John Jay played a formative role in the founding of the United States. After helping to negotiate the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, he served as secretary of foreign affairs (1784–89) and first chief justice of the United States (1789–95). An advocate for a strong national government, Jay co-authored (with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison) the Federalist Papers (1787–88), a collection of essays that promoted the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
In 1794, when war with England threatened, Chief Justice Jay went to London to defuse the crisis. Accompanying him as secretary was the artist John Trumbull who, after returning home in 1804, completed this portrait, which was left unfinished in 1784 by Gilbert Stuart. Although the treaty Jay negotiated in London was violently criticized as a return to English dominance, the controversial Jay Treaty avoided a war that the young republic was ill-equipped to wage.