Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Freedom: A History of US.
HOME
Webisode Menu Tools & Activities For Teachers About the Series Search This Site
Webisode 2: Revolution
Introduction Segment 1 Segment 2 Segment 3 Segment 4 Segment 5 Segment 6 Segment 7 Segment 8 Segment 9

See it Now - click the image and explore
John Marshall
Segment 8
Page 2

Congress and the president had done something the Constitution said they couldn't do. They were abridging freedom of speech and of the press, which was contrary to the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. What could be done?

If Congress were to pass Alien and Sedition Acts today, the Supreme Court would declare them unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court was just getting organized during Adams's presidency. It wasn't very strong. The government's three parts—the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—were supposed to be equal partners, to check and balance each other. But at first the Supreme Court was no check or balance at all. And then, in 1801, President Adams appointed a man named John Marshall See It Now - John Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Marshall was a brilliant choice. He had a good brain and used it. As the historian Henry Adams (John Adams's great-grandson) wrote: "His habits were remarkable for modest plainness; and only the character of his mind, which seemed to have no flaw, made his influence irresistible upon all who were brought within its reach."

John Marshall believed that a strong Supreme Court would help protect the rights of all the people. So in 1803, in a Supreme Court case called Check The Source - Marbury versus Madison Marbury v. Madison, Marshall said the Court could throw out any law passed by Congress if the Court thought that law was unconstitutional. He wrote, "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." Marbury v. Madison began a process called judicial review. It gave the Supreme Court the power to decide if a law passed by Congress meets the requirements of the Constitution. Judicial review made the Court a real check and balance to the other two branches. It helped guarantee our freedoms. John Marshall made sure those rights would be protected—even from Congress and the president.

In his article on John Marshall, Henry Adams added this: "Nevertheless this great man nourished one weakness: ... he detested Thomas Jefferson."

It was true. These two remarkable Virginians—who were cousins—couldn't stand each other. Marshall believed the purpose of government was to protect "life, liberty and property." Jefferson believed in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." They didn't realize it, but their ideas complemented each other. John Marshall and his cousin Tom Jefferson did agree on one thing: the Alien and Sedition acts. Neither liked them. Most of the country didn't like them either.

When President Adams ran for a second term in 1800, he was defeated—by Thomas Jefferson, who campaigned with the slogan "Jefferson and Liberty." And when Jefferson became president See It Now - Thomas Jefferson's Inauguration, the Alien and Sedition Acts were allowed to die. An embittered John Adams wrote "A hurricane of clamor was raised up against [me], even more fierce and violent than I had anticipated."


Icon Key
See it Now Hear it Now Check the Source
Timeline
Glossary
Quiz
Image Browser
Additional Resources
Did You Know?
The first Supreme Court met in the basement of the Capitol because although a site for the Court had been planned, nothing yet had been built.


John Adams was the first president to live in the White House.


Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?



Previous Continue to: Segment 9. Page 1
Email to a friend
Print this page