plains, about twenty-seven miles
from the city.

The neAV convention, clothed with power to estab-
lish a form of government for the colony, convened at
White Plains, on the 9th of July ; and, on the same
day, they received from congress the Declaration
of Independence. This important document was
immediately referred to a committee, of which Mr.
Jay was chairman, and he speedily reported the fol-
lowing resolution, which was unanimously adopted :

" Resolved, that .the reasons assigned by the conti-
nental congress, for declaring these united colonies
free and independent states, are cogent and conclusive ;
and that while we lament the cruel necessity Avhich
has rendered this measure unavoidable, we approve
the same, and will, at the risk of our lives and for-
tunes, join with the other colonies in supporting it."

Thus, although Mr. Jay was, by his recall from


congress, dcpriA'cd of the honor of affixing- his signa-
ture to the Declaration of Independence, he had the
satisfaction of drafting the pledge given by his native
state to support it. The act has the greater merit,
and more clearly shoAVS the decision of his character,
from the consideration that New York was less
unanimous in the assertion and defence of the prin-
ciples of the revolution, than any other of the thirteen
colonies. In almost every county there were num-
bers who secretly or openly sided with the mother
country, and many of them were persons of wealth
and consideration. These circumstances had no
influence, however, upon the steadfast mind of Jay.

We cannot enter into the details of his various
services during the fearful crisis that speedily fol-
lowed. It must be sufficient to say, that, with cease-
less industry and unabating zeal, in various capacities,
he devoted himself to the cause of the bleeding
country. We must not omit, however, to notice the
manner in which he was instrumental in opening
negotiations with the French government, which
resulted in the cooperation of that power in our
struggle for independence. In 1775, Mr. Jay had
been placed by congress on a secret committee of
correspondence. The proceedings of this committee
were enveloped in the most profound secrecy, and they
led to important results. Mr. Jay seems to have
been its chief organ of correspondence. The com-
mittee, having secured the friendship of certain indi-
viduals in France and Holland, sent, in the spring of
this year, Mr. Silas Deane, a late member of congress,
as their agent to France. He was directed to appear

70 JOHN JA\'.

in that country as a merchant ; and certain persons
were mentioned, to whom he was to confide the object
of his mission, and through whose agency he was to
obtain an interview with Count Vergennes, the
French minister for foreign affairs. It was hoped
that he would thus be enabled to procure military
supplies for congress.

As France was at this time at peace Avith England,
it became necessary to resort to expedients to provide
for the consequences that might result from the mis-
carriage of Mr. Deane's letters. For this purpose he
Avas provided with an invisible ink, and Mr. Jay with
a chemical preparation for rendering the writing legi-
ble. But as letters apparently blank might excite
suspicion, and lead to experiments that might expose
the contrivance, Mr. Deane's communications were
written on large sheets, commencing with a short
letter in common ink, relative to some fictitious person
or business, and under a feigned name ; and the resi-
due of the paper was occupied by his despatch in the
invisible ink.

The correspondence, thus arranged, was carried on
for a considerable time, and Mr. Deane's mission
proved successful.

The convention of New York had been assembled
in 1776, to form a constitution for the state, as well as
to exercise the powers of government till that could be
accomplished. The stirring events which followed
occupied their whole attention for a considerable time ;
but in March, 1777, a committee, appointed for the
purpose, reported the plan of a constitution, drawn
up by Mr. Jay, which, with slight modifications, was


adopted. Under the new government, now organized,
he was appointed chief justice.

In the duties of his new station he was actively
engaged for a time, but his services being particularly-
needed in congress, he took his seat there in Decem-
ber, 1778, after an absence of two years. Though
this was not legally incompatible with his judicial
station, he found that congress had no recess, and that
his time was therefore wholly occupied in its duties.
In the autumn of 1799, he accordingly resigned the
ofRce of chief justice of New York.

Eut his services were now required in another
sphere. Desirous of strengthening their foreign
alliances, congress deemed it advisable to despatch a
minister to Spain, and Mr. Jay took his departure on
a mission to that government, October 20, 1779. He
sailed with his wife, on board the American frigate
Confederacy, bound for Spain. Being crippled by a
storm, the vessel put into Martinique ; but he here
found a vessel bound for Toulon, which took him and
his family on board, and they landed at Cadiz, Janu-
ary 22, 1780.

