Founding Fathers: John Jay

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12246

Have you ever heard of John Jay? It's a short name for a man of many accomplishments. Among other things, as a U.S. Founding Father, Jay helped "start" the United States, and his legacy remains today!


United States, United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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You most likely know who was the first president of the United States, but do you know who was the first Supreme Court Chief Justice of the United States?

The Founding Fathers are a group of men who participated in the American Revolution and helped found the United States of America.

There are several men who are distinguished as the Founding Fathers, but there are a few who played a key role in American independence and America’s founding. Some of those key figures, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, you are probably very familiar with due to their numerous accomplishments. Other key figures you may not be as familiar with. In The Founding Fathers series of Related Lessons, found in the right-hand sidebar, you will learn about some of the lesser-known, but equally important, Founding Fathers.

In this lesson, you will learn about the Founding Father John Jay. While John Jay is not as highly recognized as other figures, such as George Washington, he played an important role in American history throughout and after the American Revolution. As you read through this information, create a list of all of Jay’s accomplishments.

Jay’s career in politics began in 1774, when he was elected to the First Continental Congress as a representative for the colony of New York. He was the second-youngest member at the congressional meeting, at the age of 28. The Revolutionary War had not yet begun, but there was mounting tension between the Americans and the British. Jay encouraged the Congress to remain a part of Great Britain. He believed there was still an opportunity for the Americans and the British to come to an agreement. When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Jay walked out of the Continental Congress and refused to sign.

After the Americans declared independence from Great Britain, each colony was responsible for writing its own constitution — rules and principles the state would abide by. Jay was the principal author of the Constitution of New York. He created a constitution that limited the power of the government, an idea that is embodied in the Bill of Rights today.

In 1778, Jay was elected to be the president of the Continental Congress. He held that position until fall of 1779, when he was appointed to be the American minister to Spain. Spain had entered the Revolutionary War as an ally to France that year. France was ally to the Americans, meaning Spain also became an ally of the Americans. An American leader was needed to meet with, and form plans with, the Spanish. Finally, at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, Jay was asked to be a part of the committee that negotiated the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The treaty officially brought an end to the war, forced Great Britain to recognize American independence, and gave the Americans most of the land that had belonged to the British in North America.

After the war, Jay continued to play an active role in the founding of the United States. Jay was not a member of the Constitutional Convention, or the group of people that wrote the constitution, but he was a supporter of the new constitution. In the 1780s, he was one of three nameless authors of The Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers were a series of essays printed in newspapers throughout the country. Each essay provided reasons why Americans should support the new constitution, which the congress initially had trouble gaining support for. Historians agree that The Federalist Papers played a key role in convincing the public to support the new constitution and in getting the constitution ratified, or signed into effect.

Finally, George Washington named Jay to be the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. As the first, Jay established many of the rules and customs still followed by the Supreme Court today.

To continue learning about John Jay, you will watch a short video clip. As you watch John Jay: The Reluctant Revolutionary, from The Federalist Society, continue to add to your list of Jay’s accomplishments:

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Share the list you created with your teacher. Use the information you recorded to help you discuss the following questions:

  • What do you think is John Jay’s most notable accomplishment?
  • Why do you think John Jay is considered one of the most important founding fathers, even though he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence?
  • How did John Jay continue to play an important role in America’s founding after the Revolutionary War?

When you have finished discussing the questions, move on to the Got It? section to continue learning about the life and legacy of John Jay.

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