Marbury v. Madison

A dramatization of the events surrounding the case of Marbury v. Madison.  Part of the Equal Justice Under Law series that ran in 1977 on PBS.

William Marbury was one of the “Midnight Judges” appointed by President Adams in the waning hours of his administration, 16 Federal district judges and 42 justices of the peace, all members of Adams’ Federalist party.  The Senate, still controlled by the Federalists, approved his appointments en masse the next day on March 4, 1801, the same day Thomas Jefferson was sworn in.  Acting Secretary of State John Marshall, who was also the newly appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, sent out the commissions to be delivered to the newly appointed judges and justices of the peace.  Not all could be delivered prior to Jefferson assuming office, and he ordered Levi Lincoln, Attorney General and Acting Secretary of State pending the arrival of James Madison in Washington, not to deliver the remaining commissions.

Marbury was among the justices of the peace who did not receive their commissions.  He petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus requiring Secretary of State James Madison to give him his commission.

In a 4-0 decision John Marshall, who should have recused himself from this case due to his involvement with the commissions, gave his enemy Jefferson a short term tactical victory and a long term strategic defeat.  He ruled that Marbury had a right to the commission, but that the Supreme Court lacked the legal authority to order Madison to give him the commission.  The Judiciary Act of 1789 had given to the Supreme Court the power to order writs of mandamus.  Marshall found that Congress could not enlarge the original jurisdiction that the Constitution gave to the Supreme Court and that thus this provision in the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional and that the Court lacked the power to grant such a writ as a matter of original jurisdiction.

Thus did the Court grant itself the key power of judicial review, a power nowhere granted in the Constitution, although some members of the Constitutional Convention assumed that the federal judges would have the power to declare null and void an unconstitutional act.  Hamilton argued in Federalist 78 that the Federal courts would have the power of judicial review.

It would be over a half century before the Supreme Court would strike down another act of Congress, in the infamous case of Dred Scott v. Sanford.  However, the Court was not reluctant during that period to use judicial review to strike down state statutes that they ruled ran afoul of the Constitution. (more…)

Published in: on August 15, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Marbury v. Madison  
Tags: , , , , ,

John Adams on the History of the American Revolution

John Adams often groused that the true history of the American Revolution would never be written.  Considering this, it is somewhat surprising that he did not undertake the task himself.  He had ample time after his Presidency, and his lively and copious correspondence indicates that age had not lessened his skill with a pen.  It is possible that he simply viewed it as an impossible task, as he indicated in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on July 30, 1815:

 

 

 

Dear Sir                                                                                                                                                                                  Quincy July 30th 1815

Who shall write the history of the American revolution? Who can write it? Who will ever be able to write it?

The most essential documents, the debates & deliberations in Congress from 1774 to 1783 were all in secret, and are now lost forever. Mr Dickinson printed a speech, which he said he made in Congress against the Declaration of Independence; but it appeared to me very different from that, which you, and I heard. Dr Witherspoon has published speeches which he wrote beforehand, and delivered Memoriter, as he did his Sermons. But these I believe, are the only speeches ever committed to writing. The Orators, while I was in Congress from 1774 to 1778 appeared to me very universally extemporaneous, & I have never heard of any committed to writing before or after delivery.

These questions have been suggested to me, by a Review, in the Analectic Magazine for May 1815, published in Philadelphia, page 385 of the Chevalier Botta’s “Storia della Guerra Americana.” The Reviewers inform us, that it is the best history of the revolution that ever has been written. This Italian Classick has followed the example, of the Greek and Roman Historians, by composing speeches, for his Generals and Orators. The Reviewers have translated, one of Mr R H Lee, in favour of the declaration of Independence. A splendid morcell of oratory it is; how faithful, you can judge.

I wish to know your sentiments, and opinions of this publication.  Some future Miss Porter, may hereafter, make as shining a romance, of what passed in Congress, while in Conclave, as her Scottish Chiefs.

