Jefferson enunciates his fears of consolidation and judicial supremacy. He writes to Judge Spencer Roane: "time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. but time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch ... we see already germs of this, as might be expected. but we are not the less bound to press against them. the multiplication of public officers, increase of expence beyond income, grown and entailment of a public debt, are indications solliciting the employment of the pruning knife.
"The great object of my fear is the federal judciary. that body, like Gravity, ever acting, with noiseless foot, & unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step, and holding what it gains, is ingulphing insidiously the special government into the jaws of that which feeds them." In this era most of the Supreme Court justices were appointed by Democratic presidents and before their elevation to the bench thought to be out of sympathy with the federalistic ideas of Chief Justice Marshall. Yet in matters pertaining to constitutional construction, they did little more than to add the weight of their silent concurrence to Marshall's decisions. The task of expounding the Constitution during this critical period of history devolved upon Marshall, who presided over the Court, deciding four cases of vital importance: Marbury vs. Madison, McCulloch vs. Maryland, Gibbons vs. Ogden, and Cohens vs. Virginia. The latter decision sounded the alarum with Jefferson. The Cohens had been convicted of selling D. C. lottery tickets in the state of Virginia, violating state law. The Cohens were prosecuted successfully by the state of Virginia. The Supreme Court upheld their convictions. The larger issue the court dealt with in making their decision was that of reviewing state court cases. The Supreme Court claimed full appellate jurisdiction over any case tried before a state court. Virginia, however felt the ruling limited states' rights, and declared the Supreme Court decision null and void, even though it had upheld the previous conviction. Jefferson hopes that "the recent recall to first principles however, by Colo. Taylor, by yourself and now by Alexander Smyth will ... be heard & obeyed, & that a temporary check will be effected." Roane had written a series of articles signed "Hampden" in the Enquirer in 1819 in which he asserted, quoting from the Federalist, that "the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government, but not in relation to the rights of the parties to the compact under which the judiciary is derived" (quoted by TJ in his letter to Roane, 6 September 1819). John Taylor had recently published a work entitled Construction Construed, and Constitutions Vindicated, which Jefferson had praised as the best treatise on republicanism since the adoption of the Constitution (Malone, Jefferson and His Time: The Sage of Monticello, p. 356).
Lastly, Jefferson touches on the Missouri Question. "Last and most portentious of all is the missouri question. it is smeared over for the present ... what it is to become I see not; and leave to those who will leive to see it." When Missouri, a slave territory, came up for statehood, New York attached an amendment to the enabling bill mandating that there be no further importation of slaves and that any slaves born after its admission to the Union should be freed. While Jefferson maintained his anti-slavery position, his main contention with the bill was that Missouri should have the same control over her instittions as any other state. He feared that if the bill was passed it would eventually lead to a dissolution of the Union.
He does not elaborate on any of the issues, as "the decays of nature [have] withdrawn me from the list of combatants. great decline in the energies of the body impart naturally a corresponding wane of the mind, and a honing after tranquility as the last and sweetest asylum of age." He prefers now to focus on the establishment of the University of Virginia. "the University will give employment to my remaining years, and quite enough for my senile faculties. it is the last act of usefulness I can render, and could I see it open, I would not ask an hour more of life."
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