U.S. Politics Has Rarely Seen a Character Like Aaron Burr

The signatures of Aaron Burr (above) and Alexander Hamilton sold for $2,500 at an April 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention, there was a heated debate between delegates from southern and northern states over how to count slaves when determining a state’s population for both legislative representation and taxes. Finally, the “Three-Fifths Compromise” was reached, giving southern states one-third more seats in Congress and one-third more electoral votes than if slaves had been excluded.

In the presidential election of 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were able to defeat incumbent President John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney due to this single factor. However, under Electoral College rules of the day, it took 36 votes in the House of Representatives to make Jefferson president and Burr vice president. This caused a major rift between the two men. Then the relationship really turned bitter after Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.

Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, but neither reached trial after courts overturned the grand jury indictment. Burr fled to Georgia, but returned to Washington, D.C., to complete his term as vice president and presided over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. The Senate refused to convict Chase and he remains the only Justice of the Supreme Court to be impeached.

This was followed by a bizarre series of events involving Burr that included a suspected conspiracy to recruit a group of volunteers for a military expedition down the Mississippi River, provoke a war with Spain, hoping to split off some western states, and create a new inland empire. The expedition collapsed almost immediately and a co-conspirator of Burr betrayed him by sending alarming messages to President Jefferson. Convinced of Burr’s guilt, Jefferson ordered his arrest and he was taken into custody and treason charges were filed. Burr escaped, but was recaptured and taken to Virginia for trial.

In Richmond, they learned the electrifying news that Burr, former VP of the U.S., had been accused of treason and his trial would be held in their courthouse. The trial of such a prominent person attracted legal officials from a broad area. Chief Justice John Marshall was picked to preside over the trial and Burr’s defense lawyers included Edmund Randolph (U.S. Attorney General under George Washington) and Charles Lee, Attorney General for John Adams. The chief prosecutor was James Monroe’s son-in-law, George Hay.

Notable witnesses included Andrew Jackson, a friend of Burr who thought Jefferson was maligning him and started picking fights with Jefferson’s friends – even challenging star witness General James Wilkerson to a duel. Wilkerson was the co-conspirator who provided the incriminating evidence to Jefferson.

The trial started on May 22, 1807, but despite all the intriguing circumstances, there was a lack of evidence as explicated by Judge Marshall and the jury declared the accused not guilty in September. Most observers conceded that the outcome was inevitable. However, Burr’s political career was finally ended and he left America on a self-imposed exile in Europe (presumably to escape his creditors!).

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

British General Had Unfortunate Assignment of Quelling a Revolution

A letter signed by Thomas Gage, a year before the opening shots of the Revolutionary War, sold for $5,625 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Thomas Gage was the general in charge of Great Britain’s forces in North America from 1763 to 1775. As commander-in-chief, he held the most powerful office in British America, although he spent a disproportionate amount of time in New York City, enjoying the lively social scene.

It was during Gage’s tenure that colonial tensions escalated over political acts in London, starting with the highly unpopular Stamp Act of 1765.

Thomas Gage

Although Gage and his family were in Great Britain in late 1773 and missed the Boston Tea Party (Dec. 16, 1773), it provoked the British Parliament to enact a series of punitive measures that became known as the Intolerable Acts (or the Coercive Acts). Since Gage had experience in North America that extended all the way back to the French and Indian War in 1755, he was selected to be the military governor of Massachusetts in early 1774. It was his job to implement the Acts and quell the nascent rebellion.

In April, John Hancock and Samuel Adams had decided to hide out in Lexington, Mass., in Hancock’s childhood home to avoid contact with the British as they made their way to the Second Continental Congress. It was a wise decision since Gage had received instructions from London to arrest them as ringleaders of the insurgency. He also planned to seize gunpowder that was stored in nearby Concord.

However, the patriots received a tip about the raid and Paul Revere was dispatched to warn Hancock and Adams. When British troops descended on Lexington on April 19, they were confronted by a small band of volunteers. Now-historic shots were fired, killing eight Americans and wounding 10, while the British lost a single horse before they moved on to Concord.

It was a much different story when the British proudly marched back to Boston in their crisp red uniforms. Suddenly, they were engulfed on all sides by armed men, many of them local farmers, who were protected by buildings, trees, rocks and fences. They were known as the Minutemen, since they were highly mobile, self-trained in weaponry, deadly accurate with firearms, and able to respond quickly to military threats.

The British, frantic to seek safety, scrambled back to Boston after 273 soldiers were either killed or wounded. The colonists lost 95 men and were now prepared to challenge the once-invincible British, despite the enormous difference in resources. A larger and longer conflict was finally ignited.

