1801: Adams Appoints Marshall: Critical Decisions by the Chief Justice Saved the Supreme Court's Independence-And Made Possible Its Wide-Ranging Role Today

By Wood, Gordon S. | American Heritage, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

1801: Adams Appoints Marshall: Critical Decisions by the Chief Justice Saved the Supreme Court's Independence-And Made Possible Its Wide-Ranging Role Today


Wood, Gordon S., American Heritage


MOST JURISTS AND constitutional scholars today would probably contend that the most controlling precedent to be set in the early republic was laid down in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision. While a formidable ruling, it was not, however, the decisive moment--at least not to people at the time. The hinge event in the early history of the judiciary was President John Adams's appointment of John Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1801. More important than Marshall's Marbury decision, which was incidental and scarcely as momentous in 1803 as it later came to be, was his campaign to save not just the Court's role in interpreting the Constitution but its independent existence. Without Marshall's shrewd maneuvering in the decade or so following his appointment, the Court would have turned out a substantially different and much weaker institution than it became.

When Marshall took office, the Federalist-dominated Supreme Court was a be leaguered institution, increasingly vulnerable to attacks by the Jeffersonian Republicans as aristocratic and out of touch with the popular majority. Consequently, it had become difficult to find able nominees for vacancies. Between 1789 and 1801, 12 men had sat on the bench, of whom five, including two chief justices, had resigned. The Court even had trouble mustering a quorum, forcing cases to be carried over and sometimes compelling sessions to be cancelled entirely. In 1801 President John Adams had initially wanted to reappoint John Jay, the first chief justice in 1789. But Jay declined, explaining that the Court had none of the necessary "Energy, weight and Dignity" to support the national government and little likelihood of acquiring any

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

More alarming, the Jeffersonian Republicans who had just seized the White House and control of Congress were set on yet further reducing the power of the Federalist-dominated judiciary, the only branch of the federal government they did not control. The Congress attempted to use impeachment as a crude but effective method of clearing away obnoxious Federalist judges. Having put matters to the test by impeaching and removing an alcoholic and partisan New Hampshire federal district judge, it turned to Associate Justice Samuel Chase, the Court's most overbearing Federalist. If Chase were convicted, many Republicans hoped to move next against the other justices, including Marshall. Although the Senate narrowly failed to convict Chase, the Re publican threat to the judiciary remained.

These were the dangerous circumstances that Marshall had to deal with; and deal with them he did, superbly. In the end his greatest achievement was maintaining the Court in the amplitude of its authority and asserting its independence within so hostile a climate. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

1801: Adams Appoints Marshall: Critical Decisions by the Chief Justice Saved the Supreme Court's Independence-And Made Possible Its Wide-Ranging Role Today
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.