On this day in 1779, the former president of the Continental Congress, John Jay, is appointed minister to Spain and tasked with winning Spanish support for the American Revolution and Spain’s recognition of America’s independence.
For more than two years, Jay negotiated for Spanish support of the American cause but was only successful in getting occasional loans and a supply of war materials. His inability to gain recognition of American independence was the result of Spain’s fear that the revolution might spread to Spanish-controlled colonies in the Americas.
Jay, who graduated from King’s College, now Columbia University, at the age of 19, was a prominent figure in New York state politics from an early age. While he opposed British interference in the colonies, Jay was initially against complete independence from Great Britain. He was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 as a representative from New York; it was during this term that he published “Address to the People of Great Britain,” in which he promoted a peaceful resolution with Great Britain instead of independence. Jay was reelected to the Second Continental Congress in 1775 but resigned in 1776 rather than sign the Declaration of Independence.
Jay then returned to New York where he helped draft the state’s constitution before being elected the first chief justice of New York in 1777. After serving as president of the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1779, he was appointed minister to Spain. Upon his return to the United States, Jay went on to become the first chief justice of the United States in 1789 and, six years later, governor of New York state.