This Week in History: Controversy in the Court


John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Appointed by George Washington, Jay held the office from October 19, 1789 to June 29, 1795.  The Chief Justice was succeeded by John Rutledge when he traded his robes to become Governor of New York.

John Rutledge
John Rutledge

Less than one month after his appointment, Rutledge began to lose many of his supporters.  On July 16, 1795, he delivered an address criticizing John Jay’s own eponymous treaty, the Jay Treaty.  Also known as the “Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and The United States of America,” the Jay Treaty helped resolve the tension lingering after the American Revolution and reinstate an amicable trading relationship between America and Great Britain.

The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789 to 1800 writes that Boston’s Independent Chronicle featured a report on Rutledge’s speech in August of 1795.  Documentary elucidates “that he had rather the President should die than sign that puerile instrument and that he preferred war to an adoption of it” (780).

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The Jay Treaty

This public denouncement angered the many Federalists who fervently supported the Jay Treaty.  Unfortunately for Rutledge, he was still in the appointment phase of his position as Chief Justice – the Senate had yet to finalize and legitimize his nomination. Soon, people questioned Rutledge’s mental stability, and by December, the Senate voted against Washington’s nomination of Rutledge in the first Senatorial rejection of a presidential appointment.  Oliver Ellsworth became the third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court a few months later (Senate.Gov).

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Written by jayheritagecenter

Jay Heritage Center (JHC) is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit that manages and operates the Jay Estate in Rye, a National Historic Landmark site, as a public park and learning center. The site was once the childhood home of Founding Father, John Jay (1745-1829) his descendants and many other men, women and children - witnesses to the evolution of our country - who left their personal narratives, whether free or enslaved, native or immigrant, on this land. As part of its mission, JHC examines the legacy of Jay and his family together with the stories of the individuals who followed them and preserved this place through their own vision and stewardship. To that end, we host numerous educational programs in American History, Social Justice, Architecture, Archaeology & Environmental Conservation. But we can't do it without our volunteers! Because we receive no annual government funding from the City of Rye, Westchester County or New York State, we rely heavily on volunteers to help us preserve and operate the Jay Estate. This blog, powered by some of our most dedicated volunteers, is one more way for us to share our discoveries, accomplishments and original research with the public in real time. We are immensely grateful to the authors of these entries and oral histories for the investment of effort they have expended on our behalf and yours!

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