Your friend durante Vita2

John Adams

(more…)

Published in: on February 23, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Jefferson and Liberty Too

Something for the weekend:  Jefferson and Liberty Too.  The hotly contested election of 1800 brought to the nation many of the trappings of subsequent campaigns including campaign songs.   The most popular was the tune Jefferson and Liberty Too, sung to the tune of Irish jig The Gobby O, which was quite popular in America during the colonial period and thereafter, familiar as a fiddle tune at virtually every ball: (more…)

Published in: on September 19, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jefferson and Liberty Too  
Tags: , ,

His Rotundity

His Rotundity

To many Americans it often seems that Congress wastes an inordinate amount of time debating on trivialities.  It is at least an old tradition.  The Senate spent a month in 1789 debating what the title of the President should be.  Washington during the Revolution had often been known informally as His Excellency, but at that time that was the common title for governors of states.  Vice-President John Adams thought that the President needed a royal, or at least a  princely, title  to sustain the dignity of the office.  He suggested such titles as “His Highness” and “His Benign Highness” demonstrating once again how tone deaf to public opinion he tended to be, the American people post Revolution being decidedly anti-monarchical.  Eventually a Senate committee approved the title “His Highness, the President of the United States, and the Protector of Their Liberties”.

Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was aghast at the whole business and recalled Benjamin Franklin’s description of Adams as a man who means well for his country, is always an honest man, sometimes a wise one, and who,  some times, and in some things, is absolutely out of his senses.

Washington initially favored the unwieldy formulation of “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties,” but was aghast at the criticism that all of this smacked of monarchy, and eagerly agreed to the simple title of Mr. President that James Madison succeeded in having the House of Representatives approve. (more…)

Published in: on February 18, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on His Rotundity  
Tags: , , ,

Ursuline Nuns, Thomas Jefferson and Synchronicity

 

 Synchronicity

I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I assumed the synchronicity mavens of Almost Chosen People might be amused by it.

 

I have long been amused by how often the phenomenon of synchronicity has reared its head in my life.  Synchronicity is a coincidence of events that seem to be meaningfully related.   Jungian theory hails synchronicity as an explanatory principle on the same order as causality.  Throughout my life I have seen events arise that seem completely unrelated but suddenly a connection appears.

Yesterday I had posts fisking anti-Catholic bigot Jami Stiehm here, and a post on the Ursuline nuns and their role in the battle of New Orleans here.  Today Ed Morrissey at Hot Air supplies the connection between the two:

 

Arguing that Jefferson would cheer federal dictates on the choices of health insurance for nuns is therefore either high ignorance or deliberate obtuseness. In fact, we have a historical record for Jefferson’s thoughts on the freedom of religious expression specifically for Catholic nuns, in his own hand. Joanne McPortland reminded us of this yesterday at Patheos:

In 1804, the Ursuline Sisters, who had fled the anti-Catholicism of the French Revolution to found schools, orphanages, and hospitals in the Louisiana Territory, wrote to President Thomas Jefferson of their concerns that the United States government, now in control of New Orleans, would interfere with their freedom to operate their institutions and set their own regulations. They were aware of Jefferson’s support of the French Revolution and of his writings concerning the “wall of separation” he saw in the First Amendment’s guarantees.

Jefferson’s letter in response–often omitted from collections of his works–is respectful, clear, and reassuring. Read the text and substitute Little Sisters of the Poor for the Ursulines, and it’s immediately apparent that Stiehm is conjuring the wrong guy.

I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana.

The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you, sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority.

Whatever the diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and its furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up its younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under.

Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.

I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship and respect.

The letter, in Jefferson’s hand, is on display in the museum of the Ursulines in New Orleans, where I’ve seen it. It is recognized, rightly, as one of the founding documents in our American understanding of freedom of religion.

It’s difficult to see how Stiehm could have possibly been more ignorant on freedom, religion, tolerance, and the law than in her self-exposure at US News. (more…)

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ursuline Nuns, Thomas Jefferson and Synchronicity  
Tags: , , ,

Jefferson’s Danbury Letter and the Separation of Church and State

A fine video by Professor John Eastman for Praeger University demonstrating how Church State relations today in the United States bears almost no relationship to that envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  The vehicle of this misaprehension has been Thomas Jefferson’ s letter to  a congregation of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut.  Here is the text of that letter:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins,  & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association  in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which  you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist  association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful  and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion  as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them  becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies  solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for  his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach  actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence  that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature  should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting  the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between  Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the  nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction  the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural  rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection &  blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves  & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson           Jan. 1. 1802. (more…)

