John Marshall became chief justice of the United States on this date in 1801. Marshall would sit on the high court until 1835, and his opinions laid the basis for American constitutional law and made the US Supreme Court a co-equal branch of government, along with the legislative and executive branches.
But what of Marshall’s predecessors?
The best known of the three men to lead the Supreme Court before Marshall was John Jay, who, among other things, helped write the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
During Jay’s nearly six years as chief justice (1789-1795), the high court ruled on just four cases, rather remarkable considering today the court receives petitions to hear some 7,000 cases annually.
Jay resigned as chief justice in June 1795 after being elected governor of New York. President George Washington named John Rutledge of South Carolina, an original high court associate justice who had resigned in 1791 to become chief justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions, to replace Jay.
Washington’s appointment took effect immediately as the US Senate was not in session.
However, Rutledge’s time on the court proved one of the shortest in the history of the nation. He was a vocal opponent to the Jay Treaty of 1794, which resolved issues remaining from the Revolutionary War but left many Americans unhappy.
His opposition cost him support in the administration and the senate. In addition, questions about his mental stability, driven at least partly by partisanship, were making the rounds.
A 223-year-old book containing George Washington’s copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for nearly $10 million at an auction Friday evening in New York.
After an intense bidding war with an unidentified party, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, charged with the preservation of Washington’s residence just outside the US capital, purchased the book for $9.82 million, according to Agence France-Presse.
The sale price was $8.7 million; with the commission bringing the total to nearly $10 million, according to auction house Christie’s. Original estimates were that the work could fetch between $2 million and $3 million.
The manuscript, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to future President Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
The 106-page book, bound in white leather, features Washington’s signature on the document’s first page. The documents contain notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president.
“It’s an exciting day. We are thrilled to be able to bring this extraordinary book back to Mount Vernon where it belongs,” said Ann Bookout, a spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.
George Washington’s 223-year-old copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the latter of which includes 12 amendments, not the 10 that were eventually ratified, could fetch up to $3 million when it goes up for auction next week.
The documents, to be offered by Christie’s auction house June 22 in New York, are bound in a book that contains notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president, according to The Associated Press.
The copy of the Constitution, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, according to the wire service.
Thomas Lecky, head of Christie’s books and manuscripts department, said Washington’s documents will rate among the more notable items sold by the elite auction house, ranking with one of Shakespeare’s first folios, Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 victory speech, and three copies of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.”
The book is in exceptional condition because of its high-quality paper and the care that its previous owners had shown for it, Christie’s senior specialist for books and manuscripts Chris Coover said.
“The paper hosting the articles that serve as a foundation for the country’s laws were thick and largely unmarked, save for Washington’s own notes, scribbled in pencil in the margins,” according to The Associated Press. “Most of the notes showed sections bracketed off and marked ‘president,’ indicating the duties and responsibilities Washington saw as his own.”
The book is roughly three-quarters of an inch thick with a bright brown calfskin cover. It not only features Washington’s signature but also personal notes, written in the margins of the text, and Washington’s personal bookplate displaying his family crest, according to the Washington Examiner.