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The Impeachment of Samuel Chase, 1804–1805 - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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The Impeachment of Samuel Chase, 1804–1805
Republican attacks on the Federalist judiciary culminated in the impeachment, trial, and narrow acquittal of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. John Randolph of Roanoke, currently a floor leader for the Jeffersonians but later perhaps the most acerbic Old Republican critic of Jefferson’s and Madison’s administrations, managed the impeachment for the House, assisted by Joseph Nicholson, the Republican stalwart from Maryland. Robert Goodloe Harper of Maryland and Caesar Rodney of Delaware, both former Federalist congressmen, defended Chase. James Thomson Callender, who figured prominently in the House indictment, was probably the most scurrilous Republican pamphleteer of the later 1790s. In 1802, however, Callender had turned against Thomas Jefferson, whom he accused of having several children by his slave Sally Hemings.
Articles of Impeachment 30 November 1804
Article 1. That, unmindful of the solemn duties of his office, and contrary to the sacred obligation by which he stood bound to discharge them “faithfully and impartially, and without respect to persons,” the said Samuel Chase, on the trial of John Fries, charged with treason, before the circuit court of the United States, held for the district of Pennsylvania, in the city of Philadelphia, during the months of April and May, one thousand eight hundred, whereat the said Samuel Chase presided, did, in his judicial capacity, conduct himself in a manner highly arbitrary, oppressive, and unjust… .
Art. 2. That, prompted by a similar spirit of persecution and injustice, at a circuit court of the United States, held at Richmond, in the month of May, one thousand eight hundred, for the district of Virginia, whereat the said Samuel Chase presided, and before which a certain James Thomson Callender was arraigned for a libel on John Adams, then President of the United States, the said Samuel Chase, with intent to oppress and procure the conviction of the said Callender, did overrule the objection of John Basset, one of the jury, who wished to be excused from serving on the said trial because he had made up his mind as to the publication from which the words charged to be libellous in the indictment were extracted; and the said Basset was accordingly sworn and did serve on the said jury, by whose verdict the prisoner was subsequently convicted.
Art. 3. That, with intent to oppress and procure the conviction of the prisoner, the evidence of John Taylor, a material witness on behalf of the aforesaid Callender, was not permitted by the said Samuel Chase to be given in, on pretense that the said witness could not prove the truth of the whole of one of the charges contained in the indictment, although the said charge embraced more than one fact.
Art. 4. That the conduct of the said Samuel Chase was marked, during the whole course of the said trial, by manifest injustice, partiality, and intemperance… .
Art. 5. … The said Samuel Chase did, at the court aforesaid, award a capias against the body of the said James Thomson Callender, indicted for an offense not capital, whereupon the said Callender was arrested and committed to close custody, contrary to law in that case made and provided.
Art. 6. And whereas it is provided by the 34th section of … “An act to establish the judicial courts of the United States,” that the laws of the several states, except where the Constitution, treaties, or statutes of the United States shall otherwise require or provide, shall be regarded as the rules of decision in trials at common law in the courts of the United States, in cases where they apply; and whereas, by the laws of Virginia, it is provided that, in cases not capital, the offender shall not be held to answer any presentment of a grand jury until the court next succeeding that during which such presentment shall have been made, yet the said Samuel Chase, with intent to oppress and procure the conviction of the said James Thomson Callender, did, at the court aforesaid, rule and adjudge the said Callender to trial, during the term at which he, the said Callender, was presented and indicted, contrary to law in that case made and provided.
