The First Chief Justice

John Jay and the Struggle of a New Nation

By Mark C. Dillon

Subjects: American History, Constitutional Studies, Biography
Series: SUNY series in American Constitutionalism
Hardcover : 9781438487854, 336 pages, March 2022
Paperback : 9781438487861, 336 pages, September 2022

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1. Formative Days in Colonial New York

2. Passing the Rubicon: A Key Man in the Birth of a Nation

3. Appointment as the Nation's First Chief Justice

4. The Supreme Court's First Argued Case: West v. Barnes (1791)

5. Grappling with the Separation of Powers: In Re Hayburn (1792), plus Ex Parte Chandler and United States v Todd (unreported, 1794)

6. Sovereign Immunity and an Impetus for the 11th Amendment: Chisholm v Georgia (1793)

7. Resisting Political Pressure from the Executive Branch: Pagan v Hooper (1793)

8. The Supreme Court's Only Reported Jury Trial and the Supremacy of Special Jurors: The Three Appeals of Georgia v Brailsford (1792, 1793, and 1794)

9. Trouble on the High Seas: Glass v Sloop Betsey (1794)

10. Efforts to Criminally Prosecute Chief Justice Jay: The Citizen Genet Affair

11. Jay Court Decisions of Lesser Note: Kingsley v Jenkins (1793), Ex Parte Martin (1793), and U.S. v Hopkins (1794)

12. A Final Mission While Chief Justice

13. After the Supreme Court

14. History's Verdict

About the Author

Chronicles the efforts of the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court to establish a federal court system during the country's uncertain early years.


Finalist for the 2022 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award in the History Category

The first Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay faced many unique challenges. When the stability and success of the new nation were far from certain, a body of federalized American law had to be created from scratch. In The First Chief Justice, New York State Appellate Judge Mark C. Dillon uncovers, for the first time, how Jay's personal, educational, and professional experiences—before, during, and after the Revolutionary War—shaped both the establishment of the first system of federal courts from 1789 to 1795 and Jay's approach to deciding the earliest cases heard by the Supreme Court. Dillon takes us on a fascinating journey of a task accomplished by constant travel on horseback to the nation's far reaches, with Jay adeptly handling the Washington administration, Congress, lawyers, politicians, and judicial colleagues. The book includes the history of each of the nine cases decided by Jay when he was Chief Justice, many of which have proven with time to have enduring historical significance. The First Chief Justice will appeal to anyone interested in the establishment of the US federal court system and early American history.

Mark C. Dillon is Justice of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court (Second Judicial Department).


"…Dillon uses his impressive legal knowledge and detailed historical inquiry skills to examine John Jay's tenure as the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court … Legal scholars, constitutional theorists, historians of the early republic, and history enthusiasts should find The First Chief Justice readable, interesting, and useful." — H-Net Reviews (H-History-and-Theory)

"Judge Dillon's book fills a gap in the literature; it provides a unique perspective on Jay's life and career, focused on but not limited to his years on the Supreme Court. This is an adept blend of biography and case analysis written from the perspective of an author who is also a judge, resulting in an inherently interesting book." — Walter Stahr, author of John Jay: Founding Father