Book Review: John Jay: Founding Father by Walter Stahl (Four Stars)


Book Review: John Jay: Founding Father by Walter  Stahl

(Four Stars)

“A few years more will put us all in the dust; and it will then be of more importance to me to have governed myself than to have governed the state.” JJ

A necessary corrective for the neglect which this founder of the United States has suffered. Not without flaws, the greatest of which is the constant imposition of Stahl’s opinions disguised as those of his sources, this is nonetheless good history, good biography, and a good read.

“Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon, and choosing the forms of government under which they should live.” JJ

Because he was a hard worker but not a self-promoter, Jay has faded from the enormous recognition and popularity he enjoyed during his lifetime.

It was “very inconsistent as well as unjust and perhaps impious” for men to “pray and fight for their own freedom” and yet to “keep others in slavery.” But “the wise and the good never form the majority of any large society, and it seldom happens that their measures are uniformly adopted.” JJ

Jay helped to form in early 1785 the New York Manumission Society. Yet he owned slaves.

“If the means of defense are in our power and we do not make use of them, what excuse shall we make to our children and our Creator?” JJ

Quibbles: Stahl faithfully lists one footnote at the close of each paragraph, with no indication which of the facts, opinions, and reflections contained are his own. “… marching east from Oswego, along the line of the Mohawk River, about a hundred miles east of Albany.” No, Oswego is west of Albany. “William Hickey, was handed over to the army, tried, convicted, and hanged on questionable evidence.” On the contrary, the evidence against Thomas Hickey was irrefutable, perhaps the reason he not the others were hanged in front of the army and citizens.

“Perhaps the best brief summary of Jay’s life and temper was by his son, Peter Augustus [Jay], who placed these words on his father’s tombstone:”

In memory of John Jay, eminent among those who asserted the liberty and established the independence of his country, which he long served in the most important offices, legislative, executive, judicial and diplomatic, and distinguished in them all by his ability, firmness, patriotism, and integrity. He was in his life and death an example of the virtues, the faith and the hopes of a Christian.

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