John Adams got it exactly right when he said, “The battle of Lexington on the 19th of April changed the instruments of warfare from the pen to the sword.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

‘We Can Never Know Enough About the American Revolution’

The 1998-S Crispus Attucks $1 was struck to commemorate the 275th anniversary of the birth of Attucks and to honor the nation’s Black Patriots.

By Jim O’Neal

A friend, Oscar Robertson, NBA Hall of Fame player, gained notoriety in 1955 by leading Crispus Attucks High School to the Indiana state championship, becoming the first all-black school in the nation to win a state title. In 1956, Oscar and his teammates won the state championship again, and this time they became the first Indiana high school to complete a season undefeated.

Crispus Attucks was the first person killed in the Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770) and many consider the former slave the first casualty of the American Revolution. In the 1850s, he became a martyr for the abolitionist movement. His probable mixed-race heritage – African and American Indian – allowed both African Americans and Native Americans to leverage his fame in their struggles for justice.

Despite the many eyewitness accounts, scholarly research and dozens of highly acclaimed books, this period is filled with alternate versions and is a continuing source of debate and uncertainty.

A common denominator in many of the high-profile events of the era is the city of Boston, with the Stamp Act of 1765 being a convenient place to start. This was an egregious act of the British Parliament putting a tax on all printed matter – newspapers, books, playing cards and legal documents. It aroused a storm of protest in all the colonies, with Boston’s reaction particularly violent. A Stamp Act administrator was burned in effigy and a mob ransacked the governor’s mansion.

Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but insisted they maintained the right to pass laws regulating all trade and issuing new taxes at will. This caused protests that were even more violent and into this highly volatile situation, Britain landed 4,000 troops in Boston, strictly “in anticipation of a crisis.”

By 1770, Boston was in an economic decline and the population of 15,000 was smaller than 30 years earlier in 1740. There was continual competition for scarce resources and tensions between British troops and citizens continued to increase. Finally, an argument over payment for a haircut escalated into an angry mob that challenged troops stationed at the Customs House.

The people taunted the soldiers with “Fire! Fire! Fire! We dare you to fire!” At some point, an order was given and they shot into the crowd. Four people were killed and several others wounded. The next day, British Captain Thomas Preston and a small group of soldiers were arrested and taken to Queen Street jail to await trial. Future President John Adams and Josiah Quincy Jr. agreed to be their lawyers. A little-known fact is that four citizens were accused of shooting into the crowd, but they were found not guilty along with all but two of the British soldiers.

Then came the famous Boston Tea Party (1773), when colonists dressed as Indians destroyed 342 chests of tea on three ships in Boston Harbor after the British Parliament levied taxes on tea and granted a monopoly to the British East India Company. All the elements were in place for a war and it lasted for seven years.

The 35 years from 1765 to 1800 are some of the most interesting times in American history and will continue to attract scholarly research and an unending parade of books. However, few have the insight of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, who has said, “We can never know enough about the American Revolution if we want to understand who we are, why we are the way we are, and why we’ve accomplished what we’ve been able to accomplish that no other country has.”

I agree.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Our Wishes, Passions Cannot Alter the State of Facts

“The Big Three” – Churchill, FDR and Stalin – at the Yalta Conference, Feb. 4, 1945.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, with the war in Europe winding down, the time had come for President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin to decide the continent’s postwar fate. They agreed to meet at the Black Sea port of Yalta to discuss the plan.

Each man arrived on Feb. 4, along with an entourage of diplomats, military officers, soldiers and personal aides. Among those attending for Great Britain were Alexander Cadogan, under-secretary for foreign affairs, and Anthony Eden, Britain’s foreign secretary. Stalin was accompanied by his minister of foreign affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, and the Soviet ambassador to the United States. Roosevelt brought Secretary of State Edward Stettinius and Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Roosevelt, recently elected to a fourth term, also brought along daughter Anna as his personal assistant, instead of wife Eleanor.

Aside from agreeing to the unconditional surrender of Germany, their agendas could not have been more different. While Stalin was firmly committed to expanding the USSR, Roosevelt and Churchill focused on the war in the Pacific. They hoped Stalin would declare war on Japan once Germany surrendered. Unbeknownst to Churchill, Roosevelt secretly secured the Soviet dictator’s cooperation by agreeing to grant the Soviets a sphere of influence in Manchuria once Japan capitulated.

The Allied leaders also discussed dividing Germany into zones of occupation. Each of the three nations, as well as France, would control one zone. Churchill and Roosevelt also agreed that all future governments in Eastern Europe would be “friendly” to the Soviet Union. Stalin agreed to allow free elections in each of the liberated Eastern European countries.