Art. 7. That, at a circuit court of the United States for the district of Delaware, held at Newcastle in the month of June, one thousand eight hundred, whereat the said Samuel Chase presided, the said Samuel Chase, disregarding the duties of his office, did descend from the dignity of a judge, and stoop to the level of an informer, by refusing to discharge the grand jury, although entreated by several of the said jury so to do; and after the said grand jury had regularly declared, through their foreman, that they had found no bills of indictment, nor had any presentments to make, by observing to the said grand jury, that he, the said Samuel Chase, understood “that a highly seditious temper had manifested itself in the state of Delaware, among a certain class of people, particularly in Newcastle County, and more especially in the town of Wilmington, where lived a most seditious printer, unrestrained by any principle of virtue, and regardless of social order—that the name of this printer was”—but checking himself, as if sensible of the indecorum he was committing, added, “that it might be assuming too much to mention the name of this person, but it becomes your duty, gentlemen, to inquire diligently into this matter,” or words to that effect; and that, with intention to procure the prosecution of the printer in question, the said Samuel Chase did, moreover, authoritatively enjoin on the District Attorney of the United States the necessity of procuring a file of the papers to which he alluded (and which were understood to be those published under the title of “Mirror of the Times and General Advertiser”) and, by a strict examination of them, to find some passage which might furnish the ground-work of a prosecution against the printer of the said paper; thereby degrading his high judicial functions, and tending to impair the public confidence in, and respect for, the tribunals of justice, so essential to the general welfare.
Art. 8. And whereas mutual respect and confidence between the Government of the United States and those of the individual states, and between the people and those governments respectively, are highly conducive to that public harmony without which there can be no public happiness, yet the said Samuel Chase, disregarding the duties and dignity of his judicial character, did, at a circuit court for the district of Maryland held at Baltimore in the month of May, one thousand eight hundred and three, pervert his official right and duty to address the grand jury then and there assembled on the matters coming within the province of the said jury, for the purpose of delivering to the said grand jury an intemperate and inflammatory political harangue, with intent to excite the fears and resentment of the said grand jury and of the good people of Maryland against their state government and constitution, a conduct highly censurable in any, but peculiarly indecent and unbecoming, in a Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States; and moreover that the said Samuel Chase, then and there, under pretense of exercising his judicial right to address the said grand jury, as aforesaid, did, in a manner highly unwarrantable, endeavor to excite the odium of the said grand jury and of the good people of Maryland, against the Government of the United States, by delivering opinions, which, even if the judicial authority were competent to their expression on a suitable occasion and in a proper manner, were at that time, and as delivered by him, highly indecent, extra-judicial, and tending to prostitute the high judicial character with which he was invested to the low purpose of an electioneering partisan.
And the House of Representatives, by protestation, saving to themselves the liberty of exhibiting, at any time hereafter, any farther articles, or other accusation, or impeachment, against the said Samuel Chase, and also of replying to his answers which he shall make unto the said articles, or any of them, and of offering proof to all and every the aforesaid articles, and to all and every other articles, impeachment, or accusation which shall be exhibited by them as the case shall require, do demand that the said Samuel Chase may be put to answer the said crimes and misdemeanors, and that such proceedings, examinations, trials, and judgments, may be thereupon had and given as are agreeable to law and justice… .
Proceedings in the Senate February 1805
Address of John Randolph 9 February 1805
I ask this honorable Court whether the prostitution of the bench of justice to the purposes of a hustings is to be tolerated? We have nothing to do with the politics of the man. Let him speak, and write, and publish, as he pleases. This is his right in common with his fellow citizens. The press is free. If he must electioneer and abuse the government under which he lives, I know no law to prevent or punish him, provided he seeks the wonted theaters for his exhibition. But shall a judge declaim on these topics from his seat of office? Shall he not put off the political partisan when he ascends the tribune? Or shall we have the pure stream of public justice polluted with the venom of party virulence? In short, does it follow that a judge carries all the rights of a private citizen with him upon the bench, and that he may there do every act which, as a freeman, he may do elsewhere, without being questioned for his conduct?
