John Jay Heir to Help Celebrate Famed Alumnus' 250th Birthday

Columbia will hail the first Chief Justice of the United States, its illustrious alumnus John Jay, in a celebration marking the 250th anniversary of his birth Dec. 12 with a conference on his life and legacy and three exhibitions.

Jay's lineal descendant John Jay Iselin, the president of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science and former public broadcasting executive, will join the salute to his great-great-great-great-grandfather at a birthday party at 5:00 P.M. Tuesday capping the day-long conference in Low Rotunda.

It was from the estate of Iselin's grandmother, Mrs. Arthur Iselin, great-great-granddaughter of John Jay, that Columbia acquired its exceptional collection of John Jay Papers, which includes the original draft of The Federalist No. 5 and three unpublished letters from George Washington.

Concurrent exhibitions on this pre-eminent figure in the founding of the American republic are on view in the Rotunda and in Butler Library.

Sharing the same title and space as the scholarly conference is an exhibit in the Rotunda titled The Life and Legacy of John Jay (1745-1829), drawing on manuscripts, books and pamphlets, artworks, newspapers and maps to trace the life and work of Jay, who was graduated in 1764 from King's College, as Columbia was known before the American Revolution, and served from 1789 to 1795 as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

President Rupp will address the conference, which is free and open to the public, at its opening at 10:00 A.M.

Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor in History and Social Sciences at Columbia, will open the afternoon session at 2:45 P.M.

In four panels focusing on the major themes of Jay's career--the personal and humanitarian, political, diplomatic and legal--12 nationally known historians and legal scholars will present papers on themes ranging from "John Jay and Revolution" to "John Jay and International Law."

Ene Sirvet of Columbia, editor of The Papers of John Jay, will moderate the two morning panels, and Leonardo Tarán, Jay Professor of Greek and Latin Languages at Columbia, will moderate the afternoon sessions.

Columbia Law School Dean Lance Liebman will preside at the conference closing, and Provost Jonathan Cole will introduce John Jay Iselin at a reception immediately following in the Faculty Room.

"The goals of the Jay commemorative program," said Sirvet, who organized the birthday tribute and curated the exhibitions, "are to confirm Jay's membership in the ranks of pre-eminent American statesmen and to encourage renewed public discussion of the ideas and principles to which Jay devoted his life: civility, liberty and constitutional government, the rule of law, and diplomacy."

The Gino Speranza Lecture Fund of Columbia is supporting the conference, and the proceedings will later be published.

John Jay, one of the nation's "Founding Fathers," was a reluctant rebel. He was a lawyer (his M.A. from King's College in 1967 recognized his mastery of law) and had embarked on what was assured to be a brilliant legal career when he took up the American cause and became one of the leading public figures of the nascent republic.

He began his political career in 1774 as a New York delegate to the First Continental Congress. A moderate in the dispute between the colonists and Great Britain, he endorsed the Declaration of Independence and helped lead his state and nation in the American Revolution.

In 1777, he chaired the committee that framed New York's first constitution, becoming the state's first chief justice. In 1778 he was elected President of the Continental Congress, which in 1779 sent him on his first diplomatic mission--to secure an alliance with Spain.

In 1782-83 he, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris, by which Britain formally recognized American independence.

Wrote The Federalist

Jay was the Confederation's Secretary for Foreign Affairs from 1784 to 1789. An advocate of national constitutional reform, in 1787-88 he championed the proposed Constitution, writing The Federalist, the preeminent American contribution to political thought, with Alexander Hamilton (also a Columbia alumnus) and James Madison.

Serving from 1789 to 1795 as the nation's first Chief Justice, he also negotiated the 1794 Jay Treaty that averted war with Britain for a generation.

He resigned from the Court in 1795 to accept election as governor of New York, retiring from public life in 1801.

The three Jay exhibitions, which also commemorate the bicentennials of the Jay Treaty and his election as New York's Governor, may be seen as follows:

The Life and Legacy of John Jay (1745-1829) is on view in Low Rotunda through Jan. 4, 1996. Hours are 9:00-5:30, Mon.-Fri.

John Jay (1745-1829): An Exhibition from the Collections of Columbia University is on display in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Butler Library through Mar. 15. Hours are Mon., Noon-7:45 P.M., Tues.-Fri., 9-4:45. (Call 854-5153 to confirm.) Among the items are Jay's original draft of The Federalist No. 5, confidential diaries and reports documenting his critical missions to secure American independence in the 1780s and avert war with Britain in the 1790s, maps by the American artist John Trumbull, Jay's secretary, drawn for the 1794 peace mission to Britain, Washington's 1789 letter notifying Jay of his appointment as the Chief Justice, Jay's Circuit Court diary of his travels through the United States in the early 1790s to launch the first federal courts under the Constitution, and Jay's draft of his 1795 letter to Washington explaining his decision to resign as Chief Justice.

John Jay and the Columbia Connection, on the second and third floors of Butler Library through Jan. 5, traces the many links between Jay and his family, King's College and Columbia and the contributions of Columbia alumni and faculty to scholarship and public service. Open during normal library hours. Call 854-3533

The Jay Papers

The name of John Jay still resounds at Columbia. An undergraduate student residence bears his name, and Columbia College's John Jay Scholars and John Jay Awards program honor outstanding students and alumni, respectively.

The acquisition in 1957 of the core of the Jay Papers, more than 2,000 documents, and subsequent gifts and purchases led to the publication of The Papers of John Jay.

This leading project in historical documentary editing was founded by the late Richard B. Morris, the Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia, and is being completed by his colleague, Ene Sirvet.

Columbia University Record -- December 8, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 12