With the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and George Washington sworn in as the first President, American began a new era as a republic. The new government was tested under George Washington’s leadership, but it remained strong. During this time the judicial branch also established its role within the new government with several landmark Supreme Court rulings. 

The Age of Jackson is often referred to as the “Era of the Common Man.” Andrew Jackson was thought to represent the average American which included farmers, frontiersmen, and laborers, rather than the privileged class from the East who were often tied to the Second Bank of the United States. This era is marked by progress in expanding the role of the common man in the democratic process, but also marked with conflict with Native Americans over the movement west.


Alexis de Tocqueville was a French historian and political scientist. As French foreign minister, he traveled to the United States in 1831. It was the experiences during this visit that led him to write to his most famous work, Democracy in America. In this book, he details his observations of society and culture in the United States. He predicted that democratic institutions like those of the United States would eventually replace the aristocratic governments in Europe. Tocqueville criticized individualism and believed that associations among people would lead to the greatest happiness for society. He emphasized responsibilities of citizenship and the value of compromise. Further, he analyzed the American attempt to foster equality among citizens through the promotion of liberty, while contrasting that approach to more socialistic systems that attempt to foster equality through government control.
John Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, serving from 1801 until his death. Born in Virginia, he served in the Virginia legislature and at the Virginia Ratifying Convention where he fought for ratification of the Constitution with James Madison. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President John Adams. Marshall’s most important decision was Marbury v. Madison (1803) which established the doctrine of judicial review. He also decided Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), which clarified the Contracts Clause; McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which examined implied powers of Congress under Article I, section 8 and affirmed the supremacy of the Constitution over state law; and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) which affirmed that Congress had control of interstate waterways under the Commerce Clause. He also presided over the treason trial of Aaron Burr. Marshall’s interpretations of the Constitution, including his understanding of federalism, proved definitive and laid the groundwork for much of current constitutional theory and a strong national government.
Born in Virginia in 1758, Monroe was the 5th President of the United States. He attended the College of William and Mary, fought in the Continental Army, was a lawyer, and a politician. Monroe joined the Anti-Federalists in Virginia and opposed ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. He was an advocate of Jefferson’s policies and was elected a U.S. Senator from Virginia. Monroe helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. During the War of 1812 he served as Secretary of War and Secretary of State under President Madison. His presidency was called the “Era of Good Feelings.” He is known for the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 which provided that the Western Hemisphere should be free from future European colonization and that the U.S. should be neutral in European wars. This was the basis of American foreign policy for many years.
Andrew Jackson was born on the border between North and South Carolina but always considered himself to be a South Carolinian. His success as a self-taught lawyer allowed him to build a home in Tennessee and buy slaves. He was that state’s first Congressman and also served in the Senate. Jackson was a general in the War of 1812, and he befriended Sam Houston. His defeat of the British at New Orleans made him a national hero. General Jackson also oversaw the military removal of many Indian Tribes in Georgia, Alabama, and Spanish Florida, and negotiated several treaties securing Indian land for the U.S. He was elected President in 1828 and two years later proposed the Indian Removal Act. As a result of the legislation, 46,000 American Indians were removed from their homes. Many died on the Trail of Tears heading west, and 25 million acres of land were opened to settlement by the U.S. Jackson saw himself as a populist—having been elected with a greater portion of the popular vote than any previous candidate—and proposed eliminating the Electoral College in his first address to Congress. Jackson frequently exercised his veto power over Congress’ legislation, which resulted in a split within Jackson’s political party. Those who opposed his policies included John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, who ran against him for president in 1832. Jackson was reelected in 1832 with five times more electoral votes than Clay.
Documents/Supreme Court Cases
After his unanimous election as the nation’s first President, George Washington delivered his First Inaugural Address to a joint session of both houses of Congress on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City, the nation’s capital at that time. He acknowledged Providence as guiding the nation’s steps: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.” He explained that virtuous Americans would make the new nation a model for the world: “[T]he foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world.” Finally, he closed by putting the responsibility for the survival of the nation squarely in the hands of citizens. “[T]he preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Article III of the new U. S. Constitution adopted in 1789 specifically created only one national court: The U. S. Supreme Court. However, it said nothing about the number of members of the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to “ordain and establish inferior courts.” Congress took several important actions concerning the new judicial branch of the U. S. government in the Judiciary Act of 1789: (1) authorized only six Justices for the first U. S. Supreme Court; (2) established certain cases which the Supreme Court could hear; (3) created 13 lower courts below the Supreme Court; and (4) created the office of Attorney General of the U.S. In 1803 in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison the Supreme Court established its power of judicial review when it declared unconstitutional Section 13 of the Judiciary Act which appeared to grant the Supreme Court original jurisdiction to hear certain cases outside of what the U.S. Constitution authorizes.