There was also a great deal of debate over Poland, but it was all a series of empty, almost laughable promises from Stalin in return for consenting to help with the establishment of the United Nations, which Roosevelt desperately wanted to create. He sincerely believed this new organization would step in when future conflicts arose and help countries settle their disputes peacefully.

The initial reaction to the Yalta agreements was one of celebration, especially in the United States. It appeared that the Western Allies and the Soviets would continue their wartime cooperation into the postwar period. Some historians continue to debate the impact of the conference. However, the facts are crystal clear. By spring, hopes of any continued cooperation had evaporated. After Yalta, Stalin quickly reneged on his promises concerning Eastern Europe, especially the agreement to allow free elections in countries liberated from Nazi control.

The USSR created an Iron Curtain and installed governments dominated by the Soviet Union. The one-time pseudo Allies found themselves on a more treacherous and dangerous path to another more ideologically driven one – the aptly named Cold War. Was FDR too tired and sick? He died two months after Yalta on April 12, 1945, at age 63. Was Churchill out of the loop or drinking heavily (or both)?

Seventy-plus years later, we are still consumed with Russian aggression in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria and the Baltics.

“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence,” said lawyer and future president John Adams in 1770, while defending British soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Only Four Presidents Never Appointed a Supreme Court Justice

An 1840 silk banner depicting William Henry Harrison realized $33,460 at a May 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Donald Trump’s appointee fills the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the chief executive will escape from a small group of presidents who did not appoint a single nominee confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s pick will join the other 117 justices, 17 chief justices and four women who have served on the court.

Presidents without a Supreme Court appointee:

  • William Henry Harrison (1841) – Died only 31 days after being inaugurated.
  • Zachary Taylor (1849-50) – Died 16 months after inauguration.
  • Andrew Johnson (1865-69) – Victim of a hostile Congress that blocked several nominees.
  • Jimmy Carter (1977-81) – The only president to serve a full term with no vacancies during his four years in office.

It seems clear that the Founding Fathers did not spend a lot of time considering the importance of the Supreme Court as an equal branch of government. That would come later during the tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall, who many credit with providing the balance to ensure that our fragile democracy survived.

One example is there are no legal or constitutional requirements for a federal judgeship. There does exist an unwritten prerequisite to have practiced law or to have been a member of the bar, but it is not mandatory. As a matter of historical record, no non-lawyer has ever been a member of the Supreme Court – and it is a virtual certainty that none ever will.

And, although the methodology for judicial appointments was subject to intense debate, the criteria for such appointments was apparently not a matter of significance. Those few delegates who did raise the issue of criteria did so by assuming merit over favoritism. Congress also did not foresee the role political parties would very soon come to play in the appointment and confirmation process.

Only John Adams clearly anticipated the rise of political parties but, of course, he was not a member of the Constitutional Committee. He summarized it rather well: “Partisan considerations, rather than the fitness of the nominees, will often be the controlling consideration of the Senate in passing on nominations.”

I suspect they would all be disappointed by the dramatic, partisan “gotcha” grilling that nominees face today.

Personally, I would prefer the old process the Scots used to select Supreme Court justices. The nominations came from the lawyers, who invariably selected the most successful and talented members of the legal community. This effectively eliminated their most fierce competition, which then allowed them to solicit their best customers. The court would then truly be assured of getting the best-of-the best, while the profession competed for clientele.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Adams Family History Shows How Fate Can Be Generous, Cruel

A Liverpool Creamware Pitcher showing President John Adams sold for $6,875 at a December 2016 Heritage auction. Liverpool pitchers were produced for the nation’s first four presidents, with examples picturing Adams among the rarest.

By Jim O’Neal

Abigail “Nabby” Adams (1765-1813) was the first presidential child in American history.

Nabby had a difficult personal life, despite having both a father and brother become president of the United States. Her marriage to William Stephens Smith was rocky, not made any better by Smith’s financial difficulties due to poor investments and business ventures.

In 1810, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, tantamount to a death sentence in those primitive medical times. Her treatment started with a mastectomy (without anesthesia) with typical 19th-century surgical tools: a large fork, a pair of six-inch prongs, a wood-handled razor, and a thick iron spatula heated in a small oven.

Within 2½ years, she was dead as the malignant cells left behind spread throughout her body, rendering her inoperable.

She had three younger brothers. John Quincy Adams is arguably the greatest of all presidential children. Charles Adams was a bright, engaging lawyer who died an alcoholic at age 30. Thomas Adams – also a lawyer – drank excessively and died in debt.

