September 24, 1789 — President George Washington signed the US Federal Judiciary Act today, creating a six-person Supreme Court. “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish,” explains Article III, Section 1.
The Old Royal Exchange Building in New York City was site of the meetings of the first U.S. Supreme Court. (Image: Courtesy of the New York Historical Society.)
Since the federal court system was being created from scratch, writing the Judiciary Act of 1789 was a monumental task,” according to historians, noting that in addition to creating federal courts, the Act also created the positions of United States Attorney General, United States Attorney, United States Marshal and Clerk of Court.
These four positions still exist and have been expanded upon in the modern United States.
On the same day, President Washington nominated John Jay (December 23, 1745 – May 17, 1829) to be the first Chief Justice; he served until 1795.
Jay was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and a signer of the Treaty of Paris. Born into a wealthy family of merchants and government officials in New York City, he became a lawyer and joined the New York Committee of Correspondence and organized opposition to British rule.
Jay joined 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. His major diplomatic achievement was to negotiate favorable trade terms with Great Britain in the Treaty of London of 1794.
Words of Wisdom
To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people each individual citizen everywhere enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protection. As a nation we have made peace and war; as a nation we have vanquished our common enemies; as a nation we have formed alliances, and made treaties, and entered into various compacts and conventions with foreign states.