President George Washington’s Farewell Address was not delivered as a speech but was instead first published in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser on September 19, 1796 and then later in other newspapers around the nation. The opening paragraphs were largely taken from an earlier version written by James Madison in 1792 when Washington briefly considered not running for a second term. In 1796, Alexander Hamilton assisted Washington in writing the rest of the Farewell Address. In this Address, Washington announced that he would not seek a third term as President and outlined what he hoped would be “guiding principles” for the new nation. He urged citizens to cherish the Constitution as the best means of preserving their liberty and reminded them that the document contains within itself the means for amendment. He asserted that religion and morality were the basis for justice and necessary for good government. Finally, he discussed what he considered the two major threats to the young nation: one domestic and one foreign. First, he warned his fellow citizens about what he called “the baneful effects of the spirit of party.” Political parties, he argued, were a threat to the nation because they allowed “a small but artful and enterprising minority” to “put in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party.” Second, judged from the amount of the Address devoted to it, Washington felt the greatest threat to the nation was the dangerous influence of foreign powers. In foreign affairs, he called for the young nation “to steer clear of permanent alliances” with foreign powers.
The Federalist controlled U. S. Congress passed the Sedition Act, and Federalist President John Adams signed it into law on July 14, 1798. It was set to expire on March 3, 1801, which turned out to be John Adams’ last day as President. The law made it a criminal offense “to write, print, utter or publish any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the U. S., or either house of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame or bring either into contempt or disrepute.” Conviction for violation of the law was punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,000 and imprisonment for no more than two years. Adams claimed that the law was needed for national security because he wished to avoid war with France and argued that the restriction on speech and press was necessary to quell growing support for the French in the U. S. after the French Revolution. However, the obvious political motivation of the law is illustrated by two important facts: (1) the Vice President of the U. S., at the time Thomas Jefferson who was a leader of the new political group called the Democratic-Republicans, was not covered by the law; and (2) the only people charged with violating the law were Democratic-Republicans. The first person charged, tried, and convicted of violating the law was Matthew Lyon, a Jeffersonian Republican member of the U. S. House of Representatives from Vermont. Lyon had written a letter to a Republican newspaper in which he criticized President Adams for “a continued grasp for power” and for his “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self-avarice.” Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others argued that the Sedition Act was a clear violation of the U. S. Constitution’s First Amendment and its protection of freedom of speech and press, but the law was never challenged in the courts as to its constitutionality. However, historians believe that Federalist adoption of the law was a factor in their overwhelming defeat in the elections of 1800. In one of his first official acts as the nation’s third President, Thomas Jefferson pardoned all those who had been convicted of violating the Sedition Act.
Before his term as President ended, a defeated President John Adams appointed William Marbury as a Justice of the Peace for the District of Columbia. Adams’ Secretary of State John Marshall failed to deliver Marbury his appointment papers before the new President Thomas Jefferson and the new Secretary of State James Madison assumed office. The new President and the new Secretary of State declined to give Marbury the position. After hiring an attorney and using part of a 1789 law passed by Congress, Marbury filed suit directly with the Supreme Court asking that Court to direct President Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison to give Marbury the position. The Supreme Court did not rule for or against Marbury. In other words, the Court did not order Secretary of State Madison and President Jefferson to give Marbury the position. What the Court did was something far more important. For the first time, in Marbury v Madison, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an act of Congress (a section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 under which Marbury had brought his case directly to the Supreme Court). This was an exercise of the power of judicial review—the power of the Supreme Court to interpret laws of Congress and declare them unconstitutional if in the judgment of the Court they are in conflict with the Constitution. Speaking for a unanimous Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Marshall thus established the Court as an equal partner in government with the executive and legislative branches, something it had not been prior to Marshall becoming Chief Justice. The Supreme Court became the final authority on what the Constitution means. Marshall wrote: “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marshall continued, “[T]he Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle… that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void.” The Supreme Court, further, was the proper authority to decide if a law is in conflict with the Constitution. He called this responsibility “the very essence of judicial duty.”