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (26)  
Tags: , ,

Election of 1800 Aftermath

Whatever the outcome of the election next week, I think it is a safe wager that it will not be as chaotic as the outcome of the election of 1800.  Initially the outcome of the election was clear-cut enough.  Jefferson defeat Adams, garnering 73 electoral votes to 67 for Adams.  Then the circus began.  When the electoral college met, the Republicans planned that their electors would cast 73 votes for Jefferson and 72 for Aaron Burr.  The reason for this was that under the Constitution as originally drafted, the candidate who received the highest number of electoral votes would be president, and the candidate who came in second would be vice-president.  Each elector could vote for two candidates.  The Republicans bungled the vote, and Burr and Jefferson each received 73 votes!  With a tie the election would be decided in the House of Representatives.

Burr, without a doubt the most unscrupulous major political figure in American history, seized the opportunity to attempt to become president instead of Jefferson.  From February 11-17, 1801 the House cast 35 ballots and seemed deadlocked.  Almost all Federalists supported Burr.    Jefferson received the support of 8 states, by majority vote of each state delegation, one state short of the necessary majority.  The stalemate seemed destined to stretch on indefinitely until Alexander Hamilton stepped in.  Hamilton had no love for Jefferson, but he truly despised Burr, his arch rival in New York politics, who he regarded as a dangerous demagogue.  Hamilton convinced enough Federalists to switch their support for Jefferson, with Jefferson becoming president with the votes of ten state delegations, one more than necessary. (more…)

Published in: on October 30, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Election of 1800 Aftermath  
Tags: , , , , ,

George Mason: The Judgment of Heaven

The more I study the Founding Fathers, the greater my respect for their wisdom.  Such an example was on full display at the Constitutional Convention on August 27, 1787, when George Mason of Virginia got up to speak.  Although a slave owner himself, Mason had long recognized what a pernicious evil it was:

This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British Merchants. The British Govt. constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the importing States alone but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was experienced during the late war. had slaves been treated as they might have been by the Enemy, they would have proved dangerous instruments in their hands. But their folly dealt by the slaves, as it did by the Tories. He mentioned the dangerous insurrections of the slaves in Greece and Sicily; and the instructions given by Cromwell to the Commissioners sent to Virginia, to arm the servants & slaves, in case other means of obtaining its submission should fail. Maryland & Virginia he said had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be in vain if South Carolina & Georgia be at liberty to import. The Western people are already calling out for slaves for their new lands, and will fill that Country with slaves if they can be got through South Carolina & Georgia. Slavery discourages arts & manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the immigration of Whites, who really enrich & strengthen a Country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgement of heaven upon a country. As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities. He lamented that some of our Eastern brethren had from a lust of gain embarked in this nefarious traffic. As to the States being in possession of the Right to import, this was the case with many other rights, now to be properly given up. He held it essential in every point of view that the Genl. Govt. should have power to prevent the increase of slavery. (more…)

Published in: on July 17, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on George Mason: The Judgment of Heaven  
Tags: , , , ,

Alexander Hamilton and Mrs. Reynolds

One of the more brilliant of the Founding Fathers, and imagine what it meant to stand out in that august assemblage, Alexander Hamilton’s life in some ways resembled a Greek tragedy where a gifted hero fails due to flaws of character.  The most notable example of this in Hamilton’s life was his affair with beautiful 23 year old Mrs. Maria Reynolds.  Reynolds’ husband was an abusive cad who made a dishonest living by swindling veterans out of their land grants for a fraction of their value.  In 1791 Reynolds presented herself as a damsel in distress fleeing from her abusive spouse.  This was the classic Badger con by which married men are placed in compromising positions, thus exposing themselves to blackmail.  Like many brilliant individuals, Hamilton could be surprisingly gullible at times.  Swallowing her story, Hamilton helped her monetarily, swiftly succumbed to her abundant charms, and she became his mistress. (more…)

Published in: on May 10, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Sandburg and Thomas Jefferson

Oh the gems that can be found on Youtube!  From 1957, two legends discussing a third.  Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the greatest American architects of the 19th and 20th centuries, and Carl Sandburg, poet and Lincoln biographer, talking about Thomas Jefferson! (more…)

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,