John Quincy Adams’ story is legendary. He would become the sixth president of the United States and, until George W. Bush, the only president’s son to become president himself.

His 1778 voyage to France with his father proved to be a defining event in both their lives. An important bond filled the emotional needs of an adolescent boy, and he became indispensable to his famous father. Fellow commissioner to France Benjamin Franklin was fluent in French, but often too busy to offer help. In a foreign country and ignorant of the native tongue, the future president had only his son to alleviate the striking boredom.

It developed into a strong intellectual, emotional and spiritual relationship, clearly evident in their correspondence for the remainder of their lives. Writing to wife Abigail, John Adams declared their son “is respected wherever he goes, for his vigor and vitality, both of mind and body. His rapid progress in French and general knowledge is highly unusual for a boy of his age.”

John Quincy Adams

When their work in France was done, father and son returned to America. But Congress dispatched Adams back to France, and then to the Netherlands with JQA in tow. Then fate struck again. When he was 14 years old, John Quincy Adams was asked to join a diplomatic mission in Russia to obtain recognition for the new United States.

In 1794, JQA was appointed by President Washington as Minister to the Netherlands, an assignment that would take him all the way to the White House. At various times, he also served as ambassador to Prussia, England and Russia. He would help negotiate the end of the War of 1812 and find time to squeeze in service as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Like father, like (some) sons.

In 1789, John Adams learned that son Charles was bankrupt, an alcoholic and faithless. The Founding Father, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and second president of the United States, renounced him. He died a hopeless alcoholic, just days before John Adams learned he had lost the 1800 presidential election.

Fate can be a cruel master and Lady Luck a fickle companion.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Laws Curtailing Free Speech Rejected by Americans – 200 Years Ago

Thomas Jefferson reaffirmed the rights of Americans to “think freely and to speak and write what they think.”

By Jim O’Neal

After serving two full terms as president (1789-97), George Washington was more than ready to leave Philadelphia, where he had lived since relocating from New York City. He returned to his home in Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. The plantation had been losing money during his extended absence, leaving him in a financial quandary of being relatively wealthy but cash-poor. Virtually all of his assets were in non-liquid land and slaves.

However, little did he expect that his successor, Vice President John Adams, would allow relations with France to deteriorate to the point of a possible war. Diplomacy had failed and on July 4, 1798, President Adams was forced to offer Washington a commission as Lieutenant General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army with the responsibility of preparing for a potential war. Washington accepted, but wisely delegated the actual work to his trusted friend Alexander Hamilton. All of this happened a mere 17 months before his death at his beloved Mount Vernon.

War with France was avoided, but President Adams utilized some highly controversial tactics, including the Alien and Sedition Acts. These consisted of four bills passed by a highly partisan, Federalist-dominated Congress that were signed into law by Adams in 1798.

Although neither France nor the United States actually declared war, rumors of enemy spies (aliens) or a surprise French invasion frightened many Americans and the Alien Acts were designed to mitigate the risk. The first law, the Naturalization Act, extended the time it took immigrants to gain citizenship from five to 14 years. Another law provided that once war was declared, all male citizens of an enemy nation could be expelled. It was estimated that this would include 25,000 French citizens in the United States. The president also was authorized to deport any non-citizens suspected of plotting against the government during wartime or peace.

The Sedition Act was much more insidious. Sedition means inciting others to resist or rebel against lawful authority. The act first outlawed conspiracies “to oppose any measure of the government.” Further, it made it illegal for anyone to “express any false, scandalous and malicious writing against Congress or the President.” It included published words that had BAD INTENT to DEFAME the government or cause HATRED of the people toward it.

Secretary of State Timothy Pickering was in charge of enforcement and pored over newspapers looking for evidence. Numerous people were indicted, fined and jailed to the point that it became a major issue in the presidential election of 1800. Thomas Jefferson argued the laws violated the First Amendment.

The voters settled the debate by electing Jefferson.

In his inaugural address, Jefferson confirmed a new definition of free speech and press as the right of Americans “to think freely and to speak and write what they think.”

The U.S. Supreme Court never decided whether the Alien and Sedition Acts were constitutional. The laws, quite conveniently, expired on March 3, 1801, John Adams’ last day in office.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Today’s Political Schisms Would Not Surprise George Washington

A painting by Jeremiah Paul Jr. (d. 1820) depicting George Washington taking leave of his family as he assumes command of U.S. forces during the “quasi-war” with France in 1798, realized $47,500 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

George Washington was a staunch opponent of political parties due to the corrosive effect he (strongly) believed they would have on all levels of government.