On the fourth day after he had landed, Mr. Jay
despatched his secretary to Madrid, with a letter foi
the Spanish minister, acquainting him with the com
mission with which he was charged. An answer
was returned, inviting him to Madrid, but intimating
that it was expected he would not assume a formal
character, which must depend on f future acknowl-
edgment and treaty.

Mr. Jay was thus led to perceive, at the very outset
of his negotiation, that the acknowledgment of Ame»»


ican independence, by Spain, would on her part be a
matter of bargain, and that she expected to be paid
for admitting an indisputable fact. He, however, lost
no time in repairing to Madrid, and in doing so,
encountered all the delay and inconveniences incident
to Spanish travelling.

On his arrival at Madrid, he discovered no dispo-
sition in the Spanish government to enter into nego-
tiation with him ; and he remarked soon after, in a
letter to a friend, " pains were taken to prevent any
conduct towards me that might savor of an admission
or knowledge of American independence."

Shortly after Mr. Jay's departure from America,
congress adopted a measure that was prompted rather
by the exigencies of the country than by any sound
principles of policy. As one expedient for raising
money for present necessities, they ordered bills to be
drawn on Mr. Jay, for more than half a million of
dollars, payable six, months after sight, in the hope
that, before that time, he would have obtained a sub-
sidy from the Spanish court. With these bills, sup-
plies were purchased for the army, and the holders sent
them to their European correspondent, who presented
them to Mr. Jay, for acceptance. That congress
should have ventured on such a measure, not only
without knowing that Mr. Jay could procure money
in Spain, but even before they had heard of his arrival
there, proves the desperate state of their finances at
this period of the revolution, and the conviction that
the means of continuing the contest were to be pro-
vided for at every hazard. Similar bills were drawn
upon Mr. Laurens, who had sailed as American min-


ister for Holland, and unfortunately they arrived
before the minister, who, being captured by a British
cruiser, was consigned to the Tower of London.

The bills thus drawn upon him, Mr. Jay concluded
to accept, in the hope of obtaining the means of meet
mg them from the Spanish government. A portion
of them, to the amount of about one hundred and fifty
thousand dollars, was provided for in this way, but at
last difTiculties arose, and bills he had accepted to a
large amount were protested. Mr. Jay's situation
was now very painful ; but he Avas soon relieved by
getting a letter from Doctor Franklin, one of our
ministers at Paris, authorizing him to draw upon him
for the amount of all the bills that had fallen due.
Thus he had the satisfaction of seeing the credit of
his country restored, and his own apparently rash
conduct justified by the event.

Mr. Jay's continued residence in Spain now
afforded no prospect of usefulness to his country.
Although treated with great personal civility, he was
not acknowledged in his public character, nor did he
see any opportunity of forming any other treaty with
Spain, than such as might be extorted from the neces-
sities of America. Thus situated, it must have been
with no small satisfaction that he received, early in
May, a letter from Doctor Frankhn, pressing him to
repair to Paris, to assist in the negotiations for peace,
which the doctor believed would' soon be opened.
With his usual promptitude, he obeyed the summons
in a few days, and, abandoning a field in which his
labors had produced but little fruit, he entered anoiAer
VI. — 7


in whicli he gathered for his country an abundant

Shortly before his departure from Spain, he re-
ceived from Doctor Franklin a copy of a letter
written by Mr. Deane to a friend in America, repre-
senting the American cause as desperate, and recom-
mending an immediate reconciliation with Great
Britain. The letter had been intercepted and pub-
lished by the English. Mr. Jay, who, as we have
already seen, was on friendly terms with Deane, had
suspended his portrait in his parlor at Madrid ; but,
on receiving this evidence of his apostasy, he took
down the picture and threw it into the fire, and ever
after showed great reluctance to speak of the origi-

On leaving Spain, ]\Ir. Jay was informed that
Count Aranda, the Spanish ambassador at Paris,
would be authorized to continue the negotiations with
him. Although there was no reason to anticipate
favorable results from a renewal of the negotiation,
Mr. Jay was determined to omit nothing that might
promote the interests of his country; and therefore he
addressed a letter to the count, expressing his readi-
ness to commence the necessary conferences.

A meeting accordingly took place, but resulted
m no benefit, beyond the mutual esteem and inti-
macy of the two ministers. Count Aranda was one
of the richest subjects of Spain, and he lived at
Paris in great splendor. His assortment of Avines
was perhaps the finest in Europe. Instead of pur-
chasing, as usual, of the dealers, he employed agents
to explore the wine countries, and to select the


choicest kinds at the vineyards -»vliere they were
made. His plate, of which he had a profusion, wtis
kept constantly burnished by a silversmith, maintained
in the house for that purpose, so that it always
appeared new.

