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3 - The Democracy versus the Law: The Role of the Federal Judiciary, 1789–1815

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2019

Gerald Leonard
Affiliation:
Boston University
Saul Cornell
Affiliation:
Fordham University, New York
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Summary

During the years of Federalist dominance in the 1790s, the federal courts played a limited role in legitimating the Federalist reading of the Constitution. After Jefferson’s election in 1800, the defense of Federalist constitutionalism fell to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall. Marshall’s Court defended broad federal power and, as importantly, promoted a distinctively legalist understanding of the Constitution. In the face of rising movements for states’ rights and democratic control, the Court defended the judiciary’s supremacy over the other branches and even over the sovereign people in interpreting the Constitution. It further insisted that the Constitution embraced judge-made, common-law principles of contract and property at the expense of the policies of the states and the people. But Marshall’s and the Court’s legalism faced resistance from the more-radical Republicans, who believed that the people held the final and sovereign word on the meaning of the Constitution.
Type
Chapter
Information
The Partisan Republic
Democracy, Exclusion, and the Fall of the Founders' Constitution, 1780s–1830s
, pp. 84 - 114
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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