As president, Washington worked hard to maintain a non-partisan political agenda, despite significant differences that existed right in his cabinet.

His 1796 farewell address was replete with advice to the country, and by extension, to future leaders. One prominent warning was to avoid the formation of political factions that would pose a danger to the effectiveness of government (think gridlock in Washington, D.C.). A second peril was entanglements with foreign governments, since they inevitably lead to war. The examples here start with the War of 1812, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and end with the Russian threats to NATO, the China Sea and the remarkably complex situation in the Middle East and North Korea.

After Washington’s retirement, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton ignored his sage advice and wasted little time confronting the Democratic-Republicans, headed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Adams became the first (and last) Federalist president. He was easily defeated in 1800, after one term, by Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Adams finished a dismal third and the Federalists gradually faded into irrelevance.

The Democratic-Republicans put together a nice run of three Virginia presidents – Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe – however, the party lacked a strong center and split four ways. Next was an alliance between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay of the National Republican Party, which only won a single election in 1824 that required the House to settle. When Andrew Jackson defeated Clay in 1832, the party was absorbed into the Whigs … a diverse group of anti-Jackson politicos.

Then the Whig Party fell apart in the 1850s over the issue of the expansion of slavery in the new territories. In fact, after the 1854 election, the largest party in the House of Representatives was the Opposition Party, with 100 members, followed by 83 Democrats and 51 American Party members (the Know Nothings).

These parties never seem to last long (thankfully).

Next it was the New Republican Party’s turn (the Party of Lincoln) until another major kerfuffle occurred in 1912 when Teddy Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft managed to divide the Republican Party enough to let Democrat Woodrow Wilson win the White House … until he had a stroke and his wife took over.

A century later, we appear to be in another political schism, with a socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, on the Democrat Party side and on the other, Donald “The Wall” Trump, who claims to have part of the Republican Party supporting him. It is not clear which part.

Only one thing seems certain. Thanks to President Washington, we were warned!

P.S. As history teaches … this too shall pass.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

As We Pay Tribute to Scalia, Let’s Recall Landmark Appointment Case

After he was defeated in the 1800 presidential election, John Adams retired to Massachusetts as a gentleman farmer. A letter he wrote and signed 13 years later realized $46,875 at an October 2014 Heritage Auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The landmark case known as Marbury vs. Madison arose after the bitter 1800 election when Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams, tied with and Aaron Burr and then eventually won when Alexander Hamilton swung the New York boys to him on the 36th ballot.

A bitter Adams made a last-minute attempt to pack the judiciary with Federalists by appointing 16 new circuit judges and 42 new Justices of the Peace for the District of Columbia. However, four of the new justices, including William Marbury, did not get their commissions before Adams’ last day in office.

Secretary of State James Madison refused to give the four men their commissions, so Marbury asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to do it. This put Chief Justice John Marshall (newly appointed by Adams) in a delicate situation. If the Supremes issued the writ, Madison might simply refuse and the Court had no means to enforce compliance.

Alternatively, if the Court did not, then he was risking surrendering judicial power to Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party (later to become the Democratic Party).

Marshall decided there was no middle ground and that left the choice of either declaring the Constitution to be superior and binding, or allowing the legislature to be an entity of unchecked power. Since the nation had established a written Constitution with fundamental principles to bind it in the future, it had to be both superior and binding law. And if the Constitution was the superior law, then an act “repugnant” must be invalid.

The decision was to discharge Marbury’s action because the Court did not have original jurisdiction, and the Judiciary Act of 1789, which Marbury argued was the basis of his petition, was unconstitutional. The Court found the Constitution specifically enumerated cases where the Court had both original and appellate jurisdiction. The Court also concluded a writ of mandamus was unconstitutional and void.

In more recent times, the Court has asserted a broad judicial review power and the role as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. Once a law is declared unconstitutional, the courts simply decline to enforce it. Judicial review was once controversial. Even Judge Learned Hand felt it was inconsistent with the separation of power. However, “Marbury” served to make the judiciary equal to the executive and legislative branches.

Most scholars and historians give full credit to Chief Justice Marshall for solidifying this principle of an equal tripartite government structure that has served us well for 200-plus years.

Author Harlow Giles Unger goes even further in his 2014 biography (John Marshall: The Chief Justice who Saved the Nation), where he claims Marshall turned into a bulwark against presidential and congressional tyranny and saved American Democracy.

I tend to disagree since the process for selecting members has been politicized to the point the Court seems to be simply an extension of which party controls the lever of power. I suspect we will have a chance to see this phenomenon several times in the next four to eight years as turnover increases.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].