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An excerpt from the editor's PREFACE.
John Jay’s public services extended over and beyond the formative period of our national life—from 1774 to 1801. During those twenty-seven years he devoted himself to varied important duties with a zeal, fidelity, ability, and success that from the beginning of his career entitled him to rank with the distinguished fathers of the Republic and framers of its Constitutional system. The several official positions he occupied called out his talents and energies in four directions. First, he promoted the general interests of the Colonies during the early years of the Revolutionary struggle, in serving at intervals from 1774 to 1779 as delegate in the Continental Congress. Again, as Minister or Envoy, at different periods, to Spain, France, and Great Britain, he rendered perhaps his most conspicuous service to the country. Again, as Chief-Justice, both of his own State and of the United States, he impressed grand juries and all concerned with the necessity of encouraging a profound respect for law and constitutions in the new order of things, and at the outset, through his own personal dignity and integrity, gave character to our highest courts since traditionally preserved. And again, in his native State of New York, he proved himself invaluable as a member of Provincial bodies and committees in providing the sinews of war, in suppressing conspiracies, in drafting laws, in organizing the machinery of the new State, in urging, through the “Federalist” and in the New York Convention, the adoption of our common Constitution, and finally, in twice filling the office of Governor. As Congressman, diplomatist, jurist, and State leader, seeking in each sphere of action to secure substantial results without display or effect, he was pre-eminently a man for his times. Perhaps, also, as nearly as any one in our civil history, he filled the ideal of a public servant.
The first “Life” of Jay was published in 1833. This work, issued in two volumes, one of which was devoted to sections from his correspondence, was edited by William Jay, son of John Jay, and ranks as a standard contribution to our historical literature. For many years, however, it has been out of print, and practically inaccessible except in libraries. Other biographies have since appeared, the latest of which, published in the current year, and edited by Mr. George Pellew, is a re-study from the Jay papers and other authoritative sources.
To meet the need of a purely documentary edition the present set of four volumes has been prepared upon the plan of the writings of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and others. This change and expansion provides for the addition of numerous letters and documents from the Jay correspondence not published in the volumes of 1833.
Jay’s papers were voluminous, and the greater portion have been carefully preserved by his immediate descendants and in public and private collections. What can be said of but few of his contemporaries, he retained with his own drafts most of the personal or semi-official letters written to him during a period of nearly half a century, many of which, received from eminent and observing men, throw those side-lights upon affairs and social and political life in general so much sought and prized by students of American history to-day. As the correspondence of this description supplements and explains much that Jay himself wrote, a considerable number of new selections have been introduced into, and constitute a feature of, the present edition. The principal space is allotted, necessarily, to Jay’s own writings.
By courtesy of the Hon. John Jay, the fine collection of Jay papers in his possession has been placed in the hands of the publishers and editor for the preparation of this work. It should also be said that the labor of examination and selection has been greatly relieved by an exhaustive and critical index and analysis of the papers arranged by Miss Ruth Putnam.
Some selections have been made from other manuscript sources and from printed works.