A Word from our Founders; John Jay

John Jay has historically been relegated to the second tier of the Founding Fathers. Yet he was instrumental in getting New York to ratify the Constitution. Had either Virginia or New York failed to ratify the Constitution it is unlikely that the young nation would have survived. He successfully negotiated the peace treaty with England after the Revolutionary War. The argument can be made that he was as instrumental as any of the Founders in the period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginning of the 19th Century.  While John Marshall is widely seen as the founding spirit of the Supreme Court due to his assertion of the Court’s right to declare laws unconstitutional in Marbury vs Madison, John Jay was the original Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The following are the instructions that Chief Justice Jay delivered to the Grand Juries of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire in the Spring of 1790.

The prose style is in keeping with the written word of the period and can feel alien to the modern reader. However, the sentiment Jay expresses is as profound today as it was in 1790. I encourage you to read it in its entirety.

“It cannot be too strongly impressed on the minds of us all how greatly our individual prosperity depends on our national prosperity, and how greatly our national prosperity depends on a well-organized, vigorous government, ruling by wise and equal laws, faithfully executed; nor is such a government un-friendly to liberty–to that liberty which is really inestimable; on the contrary, nothing but a strong government of laws irresistibly bearing down arbitrary power and licentiousness can defend it against those two formidable enemies. Let it be remembered that civil liberty consists not in a right to every man to do just what he pleases, but it consists in an equal right to all the citizens to have, enjoy, and to do, in peace, security, and without molestation, whatever the equal and constitutional laws of the country admit to be consistent with the public good. It is the duty and the interest, therefore, of all good citizens, in their several stations, to support the laws and the government which thus protect their rights and liberties. I am persuaded, gentlemen, that you will cheerfully and faithfully perform the task now assigned you, and I forbear, by additional remarks, to detain you longer from it.”

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