For a Kinder, Gentler Society
A Brave Man Stands Firm: The Historic Battles of Chief Justice Marshall and President Jefferson
  • Ronald Zellar
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A Brave Man Stands Firm: The Historic Battles of Chief Justice Marshall and President Jefferson  .
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It has been often said that “an institution is lengthened by the shadow of one man.”  This is certainly true of John Marshall, who established the Supreme Court, made the judiciary a co-equal branch of government, and served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1801–1835.

Why did Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall become such great antagonists? John Marshall was interested in doing whatever it would take to make the United States successful. Marshall believed in an ordered society. Jefferson, more a philosopher and a romantic, was interested in ideas rather than order.

In this book a legal expert discusses the battles over the judiciary between Chief Justice John Marshall and President Thomas Jefferson during the Jefferson Presidency. The focus is on the treason trial of Aaron Burr and the story interweaves conflicts over the Judiciary Acts, Marbury v. Madison, and impeachment. President Jefferson is seen in far different light than usual.


About the Author

Ronald C. Zellar combines a career as an attorney with a love of history to analyze the treason trial of Aaron Burr and other early US legal confrontations. The course and the outcomes of these events influenced the evolution of the three branches of the United States Government and helped shape the relationship between the Executive and the Judiciary.

Zellar earned his JD at Wayne State University, was admitted to the Michigan Bar in 1972, and practiced law for his entire career, most of it in government law as a prosecuting attorney and Assistant Attorney General in Michigan and Kentucky.

About the Book
The author presents Thomas Jefferson’s historic confrontation with Aaron Burr and Chief Justice John Marshall’s responses to Jefferson’s efforts to influence, if not dictate to, the Judicial Branch.

Zellar reveals facets of Jefferson’s...
The author presents Thomas Jefferson’s historic confrontation with Aaron Burr and Chief Justice John Marshall’s responses to Jefferson’s efforts to influence, if not dictate to, the Judicial Branch.

Zellar reveals facets of Jefferson’s personality that are quite at odds with his reputation as a champion of civil liberties. The evidence shows that Jefferson jumped to conclusions and publicly proclaimed Burr’s guilt --  before he was even arrested, much less indicted and tried. Jefferson was intimately involved in trial strategy, writing numerous letters to the lead prosecutor.

At the same time, Chief Justice John Marshall, usually presented as a champion of property rights and commerce, ensured that the rule of law prevailed, despite enormous pressures, throughout the criminal trial. Letters between Jefferson and Prosecutor George Hay, and excerpts from the trial transcript and court opinions, support the author’s thesis.

The author notes,

I have found John Marshall to be a truly engaging, good, and brilliant man. He treated people with dignity and respect, even those with whom he disagreed. Thomas Jefferson and Judge Spencer Roane of Virginia appear to be the only persons Marshall disdained. During my research, I reread Chief Justice Marshall’s great expositions on Constitutional law, as well as his letters and comments made about him by his contemporaries. I was particularly impressed with Marshall’s court management of the Burr trial. It was a brilliant performance. Although Jefferson was always the smartest person in the room, Marshall (a brilliant man himself) was more down to earth. Future Supreme Court Associate Justice Story wrote, after meeting Marshall for the first time in 1808: “I love his laugh. It is too hearty for an intriguer.” Chief Justice John Roberts recently contrasted President Jefferson and Chief Justice Marshall: “Jefferson certainly did not have the common touch.…[W]hen you look at him side by side with Marshall, Marshall comes across as more substantial, certainly more likeable. Yes, I think they’d both invite you to share their table and pour you a drink, but you kind of think you’d have a very academic discussion with Jefferson and you’d have a good time with Marshall.” Marshall, unfortunately, is not as well known as Jefferson.


Preface

[F]or the first twelve years of our newly-formed government, the third branch of government, the Judiciary, had yet to be defined.

Most believe the event that began to define the Judicial Branch occurred in 1801 when President John...

[F]or the first twelve years of our newly-formed government, the third branch of government, the Judiciary, had yet to be defined.

Most believe the event that began to define the Judicial Branch occurred in 1801 when President John Adams nominated then Secretary of State John Marshall to become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. A month after Marshall was sworn in as the fourth chief justice of the United States (John Jay, John Rutledge, and Oliver Ellsworth served previously), Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as the third president. President Jefferson’s election was historic; it marked the first time that the presidency changed political parties and the change was peaceful. Throughout history, such a peaceful transfer of power was unprecedented. Thomas Jefferson often referred to his election as “the Revolution of 1800” or the “second American Revolution.”

Upon his assuming office on March 4, 1801, President Jefferson’s Republican Party was in control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government. However, to President Jefferson’s dismay, the Judicial Branch consisted exclusively of Federalist appointees, including Chief Justice John Marshall and all five associate justices on the United States Supreme Court. The relationship between President Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshall and the judiciary during his presidency is the subject this book.

Four major events will be discussed; events sometimes referred to as Jefferson’s war on the judiciary. If it was a war, Chief Justice Marshall and his colleagues lost the early battles; however, at the conclusion of the Jefferson Administration, John Marshall and the judiciary prevailed. The role of the judiciary had been defined and was now a co-equal branch of government.

The trial of former vice president Aaron Burr for treason in 1807, the last great battle during the Jefferson presidency between President Jefferson and Chief Justice Marshall, is the primary focus.

Who were Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall and why did they become such great antagonists? Unquestionably, they were two of the most brilliant men of the founding generation….

There is one telling difference between Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall. Marshall, typical of most veterans of the Revolutionary War, believed that order and a strong central government was a necessity. Marshall, typical of most veterans of the Revolutionary War, believed that order and a strong central government was a necessity. He  wrote that from the time of his service in the Revolution, he “was confirmed in the habit of considering America as my country, and congress as my government.”  In contrast, Jefferson, a true revolutionary, wrote to Abigail Adams in 1787 about Shay’s Rebellion: “I like a little rebellion now and then.”  ...

Historian Forrest McDonald opined, with some exaggeration, that Jefferson: “…was exposed to and felt himself lacking in the attributes of the Young Buck Virginian. His distant cousin John Marshall and Patrick Henry epitomized the type: neither of them ever seemed to study, both wore hunting clothes and chewed tobacco, both were surrounded by giggling girls who idolized them, both were men’s men whom other men flocked around enviously and attentively and in whose company others pretended to be comfortable. All his adult life Jefferson hated them.”

When Jefferson became president, he would have direct contact with recently appointed Chief Justice Marshall. Jefferson and Marshall had diametrically opposed views about the country and the judiciary. They clashed throughout Jefferson’s eight years in office. Jefferson, who professed to be a man of the people, was an aristocrat, rarely coming into contact with the people; Marshall, although more aristocratic in his political thinking, was a man of the people. Jefferson was a staunch states-rights proponent; Marshall a nationalist, although he had great love for his home state of Virginia.


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Michigan Bar Journal, May 2012 | More »

Pages 265
Year: 2011
LC Classification: E331.Z45 2011
Dewey code: 973.4'6092--dc22
BISAC: POL040030 POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / Judicial Branch
BISAC: HIS036040 HISTORY / United States / 19th Century
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-882-0
Price: USD 23.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-883-7
Price: USD 33.95
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