“Now for the elections”

All the talk in our country, recently, of “rigged” elections and illegal voters brings to mind the candidacy of John Jay for governor of New York State in 1792. Jay had been nominated to oppose the incumbent George Clinton. Back then, candidates “stood” for election, they did not “run.” There were attacks on Jay focused not on his integrity which was unimpeachable, but on his support of a strong central government and his advocacy of the abolition of slavery. Opponents claimed that it was John Jay’s particular wish “to rob every Dutchman of the property he possesses most dear to his heart, his slaves . . . [and] to oblige their masters to educate the children of those slaves.” Scurrilous pieces purported to have been written by Jay appeared in the newspapers but he denied any knowledge of them.

In fact, Jay did not campaign and showed very little interest in the outcome. At the time he was Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and was off riding circuit in New England. Letters between Jay and his wife, the lovely and intelligent Sarah Livingston, nevertheless contained references to and information about his candidacy and the course of the campaign. It took a month and a half for the contest to be decided after the votes were cast because ballots from each county had to be properly forwarded to the office of the secretary of the State, and there was a dispute over votes from Otsego County. Sarah claims she would be happy if John did not win. She wrote on June 2nd:

. . . . The Children as well as myself still enjoy health; the little miniature piece [Sarah Louisa, the youngest of the Jay children] continues good humor’d, healthy & sprightly. . . . So much for the home Department.

Now for the elections. How my Love will you bear the mortification of embarking on board a Rhode-Island Packet to return to New York, leaving to Judge Cushing the superlative pleasure of traversing the green woods, & attending learned disquisi[ti]ons at Bennington? Yet that I believe must be our deplorable fate unless something very unexpected should occur. I shall send you a news-paper from which you will perceive how the election stands, & this evening I will obtain an account of the examination of the votes this day. Judge Hobart is so sanguine, that he is sure of a majority for you, even tho’ the Otsego votes shd. be lost. You will doubtless be pleased at having a majority in the City of New York & County of West-Chester, as being the places in which you are most known. . . .

To morrow the packet is to sail & if any thing new takes place I shall have the pleasure of communicating it to you. It is expected that Votes will all be canvass’d by this day se’en night. If earlier you shall have immediate intelligence pr. post, Judge Hobart told me that he wd. write you if he did not depend upon me, but that it was unnecessary to make you pay double postage.

More on the election in the next post.

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 209-10. The print of Sarah is from the portrait collection at the New York Public Library. Jay is shown in his robes as Chief Justice; Portrait by Gregory Stapko after Gilbert Stuart, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C.

posted April 6th, 2017 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Clinton, George, Jay, John, Jay, Sarah Livingston, New York


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