March 12, 2018
Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Chase waited as the Senate cast their votes. Appointed by President George Washington, Chase took his duties very seriously. However, the animosity that had developed between John Adams’ Federalists and Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans threatened to destroy not only him, but possibly the nation.
Chase worked with Adams and Jefferson in the Continental Congress in 1776. He, along with these men, proudly signed the . However, changing political tides, the French Revolution, and simple growing pains of a brand new country made foes of the former colleagues. (see ) Their 1796 election was just the first of many contentious elections to come over the next two centuries. However, it resulted in the two rivals leading the government together with Adams as president and Jefferson taking the vice presidency.
The French Revolution was still occurring when Adams took office. (see and ) During King Louis XVI’s reign, France was a great ally to America, lending her a substantial amount of money. (see ) While Jeffersonians remained loyal to France, the Federalists desired alliances with Britain. As France continued to organize its new leadership, Adams concluded America’s debt belonged to the old monarchy and not the new government. Therefore, America stopped its payments to France. This led to several incidents among French and American naval and trade ships, a breakdown in negotiations, and a bribe attempt from France called the “XYZ Affair”. As a result, on July 7, 1798, Congress repealed their treaties with France, marking the beginning of an undeclared naval war between the two countries in the West Indies, called the Quasi-War. It lasted until 1800.
With Democratic-Republicans favoring France, Federalists worried about their alliances with the country. Fearing an all-out war with France, spying and infiltration in the opposition party became a growing concern to the Federalists. Therefore, they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which Adams signed on July 14th, seven days after the start of the Quasi-War. However, they expired on March 3, 1801, Adams’ last day of his current term.
Following the passage of the Acts, several individuals were taken to court over seditious libel laws. Both John Fries and James Thompson Callender faced Chase on the bench, a Federalist and ardent Adams supporter. Fries led a rebellion against a federal tax imposed to fund the Quasi-War. Adams dispatched the militia, which ended the rebellion, capturing several rebels, including Fries. Tried for treason, Fries was convicted and sentenced to death. However, Adams eventually pardoned Fries and granted amnesty to the others involved.
A known partisan journalist, Scottish born Callender often condemned the Federalists in his writings. After composing a pamphlet critical of Adams, he was arrested and tried for sedition. Following his conviction, he served nine months in jail. When Jefferson was elected, Callender assumed the new president would be so grateful for his loyalty, he would appoint him to a government position. However, it didn’t happen. Now resentful and spiteful, Callender turned his pen against his once political ally, accusing Jefferson of having an affair with his slave, Sally Hemings, and fathering her children. (see )
By the 1800 election, the tensions between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans were palpable. Adams and the Federalists had had enough of the Jeffersonians and their opposition. Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans were tired of being targeted by the Sedition Acts, which also turned public opinion against Adams. Even after pardoning several individuals in the Spring of 1800 who were convicted under the Acts, Americans elected Jefferson over Adams. Therefore, the Acts would die with Adams’ one-term presidency. However, Adams and the Federalists had one more legislative card to play to empower their party before leaving office on March 4, 1801. (see )
Days before Adams would peacefully turn over the presidency to Jefferson, the Federalist controlled Congress passed a bill reforming the court system as designed in the Judiciary Act of 1789. (see ) The Federalists passed the Judiciary Act of 1801 as well as the Organic Act for the District of Columbia at the end of April. These bills added sixteen new circuit court judgeships, positions originally performed by the Supreme Court Justices, along with forty-two new justices of the peace within the District of Columbia. Appointing a handful of Democratic-Republicans, Congress quickly confirmed Adams’ vastly Federalist appointments on May 2nd. Adams and Chief Justice John Marshall stayed up past midnight on March 3rd confirming the new positions, thus dubbing it the Midnight Judges Act.
Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a similar move with the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. Tired of having the Supreme Court strike down much of his New Deal legislation, he tried adding Justices, which he would appoint, to the Supreme Court. Often referred to as the “court-packing plan,” Roosevelt wanted the opportunity to fill the court with his progressive Justices, ensuring the implementation of his agenda. However, his Reform Bill failed due to lack of support.
When Jefferson took office on March 4th, he refused to deliver several commission letters signed by Adams and Marshall, leading to a lawsuit. Jefferson critics accuse him of just trying to remove Federalists from the bench. Yet they fail to acknowledge Adams and Congressional Federalists’ transparently partisan and unconscionable act of passing a last minute bill establishing those judicial positions. Though the Supreme Court ruled in Jefferson’s favor, the divide between the parties only widened. The Democratic-Republicans repealed the Judiciary Act in March of 1802, replacing it with their own similar bill a month later.
Chase was not only a proponent of the Seditious Act, he actively went after Adams critics. Yet that did not stop him from becoming very vocal in his enmity to Jefferson and his party’s resistance to the Federalist’s blatant judicial power grab. Chase began openly and brazenly denouncing Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, conduct he fined and imprisoned numerous others for when it was against his own party. On May 13, 1803, while giving instructions to a Baltimore Grand Jury, Chase launched into a tirade against his political opponents, suggesting America was “headed down the road to mobocracy [mob rule].” Chase implied they would destroy “all security for property, and personal liberty,” warning the “modern doctrine…that all men in a state of society are entitled to equal liberty and equal rights” would lead to “mighty mischief upon us.” He concluded with a harsh rebuke regarding the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801.
Upon hearing of Chase’s outburst from the bench, Jefferson promptly wrote Representative Joseph Nicholson, asking “Ought this seditious and official act on the principles of our Constitution, and on the proceedings of a State, to go unpunished? And to whom so pointedly as yourself will the public look for the necessary measures? I ask these questions for your consideration, for myself it is better that I should not interfere.” His message was read loud and clear by the Democratic-Republicans in the House, who voted to impeach Chase on March 12, 1804.
In the Senate trial, eight Articles of Impeachment were leveled against Chase. The primary charges involved “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” relating to his conduct in the Baltimore courtroom along with his actions during the Fries and Callender trials. Starting on February 9, 1805, the Senate heard arguments against Chase’s biased behavior throughout the Seditious trials, including denying the defense’s presentation of evidence. He provided his opinion in the Fries case before the jury even heard the defense, and refused to release a juror already biased against Callender, who asked to be recused.
Regardless of his extremely partisan behavior and judicial misconduct, as overwhelming as it was, enough Democratic-Republicans feared convicting him would only cement the precedent of targeting political rivals that Chase had set. Furthermore, a conviction could undermine the independence of the Judiciary. With only 9 Federalist Senators, all voting to acquit, 22 of the 25 Democratic-Republicans were needed to achieve a 2/3rds majority. However, the most they were able to get were 19. The Senate announced their verdict on March 1, 1805, acquitting Chase of all counts. If Chase had been found guilty, it is believed Jefferson would have then set out to remove Marshall.
Liberty, today’s political atmosphere is no better and just as dangerous as it was throughout Adams’ and Jefferson’s time.
During the 2016 campaign cycle, President Donald Trump lamented that America’s libel laws were too lax due to freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The Main Stream Media, or Legacy Media as it is now called, lost their minds. So did NeverTrumpers, but probably for different reasons. However, Trump’s feelings are understandable considering the deliberate and proven lies that have been printed about him. Nevertheless, the First Amendment is a precious right that must be preserved, even if it is grossly and immorally abused.
Trump reiterated his feelings this past January following the publication of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Trump’s critics piled on accusations of a dictator wannabe, as they fawned over Wolff during his book tour interviews. However, Wolff acknowledged he knew some of his information and tips were false, but he wasn’t sure exactly which ones. Regardless, Wolff published it all and called it gospel even though he admitted it is full of known lies. Likewise, without any sort of journalistic curiosity, the American media lapped it up like a dehydrated dog, believing and spreading the falsehoods without question. However, interviewers in Europe were not so taken by his accusations and asked harsh questions, which left Wolff befuddled. He quickly cancelled the rest of his European book tour citing health issues.
As with Chase, Hillary Clinton has a mountain of evidence pointing to “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by the former Secretary of State. From Benghazi to having a personal server to giving favors for donations to her “charity,” numerous allegations indicate she used her position for her own benefit and to further her own personal agenda. And that is just what we have been told about. (see ) Yet while Trump supporters want Hillary tried and jailed for her possible crimes, some Republican lawmakers worry such action could set a dangerous precedent of targeting adversaries.
During Barack Obama’s administration, his supporters cheered his executive overreach, wanting pain and punishment for his political rivals. However, critics advising against his actions warned it would set a pattern for the next president whom Obama’s supporters may not like. Just like Samuel Chase, those same proponents of Obama’s power grab, who condemned even the slightest criticism of the president, can now be seen any day of the week calling Trump every name in the book as they continue to rip him apart personally and politically for doing exactly what Obama did. Yet Trump needs to resist feelings of retribution as a Democrat will return to the White House and giving them any ability to legally assault political opponents would send us down a rabbit hole we would not be able to escape.
Liberty, as sinners we often find ourselves shouting for revenge instead of praying for peace. During his second inaugural address towards the end of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, “With malice towards none, with charity towards all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, ...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (see ) As satisfying as retaliation may feel, “Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord.” That does not say that God does not authorize proper and just punishment for those who commit crimes. However, justice is supposed to be blind, impartial and nonpartisan. While we hope Hillary and other officials who committed crimes receive their due judgment, we must pray that Trump’s advisers steer him and his administration away from the power grab tactics of our past.
That’s my 2 cents.
LIBEL LAWS AND