The U. S. Congress’ constitutional power to create a national bank had been controversial since Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton first successfully argued for it during President George Washington’s first term as President. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, also in Washington’s Cabinet, had argued against Congress’ power to create the bank. The charter of the first Bank of the United States had been allowed to expire, but in 1816, Congress chartered the Second Bank of the U. S. The largest branch of this bank was located in Baltimore, Maryland. Like Jefferson at an earlier time, Maryland did not believe that Congress had the power under the Constitution to create banks. The state decided to drive the bank out of business by passing a law placing a tax on all banks “not incorporated by the state” which meant the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States. Maryland asserted that Congress had no constitutional power to charter banks and that even if it did, a state could tax the bank. In this early federalism case, speaking through Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Congress had the power to create a national bank. The creation of a bank was an implied power of Congress. Marshall pointed out that while the power to charter banks does not appear in the list of Congress’ enumerated powers found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the creation of a bank was a means of executing its enumerated powers: “Although, among the enumerated powers of government, we do not find the word ‘bank,’…we find the great powers to lay and collect taxes; to borrow money; to regulate commerce…” Those enumerated powers, when combined with the power given Congress in Paragraph 18 of Section 8 “to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers,” authorized Congress’ action. This interpretation broadly expanded the power of Congress to enact laws over subjects not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Marshall asserted that the people, not the states, were the agents of the Constitution’s establishment. He invoked the supremacy clause of Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution in the Court’s ruling that Maryland could not tax the national bank. Marshall noted that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” By that he meant that a state could impose a tax so burdensome that the entity, in this case the national bank, would not be able to survive.
In 1808 the New York Legislature awarded Robert Fulton’s steamboat company the exclusive right to issue licenses to steamboats operating in New York waters. In 1811, Fulton in turn granted Aaron Ogden a license to operate steamboats between New York and New Jersey. In 1818, the U. S. Congress, using the power given Congress by the commerce clause of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, granted Thomas Gibbons a license to engage in the coastal trade and operate steamboats between New York and New Jersey. Ogden sued and won an injunction in a New York state court forbidding Gibbons from operating his boats in New York waters. After obtaining the services of Daniel Webster as his lawyer, Gibbons appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. Speaking through Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Gibbons and thus Congress’ power. Writing about Congress’ power under the commerce clause, Marshall stated: “This power, like all others vested in Congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the Constitution.” According to Marshall, one important purpose of the new Constitution was to “rescue [the United States] from the embarrassing and destructive consequences, resulting from the legislation of so many different States, and to place it under the protection of a uniform law.” Furthermore, Marshall and the Court invoked the supremacy clause of Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution and affirmed that state laws that contradict constitutional acts of Congress must yield. The Court acknowledged that states can enact laws that regulate interstate commerce but only if these laws do not interfere with national laws. If a state law does interfere, national law preempts state law and the state law is invalid.
In 1830, at the urging of President Andrew Jackson, the U. S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act which authorized the President to grant the Indians unsettled land west of the Mississippi river in exchange for Indian land within existing state borders. The U. S Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall first addressed the Indian lands question in an 1831 case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. That case developed out of Georgia’s attempt to assert its jurisdiction over Cherokee land within the state of Georgia that was protected by federal treaty. The Supreme Court in that case ruled that it had no jurisdiction to hear the Cherokee request to prevent Georgia’s attempt. Marshall and the Court determined that the Cherokees were “a domestic, dependent nation (a ward of the United States), rather than “a sovereign nation.” By refusing to hear the case, the Court left the Cherokees at the mercy of the land-hungry state of Georgia. The Georgia legislature meanwhile passed a law requiring anyone other than Cherokees who lived on Indian territory to obtain a license from the state. Samuel Worcester and some other non-Cherokee missionaries settled and established a mission on Cherokee land at the request of the Cherokees but without a license from the state. The state then charged them with violation of the Georgia law. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years of hard labor. Worcester and the other missionaries then appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. Speaking through Chief Justice John Marshall in Worcester v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Worcester and the Cherokees. Marshall wrote that citizens of Georgia had no right to enter Cherokee land “but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties, and with the acts of Congress. The whole intercourse between the United States and this nation, is, by our Constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States.” Therefore, Marshall concluded, “the acts of Georgia are repugnant to the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States.” The Indians thus achieved a significant legal victory. However, this significant legal victory became an unfortunate chapter in American history. When President Andrew Jackson heard of the Supreme Court’s decision, he supposedly remarked, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” In one of the dark pages in American history, the Indians were compelled to leave their native land and move west to Oklahoma Territory. In what is referred to as “the Trail of Tears,” many did not survive the move.
