Reference Blog Entries

After Hamilton

Megan's picture

Portrait of John MarshallIf you’re a fan of the musical, you might wonder about what happened to the Federalist party after Hamilton. One month before Jefferson’s term began in 1801, Federalist John Marshall was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. While this is a powerful position now, at the time, the Supreme Court didn’t have any clear purpose, or even have a regular location where they could meet - until 1810, overlooked in the official plan, they met in the basement of the Senate building.

Enter Marshall, another Federalist with an excellent brain. One of President John Adams’s final acts in office was to appoint Federalists to newly-created judicial positions, so he could stack the judiciary against the Democratic-Republicans. Thomas Jefferson sought to remove these “midnight judges,” and in many cases succeeded. William Marbury, one such commissioned judge, had never received his commission - it should have been delivered, but in the last-minute confusion, John Marshall himself, the then-Secretary of State, had apparently forgotten to send it. Marbury demanded that Madison, the current Secretary of State, be ordered to give him his commission, but Madison refused.

The Supreme Court, led by Marshall, agreed to hear the case, and in apparent retaliation, Jefferson blocked the court from meeting for more than a year. Marshall was in a delicate position - if he ruled in favor of his Federalist colleague Marbury, the Court would be powerless to enforce the order. Madison could just ignore it, and the already feeble Court, never clearly outlined in the US Constitution, likely wouldn’t recover, and would never develop any national influence, effectively killing the Federalist party. But if he ruled against his colleague, he would be condoning Madison and Jefferson’s overreach, and declaring his own actions as Secretary of State to be perhaps not totally legit. And this would still reveal the weakness of the Court - it would prove that Jefferson could control them after all, by making them do his bidding in this matter.

Marshall cleverly triumphed in the end, establishing the Supreme Court as we know it today. The Court’s decision found that Marbury had a right to his commission, but actually, nothing could be done about this, because the Supreme Court itself didn’t have the right to hear his case in the first place. Congress had unconstitutionally given the Court original jurisdiction in this matter, so the Court struck down that portion of the law, and offered Marbury no remedy.

The Court had never struck down a law before, and had never had the power to review laws to determine whether or not they were constitutional. So by backing out of the decision, Marshall brilliantly established these powers. By allowing Madison to do what he was going to do for Marbury anyway - nothing - he also effectively stymied the Jefferson administration from rebuking the Court for its power grab. In this decision, and many that followed, Marshall made the Court a strong, independent branch of the Federal Government, and kept the Democratic-Republicans on their toes.

Learn more about Marshall, Madison, Marbury v Madison, Jefferson, the Supreme Court, and of course, Hamilton with the following resources:

Star and Stripes Quiz

Laura's picture

The American flag will be proudly displayed on patios, porches and in parades this July 4. American Flag in color

Test your knowledge of flag lore with the following quiz. The selections are based on an article found in Upper Arlington Public Library database Facts on File: Issues and Controversies. Answers are given at the end of the page.  

  1. One nickname for the American flag is “Stars and Stripes” because it consists of a blue field with white stars in the upper left and red and white stripes on the rest of the flag. How many stars and how many stripes are on the current flag?
    1. 13 stars and 13 stripes
    2. 13 stars and 50 stripes
    3. 50 stars and 13 stripes
    4. 50 stars and 50 stripes
  2. True or False: according to the language of the Continental Congress, “White signifies Purity and Innocence; Red, Hardiness and Valor; and Blue, Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.”
  3. The blue field in which the stars are found is called a
    1. Square
    2. Canton
    3. Swath
    4. Ribbon
  4. The first person to make the official American flag was
    1. Betsy Ross
    2. Francis Hopkinson
    3. Historians do not know
    4. Alexander Hamilton
  5. President William Howard Taft fixed the overall ratio of length to width of the American flag on October 29, 1912. The ratio was established as 1:1.9. Match the terms in column A to their definitions in column B.
    A B
    Length Hoist
    Width Fly
  6. True or False: because Congress did not specify how the stars were to be arranged on the first American flags they were often arranged in a circle.

Answers:

  1. C
  2. True
  3. B
  4. C
  5. Length = Hoist, Width = Fly
  6. True

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