But, sir, we are told that this high Court [the Senate] is not a court of errors and appeals, but a Court of Impeachment, and that however incorrectly the respondent may have conducted himself, proof must be adduced of criminal intent, or wilful error, to constitute guilt. … Even the respondent admits that there are acts of a nature so flagrant that guilt must be inferred from them, if the party be of sound mind. But this concession is qualified by the monstrous pretension that an act to be impeachable must be indictable. Where? In the federal courts? There, not even robbery and murder are indictable, except in a few places under our executive jurisdiction. It is not an indictable offense under the laws of the United States for a judge to go on the bench in a state of intoxication—it may not be in all the state courts; and it is indictable nowhere for him to omit to do his duty, to refuse to hold a court. But who can doubt that both are impeachable offenses and ought to subject the offender to removal from office? …
Mr. President, it appears to me that one great distinction remains yet to be taken. A distinction between a judge zealous to punish and repress crimes generally and a judge anxious only to enforce a particular law, whereby he may recommend himself to power or to his party. It is this hideous feature of the respondent’s judicial character on which I would fix your attention. We do not charge him with a general zeal in the discharge of his high office, but with an indecent zeal, in particular cases, for laws of doubtful and suspicious aspect. It is only in cases of constructive treason and libel that this zeal breaks out. Through the whole tenor of his judicial conduct runs the spirit of party… .
The Managers proceeded to the examination of witnesses in support of the prosecution… .
19 February 1805 Gunning Bedford, sworn.
Mr. Harper. Please to state to the court whether you were present in your judicial character at a circuit court held at Wilmington in 1800, and relate the circumstances which occurred?
A. I attended that court on the 27th of June. Judge Chase presided. I arrived in the morning about half an hour before Judge Chase. We went into court about eleven o’clock. The grand jury was called and empaneled. The judge delivered a charge; they retired to their box; after an absence of not more than an hour they returned to the bar. They were asked by the judge whether they had any bills or presentments to make to the court. They said they had none. The court called on the attorney of the district to say whether there was any business likely to be brought forward. He replied that there was none. Some of the grand jury then expressed a wish to be discharged. Judge Chase said it was unusual for the court to discharge the grand jury so early in the session; it is not the practice in any circuit court in which I have sat. He turned round to me and said, Mr. Bedford, what is your usual practice? I said it depended upon circumstances and on the business before the court; that when the court was satisfied there was nothing to detain them they were discharged. Judge Chase then turned to the jury and observed, “But, gentlemen of the jury. I am informed that there is conducted in this state (but I am only informed) a seditious newspaper, the editor of which is in the practice of libeling and abusing the government. His name is———, but perhaps I may do injustice to the man by mentioning his name. Have you, gentlemen of the jury, ever turned your attention to the subject?” It was answered, no. “But, resumed the judge, it is your duty to attend to things of this kind. I have given you in charge the Sedition Act, among other things. If there is anything in what is suggested to you, it is your duty to inquire into it.” He added, “It is high time that this seditious printer should be corrected; you know that the prosperity and happiness of the country depend upon it.” He then turned to the attorney of the district and said, Mr. Attorney, can you find a file of those papers? He answered that he did not know. A person in court offered to procure a file. The attorney then said, as a file was found, he would look it over. Can you, said the judge, look it over and examine it by tomorrow at ten o’clock. Mr. Attorney said he would. Judge Chase then turned to the grand jury and said, gentlemen, you must attend tomorrow at ten o’clock. Other business was gone into, and the court adjourned about two o’clock.
On my way to Judge Chase’s lodgings, I said to him, my friend, I believe you know not where you are; the people of this country are very much opposed to the Sedition Law and will not be pleased with what you said. Judge Chase clapped his hand on my shoulders and replied, “my dear Bedford, no matter where we are, or among whom we are, we must do our duty.”
The next day we went into court about ten o’clock. The grand jury went to their chamber, and I believe Mr. Read returned with them into court. They were asked if they had anything to offer to the court; and the attorney was called on again to state whether he had found anything in the file of a seditious nature. He had a file of the paper before him, and he said he had found nothing that was a proper subject for the notice of the jury, unless a piece relating to Judge Chase himself. The judge answered, take no notice of that, my shoulders are broad, and they are able to bear it; but where there is a violation of a positive law of the United States it is necessary to notice it.
Mr. Harper. