Marbury v. Madison: The Beginnings of Judicial Review

Part 2: A Little Background

So, how did we get Marbury v. Madison in the first place?

Well, it all goes back to party politics really. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were the leaders of two political parties. Hamilton led the Federalists; Jefferson led the Democratic-Republicans.

After George Washington retired, his vice-president, John Adams, succeeded him. Adams ran for election in 1800, and he was opposed by his vice-president, Thomas Jefferson. Adams was a Federalist.

Jefferson was elected in November 1800. At that time, the new president didn't take office until March 4 of the following year. So Adams had a few months to try to get things done before Jefferson took over.

In the time between the election and the time that Jefferson took office, the lame duck Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, which gave the President the power to appoint more federal judges.

One of the things Adams tried to do, under this new law, was get as many Federalist judges appointed as he could. As March 4 drew near, Adams got more and more concerned with doing this. He kept appointing judges long into the night on March 3. These were known as the "Midnight Judges."

One of these "Midnight Judges" was William Marbury, who was named to be justice of the peace for the District of Columbia.

Now, the normal practice of making such appointments was to deliver a "commission," or notice, of appointment. This was normally done by the Secretary of State. Jefferson's Secretary of State at the time was James Madison. Jefferson didn't want all those Federalist judges, so he told Madison not to deliver the commission.

Next page > History in the Making > Page 1, 2, 3

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Social Studies for Kids
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David White