He had the character of being extremely inflexible,
and the following anecdote is told of him. He was
one day disputing a point with the king with much
earnestness, when the latter, who was also remarkable
for a hard head, said to him — "Aranda, you are the
most obstinate man of all Arragon." "No, sire," replied
the count; "there is one still more obstinate than I
am." "And who is that?" said the king. "The
king of Arragon ! " answered the count. The king
laughed, and took no offence at the freedom.

The part taken by France in our revolution was
dictated wholly by policy ; it did not proceed from a
sense of right, or a love of justice, or a desire to pro-
mote the cause of liberty ; but from a desire to cripple
England, her enemy. When the war was drawing
to a close, and the independence of America was cer-
tain, the cabinet at Paris began to consider w"hat
ultimate benefits could be derived from the exertions
they had made in our behalf. It seemed to them
desirable that the new republic should, as far as possi-
ble, continue to be dependent upon her old ally, and
for this purpose they sought rather to restrain than
enlarge her power. They, therefore, desired to narrow
her boundaries, to exclude her from the navigation of
the Mississippi, and to prevent a liberal treaty with
England, which might establish amicable relations
with that country.


To enable him to accomplish these objects, the
French minister, Vergennes, by a series of intrigues,
induced congress to instruct their ambassadors at
Paris, who were about to enter upon negotiations with
England, to govern themselves by the advice of the
French court. This placed the American ministers
virtually under the dictation' of France. Such a posi-
tion seemed to Mr. Jay humihating to America and
her agents, and he strongly remonstrated against it.

It was not till the 25lh of July, that the British
ministry took a decided step for commencing negotia-
tions with the American commissioners. On that day
the king issued an order to the attorney general, to
prepare a commission to Richard Oswold, empowering
him " to treat, consult of, and conclude with any com-
missioner or commissioners named, or to be named by
the thirteen colonies or plantations ia North America,
and any body, or bodies, corporate or politic, or any
assembly or assemblies, or description of men, or any
person or persons, whatever, a peace or truce with the
said colonies ox plantations, or any part thereof"

The French minister thought this commission suf-
ficient, and Dr. Franklin approved of it ; but Mr. Jay
objected to entering upon negotiations, as colonies, and
by the decisive measures he took, independent of his
colleague, the king of Great Britain removed the dif-
ficulty by authorizing Mr. Oswold to treat with the
commissioners of the United States of America.
Thus was an acknowledgment of our independence
extorted from the mother country.

In October, 1782, John Adams, one of our commis-
sioners, arrived at Paris. He fully concurred in the


views of Jay, and sought to enlighten Dr. Franklin
as to the sinister views of the French court. In this
he succeeded, and consequently the commissioners,
disregarding the instructions of congress to submit
themselves to the dictation of France, proceeded
independently in the negotiations Avith Mr. Oswold.
These were soon brought to a successful issue, and a
provisional treaty was signed, securing our right to
participation in the fisheries of Newfoundland, the
navigation of the Mississippi, and a territory of which
that river was the western boundary. Thus were the
sinister designs of the French minister baffled, through
the firmness and sagacity of Jay, seconded by Adams.
Mr. Lawrence, the fourth commissioner of the United
States, arrived soon after, and his name was attached
to the treaty.

The character of the French minister may be
inferred from an incident that occurred during these

Mr. Jay was one evening in conference with Mr.
Oswold, when the latter, wishing to consult his in-
structions, unlocked his escritoire ; when, to his great
astonishment and alarm, he discovered that the paper
was missing. Mr. Jay smiled, and told him to give
himself no concern about the document, as he would
certainly find it in its place as soon as the French
minister had done with it. In a few days the predic-
tion was verified.

The minister had caused the document to be stolen,

probably by bribing a servant ; and when he had

taken a copy of it, it was returned. So v/ell apprized

of the artifices of the French government was Mr.



Jay, that he always carried his confidential papers in
his pocket.

Mr. Jay continued in England as one of our com-
missioners, to settle the definitive treaty with Eng-
land. This was accomplished in August, 1783, the
provisional treaty, before mentioned, being adopted as
its basis. Having visited England for his health, and
adjusted his accounts, he set out on his return, and
arrived at New York July 24, 17S4.

