Peter Augustus Jay (January 24, 1776 – February 20, 1843) was a prominent New York lawyer, politician and the eldest son of Founding Father and first United States Chief Justice John Jay.
Peter Augustus Jay was born at Liberty Hall", on January 24, 1776, at the home of his maternal grandparents' in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Peter was one of six children born to John Jay and Sarah Van Brugh (née Livingston) Jay, and one of two boys (brother William was born in 1789) with four sisters: Susan (born and died in 1780); Maria (b. 1782), Ann (b. 1783) and Sarah Louisa (b. 1792).
Jay's paternal grandparents were Peter Jay, who was born in New York City in 1704 and became a wealthy trader in furs, wheat, timber, and other commodities, and Mary Van Cortlandt, who had married in 1728. Mary's father was Jacobus Van Cortlandt who was twice mayor of New York City.
His mother was the eldest daughter of 13 children born to New Jersey Governor William Livingston (1723–1790). His aunt, Susannah Livingston, was married to John Cleves Symmes. His grandfather, William, was the son of Philip Livingston, himself the son of Robert Livingston the Elder and Alida Schulyer van Rensselaer.
Following in the footsteps of his father, who graduated from the colonial-era King's College, Peter graduated from Columbia University in 1794.
Following his graduation in 1794, Jay acted as private secretary to his father in London for the Jay Treaty. The young Jay studied law and established a practice in New York City with his cousin Peter Jay Munro, carrying on a family tradition of public service.
As a Federalist, he was a member from New York City of the New York State Assembly in the 39th New York State Legislature, during which time he was active in arranging the financing for the construction of the Erie Canal. He ran many times for Congress, but was always defeated by the Democratic-Republican candidates. From 1819 to 1821, he was Recorder of New York City. He was a delegate from Westchester Co. to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821. For a time he was also a Westchester County Judge.
Philanthropy and Affiliations
In 1814, Jay and his father were both elected members of the American Antiquarian Society. Together with financier Thomas Eddy, Peter Augustus Jay also helped organize and found New York's earliest savings bank, the now defunct New York Bank for Savings in 1816 (thereby contributing to the establishment of the New York State savings bank system). In 1828, he helped found the New York Law Institute, which today is the oldest law library in New York City. Jay was President of New York Hospital (1827–1833), Chairman of the Board of Trustees, King's College and President of the New-York Historical Society (1840–1842).
In 1832, he was honored with a Doctor of Laws from Harvard University for his "talents and virtues", and from Columbia, in 1835.
Jay shared his father's commitment to social justice and actively pursued greater rights for African Americans. In his commitment to reform, he served as President of the New-York Manumission Society in 1816 and President of the New York Public School Society which was anti-slavery and concerned with greater humanitarianism towards the poor. Jay is best known for giving a speech in 1821 at the New York State Constitutional Convention as a delegate arguing that the right to vote should be extended to free African Americans. "Peter Augustus Jay, one of a minority of advocates of universal manhood suffrage, insisted that the idea that black people were naturally inferior had long been 'completely refuted and universally exploded.'" Despite his impassioned argument, Jay's motion for extending suffrage was overruled.