In the process of making improvements to the city’s streets, the city of Baltimore essentially destroyed access by large ships to a deep-water wharf owned by Barron. Barron believed his private property had thus been “taken for a public purpose” and that, as a result, he was entitled to just compensation under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment which provides that “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Barron won in a lower state court, but the decision was reversed by the Maryland Supreme Court. Barron then appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. Speaking through Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction because the Fifth Amendment’s “takings clause” did not apply to state governments. Marshall explained that because the Bill of Rights only applied to the national government “[T]he provision in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution declaring that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation is intended solely as a limitation on the exercise of power by the Government of the United States, and is not applicable to the legislation of the States.” In the late 1890s the Supreme Court overturned its decision in Barron v Baltimore and ruled that the Fifth Amendment’s “takings clause” does apply to the states. Decades later, a majority of the Supreme Court in a series of cases used the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and a doctrine called “incorporation” to hold that most of the specific rights of the Bill of Rights are now also limitations on the states.


During the debate over ratification of the new U. S. Constitution in 1788, differences began to appear among some of the nation’s political leaders. In the 1790’s, Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State were both members of President George Washington’s Cabinet and had very different visions of how the new government should function. These differences led to the development of the nation’s first political parties. Hamilton preferred a strong federal government and a loose interpretation of the Constitution. He believed that Congress should have the power to make laws that were “necessary and proper” to carry out its duties. Many of Hamilton’s supporters were large landowners, bankers, and businessmen in New England and the middle states. They also supported England and opposed France with regards to foreign affairs. Hamilton and his supporters became known as Federalists. John Adams was the last Federalist President and the party largely disappeared after 1800.
During the debate over ratification of the U.S. Constitution, differences began to appear among some of the nation’s political leaders. In the 1790’s, Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State were both members of President Washington’s Cabinet and had different visions of how the new government should function. These differences led to the development of the nation’s first parties. Jefferson believed that the federal government’s power should be limited to protect the powers of the states. He believed in strict interpretation of the Constitution, meaning that Congress and the President were restricted to doing only what the Constitution specifically said they could do. Jefferson and James Madison, another leader of the Democratic-Republicans, were strong supporters of agriculture and farming, and much of their support was in the South. They also supported France and opposed England with regards to foreign affairs. Jefferson, Madison, and their supporters became known as Democratic-Republicans.
The Election of 1800 is considered a revolution due to the change in control of the American government for the first time from one political party to another political party. In the Election of 1800, President John Adams ran for a second term as the candidate of the Federalist Party. He was defeated by Thomas Jefferson, the candidate of the Democratic-Republican Party. The election actually had to be decided in the House of Representatives since Jefferson and his Vice-Presidential candidate Aaron Burr tied with the same number of electoral votes. Jefferson finally won when Alexander Hamilton threw his support to him because he didn’t trust Burr. This later led Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel in which Hamilton was killed. This election marked the first time the Federalists lost control of both houses of Congress. The United States had experienced a change in control of its government without a single drop of blood being spilled.
The Election of 1800 signaled a loss of power for the Federalist Party. However, in the time between Thomas Jefferson’s victory over John Adams in November 1800, and Jefferson’s actual inauguration as the third President of the U.S. in March 1801, the outgoing Federalist controlled Congress passed laws increasing the number of judges in the federal court system. President Adams appointed as many Federalist judges as he could before leaving office, thus securing a legacy for the Federalists in government since they had lost power in the other two branches. Adams was busy signing appointment papers for these positions, including several as Justices of the Peace for the District of Columbia, right up until midnight. Some of the Federalist appointees had their appointment papers delivered to them by the outgoing Secretary of State John Marshall, but a few did not get their papers. When Jefferson took office the next day, he forbade his new Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver these midnight appointments, sparking the landmark Supreme Court case, Marbury v. Madison.
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson purchased over 800,000 square miles from Napoleon of France for $15 million. This very large section of land stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and doubled the size of the United States. Jefferson then sent Lewis and Clark on a military expedition to explore the new territory.