He Avas soon elected a member of congress, and, in
17S5, accepted the ofRce of secretary of foreign afTairs,
in which station he continued till the office expired
with the termination of the confederation. On the
17th September, 1787, the convention, which had met
at Philadelphia for the purpose, submitted a constitu-
tion to a convention of each state, for ratification or

Although this constitution did not in all respects
equal the wishes of Mr. Jay, its superiority to the
articles of confederation was too obvious to i permit
him to hesitate to give it his support. The oppo-
sition to it, however, became active and virulent, and
it was studiously inflamed by gross misrepresentation.
At this momentous crisis, Mr. Jay united with Mr.
Madison and Colonel Hamilton in an attempt to
enlighten and direct the public opinion by a series of
newspaper essays, under the title of the Federalist.
These papers were not only circulated throughout
the Union by means of the periodical press, but were
collected and published in two volumes, and have
since passed through many editions ; they have been
translated into French, and still form a valuable stan-


dard commentary on the constitution of the United

Mr. Jay was elected a member of the convention of
New York, to consider the proposed constitution, and,
seconded by HamiUon and Chancellor Livingston,
gave it able support. After a deliberation of three
weeks, he moved its acceptance, which was finally
carried, July 26, 17S8, by a majority of three votes.

Washington being elected president under the new
constitution, reached New York, April 23, 17S9,
and, on the 30th, took the oath of office. At nine
o'clock on that day, all the churches of New York
were opened, and the several congregations, with their
pastors, assembled for the purpose of solemnly invok-
ing the blessing of Heaven upon the new government.
After the president's address to congress, he, with both
houses, attended divine service at St. Paul's, to render
thanks to the Supreme Being for the successful
establishment of the government, and to implore the
• divine blessing. Thus was our union founded in the
piety and prayers of our fathers.

Mr, Jay officiated as secretary of state, till Mr. Jef-
ferson should arrive from Europe, to take charge of
its duties. But having accepted the office of chief
justice of the United States, he held the first circuit
court, at New York, April 3, 1790. Continuing to
discharge the duties of this high office, he was a can-
didate for governor of his native state in 1792, and
received a majority of votes; but the canvassers set
aside a portion of the returns, as being informal, a?ad
the democratic candidate, George Clinton, was declarea


In the spring of 1794, Mr. Jay was appointed
ambassador to England, with a view to adjust the dif-
ficnhies which had grown up with that country, and
which had for some time threatened the return of
war. He embarked May 12th, and reached Fal-
mouth in June. With his usual promptitude he
immediately announced his arrival to Lord Grenville,
the British secretary of foreign affairs. In a few
days after, he reached London.

Three objects were contemplated by Mr. Jay's
instructions. These were compensation for the
losses sustained by American merchants, in conse-
quence of the orders in council; a settlement of all
existing disputes in relation to the treaty of peace,
and a commercial treaty. The confidence placed by
the president in his envoy, led him to direct him to
consider his instructions merely in the light of recom-

Lord Grenville was duly commissioned by the king
to treat with Mr. Jay, and the sincerity and candor of
the two negotiators soon led to a degree of mutual
confidence, that both facilitated and lightened their
labors. Instead of adopting the usual wary but tedious
mode of reducing every proposition and reply to
writing, they conducted the negotiations chiefly by
conferences, in which the parties frankly stated their
several views, and suggested the way in which the
objections to those views might be obviated. It was
understood that neither party was to be committed by
what passed in these conversations ; but that the
propositions made in them might be recalled or modi-
fied at pleasure. In this manner the two ministers


speedily discovered on what points they could agree,
where their views were irreconcilable, and on Avhat
principles a compromise could be effected.

Proceeding in this-manner, the treaty was at length
formed, and signed on the 19th of November. In
May, he returned to New York, and found that, two
days previous to his arrival, he had been elected gov-
ernor of his native state, by a large majority. He
was received with enthusiasm by the people, and,
resigning his office of chief justice, took the oath as
governor, on the 1st of July.

Mr. Jay had foreseen the opposition which his
treaty was likely to meet, in America, from several
sources, — a desire to embarrass Washington's admin-'
istration, a hatred of England, and a predilection for
France. Even before its contents were known, a
furious attack upon it was commenced. The follow-
ing extract from one of the democratic organs of the

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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 5 of 21)