John Jay: Why Nations Go to War
Learn more about John Jay and the Federalist Papers (click here for information and purchase)
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John Jay (December 12, 1745 – May 17, 1829) was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States (1789–95).
Jay was born into a wealthy family of merchants and government officials in New York City. Throughout his childhood, he received a private education, and he then studied law at King's College. After passing the New York bar exam, he established his own legal practice. He soon became a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, where he became involved with a conservative political faction that, fearing "mob rule", sought to protect property rights and maintain the "rule of law" while resisting British violations of human rights.
Jay served as the President of the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1779. During and after the American Revolution, Jay was a minister (ambassador) to Spain and France, helping to fashion United States foreign policy, and to secure favorable peace terms from Great Britain (with Jay's Treaty of 1794) and the First French Republic.
As a leader of the new Federalist Party, Jay was the Governor of New York State from 1795 to 1801, and he became the state's leading opponent of slavery. His first two attempts to emancipate the slaves in New York failed in 1777 and in 1785, but his third attempt succeeded in 1799. The 1799 act, a gradual emancipation act, that he signed into law eventually brought about the emancipation of all slaves there before his death in 1829.
John Jay in the Federalist Papers discussed why nations go to war and concluded that it was not for justice but “whenever they have a prospect of getting any thing by it” (1787)
But the safety of the people of America against dangers from foreign force, depends not only on their forbearing to give just causes of war to other nations, but also on their placing and continuing themselves in such a situation as not to invite hostility or insult; for it need not be observed, that there are pretended as well as just causes of war.
It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting any thing by it; nay, that absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for purposes and objects merely personal, such as, a thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families, or partisans. These, and a variety of motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctioned by justice, or the voice and interests of his people. But independent of these inducements to war, which are most prevalent in absolute monarchies, but which well deserve our attention, there are others which affect nations as often as kings; and some of them will on examination be found to grow out of our relative situation and circumstances.