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IX.-JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION OF THE CONSTITU-
By means of the Judiciary power, the Federal gov. ernment enforces its laws by suits against individuals, and secures a peaceable way of deciding legal controversies.
The first judicial decision that excited the country was that of the Supreme Court in the case of Chrisholm's executors against the State of Georgia. Chief Justice Jay, delivering the decision of the court, there held, that a State is suable by individual citizens of another State, that the sovereignty resides in the people, and that the people have given to the Federal courts jurisdiction over suits against a State—a State, said the court, being a mere aggregate of individuals, like any other corporation. The States were alarmed at the danger of being brought before courts sitting in another State, and the Eleventh (xi.) amendment was passed.
The nomination of John Rutledge as Chief Justice not having been confirmed by the Senate, his judicial career lasted but one term.
Oliver Ellsworth, of Connecticut, the third Chief Justice of the United States, assisted to frame the Constitution and draw up the Act of which
organized the Federal Judiciary. He was familiar with the country's history, and a great statesman as well as judge; not so extreme a Federalist as Jay, nor was he a mere Jeffersonian Republican. In a decision, while presiding in the Circuit Court in North Carolina, he maintained that our government is partly National and partly Federal, and denied the validity of a State law confiscating debts due British creditors, while a United States treaty permitted the debt to be collected.
The case of Ware against Hylton, or the British debt case, was first tried in Richmond in 1793. The question was whether the treaty of peace, which provided that creditors on either side should meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of the full value of all bona fide debts theretofore contracted—whether that treaty revived the debts which had been sequestered by Virginia during the war. The case was argued by John Marshall, Patrick Henry, Campbell and Innis. Upon different occasions, the same question came before Justices Jay, Cushing and Ellsworth, who held that treaties of the United States are the supreme laws of the land, and that when State enactments sequestrating or confiscating foreign debts are forbidden by the treaty, the State enactments must yield to the treaty.
Chief Justice John Marshall took his seat upon the bench of the Supreme Court at the February term, 1801. He had to lay the very foundation of Federal jurisprudence, and he was peculiarly fitted for the work. Trained in the school of the Revolution, haying imperiled his life as a soldier, he was a patriot
of the purest type.
Devoted to his native State, Virginia, he loved the nation more, and few men in our history have done this land so much honor. As a man, he was one of the plainest of citizens, kind-hearted, generous, of real republican simplicity, noble, brave and true. The greatest judge who has adorned the annals of our bench, he was the peer of Hale or Mansfield.
One of the first constitutional questions that came before Chief Justice Marshall was that involved in the case of Marbury against Madison. Mr. Adams, before the expiration of his term of office, nominated Marbury to the Senate as a Justice of the Peace for the District of Columbia. The Senate approved the nomination. A commission was drawn up, signed by the President and sealed with the United States seal, but not delivered. Mr. Jefferson succeeded to the Presidency, and refused to deliver the commission. A mandamus was then moved for, commanding Mr. Madison, the Secretary of State, to deliver it. The question then arose, “Had Congress power to pass an act which authorized the Supreme Court to issue writs of mandamus to United States officers ?” Congress had passed such an act, but the Supreme Court held that the Constitution limited the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to certain cases, and Congress had thus enlarged its original jurisdiction; hence the unconstitutional act of Congress is void. The mandamus was refused. The question, whether an act repugnant to the Constitution can become the law of the land, was forever settled in the negative. Marshall's decision was a perfect demonstration.*
* 6 Cranch, 87.
In the case of Fletcher against Peck, the Supreme Court decided that an act of the legislature of Georgia impaired the obligation of contracts, hence the act was repugnant to the United States Constitution and void. Many cases have been decided by the Supreme Court regardless of legislative enactments which that court deemed contrary to the Constitution of the United States.*
The great case of Dartmouth College against Woodward, established the principle that a grant of corporate powers is a contract, the obligation of which the States are inhibited to impair.
In 1816, the New Hampshire Legislature amended the College charter, but the trustees refused to accept the amendments. The State courts supported the usurpation of Mr. Woodward, and the College appealed to the Supreme Court. Mr. Webster and Mr. Hopkinson appeared for the College, Attorney-General Wirt and Mr. Holmes for Woodward. Mr. Webster's speech in behalf of his Alma Mater marks an epoch in the history of forensic eloquence. It was not only great as a judicial argument, but his spontaneous appeal to the feelings in that speech will probably live as long as any words that he ever spoke. "† After four hours of clear, forcible reasoning, Webster stood for some moments silent before the court, while every eye was fixed upon him. At length, addressing Chief Justice Marshall, he proceeded thus: This, sir, is my
It is the case not merely of that humble institution—it is the case of every college in our land. It
* 4 Wheaton, 518. | Lives of the Chief Justices, by Flander, vol. ii., p. 445.