Creating a National Government
In the aftermath of winning independence from Great Britain, the United States stood on an extremely shaky foundation. Many Americans, including Jay, worried that the governing framework established by the Articles of Confederation would not prove sufficient to overcome the challenges posed by political turmoil, economic hardship, and social division. Fearing for the country's long-term stability and security, Jay advocated for a stronger centralized government and argued that the political power of the states should be subordinated to a national authority. Jay and his colleagues who supported this position, known as Federalists, supported the new Constitution drafted by the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. Jay joined with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in preparing a series of essays, known as The Federalist, in support of the proposed Constitution. Written under the collective pseudonym Publius, the trio authored 85 writings that initially appeared in New York's Independent Journal in October 1787. Jay was responsible for drafting Federalist 2-5 (published between 31 October and 10 November 1787) and Federalist 64 (published on 7 March 1788). A severe illness accounts for the lengthy gap between Jay's written essays. In addition to The Federalist, Jay also wrote a seminal pamphlet, An Address to the People of the State of New-York, in the early spring of 1788. Jay wrote this text to convince delegates who would be attending the state ratifying convention in Poughkeepsie to vote in favor of the U.S. Constitution. Jay also attended the convention, which convened from 17 June to 26 July 1788. Along with Hamilton and Robert R. Livingston, Jay led the Federalist delegation to a successful outcome over a determined Anti-Federalist bloc led by Melancton Smith, George Clinton, and Robert Yates.
Of the eighty-five numbers of The Federalist, only those written by Jay still exist as draft versions. This draft document showing the opening passages of The Federalist 5 reveals some of the extensive revisions undertaken by the author before the essay was published on 10 November 1787.
The first collected edition of The Federalist was printed in two volumes by John and Archibald M'Lean of New York in 1788. Volume 1 containing Jay's essays nos. 2-5 appeared in March, and volume 2 containing his essay no. 64 appeared in May of that year.
On the flyleaf located at the front of his copy of The Federalist, James Kent wrote down the names of the individuals whom he suspected of writing the different essays contained therein. As we see here, Kent's attributions for the Jay contributions are correct (although he had help from Hamilton). Kent had initially credited Jay with authoring Federalist 54 instead of Federalist 64. When he later showed this list to Hamilton, he learned of his error and superimposed a "6" over the "5."
This 1818 edition of The Federalist mistakenly credits Jay with writing No. 54 (actually authored by Madison).
Although not as well known as his Federalist contributions, Jay's Address, which appeared as an anonymous pamphlet, was probably more influential than The Federalist in shaping public opinion during the political battle over ratification in New York. Widely circulated throughout the state, the Address contained lengthier and more developed arguments that covered a wider range of topics than had appeared in Jay's Federalist essays.
Washington kept Jay informed of the debates surrounding the Constitution in his home state of Virginia. In this letter, he shared news of the proceedings in Richmond, where the Virginia ratifying convention was held. Virginia ratified the new Constitution on 25 June 1788 thanks to the efforts of Madison and his followers, who prevailed over the fierce opposition of the state's Anti-Federalist leaders Patrick Henry and George Mason.
Upon hearing that the delegates meeting in Poughkeepsie had voted in favor of ratification, Washington praised Jay for helping to secure New York's support for the new governing framework: "With peculiar pleasure I now congratulate on the success of your labours to obtain an unconditional ratification of the proposed Constitution in the Convention of your State; the Acc[oun]t. of which, was brought to us by the mail of yesterday--"