Historical Praise, Historical Put-Down

Kaminksy Cover ImageI was browsing earlier this week in the very fun collection The Founders on the Founders, edited by John Kaminski. If you ever wanted to know what various founding fathers said about themselves or the other founders, this is the place to look.

I was checking to see what other people had to see about John Jay, and I appreciated that many people had good things to say. Most impressively, John Adams really appreciated Jay. When they were negotiating the Treaty of Paris with England to end the Revolutionary War, Jay and Adams shared a common vision, strategy, and effort. John wrote to Abigail:

Mr. Jay has been my only Consolation. In him I have found a Friend to his Country, without Alloy. I shall never forget him, nor cease to love him, while I live. (April 16, 1783)

Several months later, again to Abigail, Adams wrote:

Mr. Jay has been my Comforter. We have compared Notes, and they agree. I love him so well that I know not what I should do in Europe without him. …He is a virtuous and religious Man. He has a Conscience, and has been persecuted, accordingly, as all conscientious Men are. (September 4, 1783)

Not everyone was impressed. Many European diplomats thought they could get to him through flattery and gifts. (Of course, they invariably failed.)

Most insulting, though, came from someone Jay had worked with on the Federalist Papers, James Madison. After party divisions had separated them for many years, an elderly Madison complained to Jared Sparks:

[Jay] “had two strong traits of character, suspicion and religious bigotry.” (April 1830)

In the early republic, that was a pretty serious insult–perhaps especially since Jay had passed away the previous year.

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