Marbury v. Madison

GabeGovernment(ML), Mini Lessons

From Common Sense Government eBook:

This case grew out of one of the great early political struggles in the young republic. Shortly after the ratification of the Constitution, two rival political parties emerged with widely different views of the Constitution and governmental power. The Federalists supported a strong national government, including the power of judicial review. The Anti-Federalists (an intellectual movement), and later the Jeffersonian Republicans (a political party), remained distrustful of the national government and continued to favor the states and state courts. The struggle between these two groups came to a head with the election of 1800, in which the Jeffersonians defeated the Federalists, who had held power since the birth of the republic. Needless to say, the Federalists feared what the Jeffersonians would do once in office.

In order to cause difficulty for the Jeffersonians, President John Adams and his allies in Congress created a number of new judgeships and appointed Federalists to all of the new posts, in the hope that they would counter the Jeffersonians once they took office. With time running out before the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson though, not all of the commissions had been delivered. John Marshall, who had just been appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Adams, continued to work as Secretary of State, the position he had held in the Adams administration. As Secretary of State, he was responsible for delivering the commissions before his term ended. He failed to deliver seventeen of them, though, before Adams left office. Those he left to his successor, James Madison, to deliver. Needless to say, the Jeffersonians were not happy with the scheme, and Jefferson instructed Madison not to deliver the remaining commissions.

  1. The rule of law, and agreement on playing by the rules is one of the cornerstones of the American system of government. Does the Marbury v. Madison case offer encouragement, or discouragement to you as you think about whether our country is controlled by a government of “laws” or government by “men”?
  2. Lord Acton, a British historian and political commentator, once famously wrote that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolute.” Given that even the Founders of the country, men like Madison, Marshall, and Adams, were caught up in a struggle for power, does this incline you to want the government to exercise more power, or less?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense Government eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for use by students and teachers.  Click Here to download the Common Sense Government materials.

Image Citation:

Wilson, Mark.  Newsmakers.  George W. Bush and Al Gore supporters argue with each other in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building.  Digitial Image.  Slate.  December 11, 200.