Tag Archives: John Jay

Visiting St. Vincent College

Let me check in with a report from my trip this week to Latrobe, Pennsylvania—just outside of Pittsburgh.

Now, I learned a number of things about the area.

1. Latrobe is the hometown of Mr. Rodgers. I guess I was literally in “Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood.” I had the privilege of speaking in the “Fred Rodgers Center.” I’m just glad that the dress code did not require a cardigan sweater.

2. Latrobe is also the hometown of Arnold Palmer, the golfer. I was very impressed with the Palmer memorabilia I encountered around town and even at my hotel. My one oversight during the trip was my failure to order a half iced tea/half lemonade.

3. Latrobe is home to the training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We walked past the practice fields, where Steelers fans prepare for every season with hope.

4. Latrobe is home to St. Vincent College, my hosts. St. Vincent College was founded by the Benedictine missionary Boniface Wimmer. He founded both a monastery on the site and eventually the college. The monastery is still active, and St. Vincent has been instrumental in encouraging Benedictine spirituality throughout the country.

5. St. Vincent College is home to the Center for Political and Economic Thought, an institute doing really outstanding educational work for their students.

The Center, in cooperation with their Political Science Department, hosted me for St. Vincent’s Constitution Day Lecture. I had the privilege of speaking on “The Other Publius: John Jay’s Constitutional Moment.” Publius was the pseudonym for the authors of The Federalist Papers. While Alexander Hamilton and James Madison regularly get a lot of attention, Jay’s constitutional contributions are often overlooked. I was aiming to remedy that.

My hosts were incredibly gracious, and it was great to address a large auditorium. The questions posed by students and faculty were thoughtful and pushed in ways that helped me unpack some concepts I only gestured towards in the talk.

In short, the experience really made me appreciate another liberal arts college doing impressive things. May they bear good fruit!

Saint Vincent Basillica

The beautiful Basilica at Saint Vincent College. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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Presenting at the University of Missouri this Friday

I’ll be presenting at the University of Missouri-Columbia this Friday (2/20). The paper I’ll be presenting is “John Jay’s Retirement and the Ends of Federalism.” The event will be held at 3:30 PM in Read Hall, Room 304. I’m grateful to be hosted by the Kinder Forum on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri.

The description of the event is here.

The event is public, so if you are in the central Missouri area, please feel free to join us!

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Significance in American History

Recently, the Smithsonian Magazine produced a list of what they claimed were the “100 Most Significant Americans.” Their analysts reached this conclusion through processing wikipedia and GoogleBooks. I’m not convinced this was the best measure or that all the names produced were really the most significant.

Now, I think this raises the big issue of what we count as significant and how we judge that. What is significance? Can it be quantified? Who do you think were significant Americans–and why? (Hint: that’s why there’s a comment section!)

Blogging historian Chris Gehrz assembled a panel of historians to comment on the listings, and I was pleased to participate. It didn’t hurt that I could do that instead of grading one more paper late at night.

Over the last two days, Chris has posted the responses. Take a look at them and see what you think!

Who Are the Most Significant Americans in History? (Part 1)

Who Are the Most Significant Americans in History? (Part 2)

Also, if you read to the end, you might just see a reference to a figure from the forthcoming book Patriotism and Piety.

Who is this (unmasked) Methodist? (Hint: he’s referenced in Part 2!)


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John Jay, Prudence, and Duty

I’m just wrapping up a great writing day in which I was working through John Jay’s political conclusions from his experience with the French Revolution. In the course of my writing, I came across a quote which I think is too good not to share. This strikes me as as applicable today as it was in 1807:

“Things are as they are, and we must make the best of them; as travellers do or ought to do, well knowing that in the course of a long journey, they cannot expect to have every day fine weather, good inns, good roads, and good company. Nothing remains for us but to do our duty to our country with prudent and unabated zeal; to enjoy with gratitude and cheerfulness the good we have; and to bear with decency and dignity the ills which cannot avert or remove. What may be our duty will depend on the circumstances of the day.”

-John Jay to William Beers, April 18, 1807


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Some Good Writing Advice

I realize the irony of announcing that I would be continuing blogging only to leave things rather quiet around here. There’s plenty going on–just not everything makes it to the blog.

One thing I’ve been doing is finishing my immersion in John Jay Documents. After an extended deep dive into them, I think I have a pretty good idea of some directions to go.

It turns out that John Jay had some definite ideas about history and history writing. One opinion emerged in a comment he made to the Federalist minister and geographer Jedidiah Morse:

You know my sentiments respecting history,–festina lente. No good history has been, nor can be, produced in haste.

(John Jay to Jedidiah Morse, 14 February 1815)

The Latin is a common phrase meaning “make haste slowly.” It was an opinion that Erasmus expressed often. In a more popularized form, Ben Franklin instructed his readers that “haste makes waste.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think I have the lente part of the equation down. I’ll keep working on the festina element.

That said, I think this might also be a good response when people ask me why I’m not making the progress they think I should. I’ll answer them that I’m following John Jay’s advice for writing and proceeding festina lente.

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Podcasting John Jay

When you’re at your Fourth of July barbecue tomorrow, and the topic of the Founding Fathers comes up, you’ll need something to say, right?

Well, I have just the ticket for you: an entire podcast on John Jay, religion, and politics.

I recently had the chance to record a podcast with Tony Gill, the Creative Genius™ behind the “Research on Religion” podcast. Tony is ensconced at the University of Washington, but the podcast is associated with the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. Over the past three years, Tony has hosted scholars working on all sorts of interesting projects. I highly recommend you subscribe to the free podcast in iTunes.

In honor of the Fourth, Tony had me on to talk about John Jay. The direct link is here. Listen and enjoy. And afterwards, be sure to tell somebody at that barbecue what you’ve learned about John Jay.

And, since we’re approaching the Fourth, I’ll close with some important thoughts from Jay that I used in the podcast:

“Providence has been pleased to bless the people of this country with more perfect opportunities of choosing and more effectual means of establishing their own government, than any other nation has hitherto enjoyed. [Hence] for the use we may make of these opportunities and these means, we shall be highly responsible to that Providence, as well as to mankind in general, and to our own posterity in particular.”

-John Jay, The Charge of Chief Justice Jay to the Grand Juries of the Eastern Circuit (1790).

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Talking about John Jay

This has definitely been a “John Jay in Public” week for me.

On Tuesday night, I had the privilege of talking about John Jay’s life, his view of religion in public life, and how that fit into a Federalist mind-set. The lecture took place at Cairn University, in Bucks County, suburban Philadelphia. Their president, Todd Williams, was a great host.

It was also a real thrill to talk about John Jay at an event co-sponsored by the John Jay Institute. I think the Institute is doing great work. They have even named me an affiliated scholar.

Then, on Wednesday, I presented a Work-In-Progress Seminar at Princeton. The event was held at Prospect House, the former residence of Princeton Presidents. The event took place in the library, so I was presenting where Woodrow Wilson may once have gone to read.


I presented a chapter on John Jay’s Constitutionalism, which examined Jay’s thought and action during the critical years of the 1780s. I would suggest both Jay’s thought and his actions mattered in helping to place the USA on its constitutional path.

The session went well, and my colleagues offered great input from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

The best comment, though, came from my colleague Adam Macleod, who concluded that I should make up wristbands that said “WWJJD?” for “What Would John Jay Do?” I can already see the marketing tie-ins!

I should also take the opportunity to mention I’m happy to talk about John Jay in public settings for just about anybody who will have me.


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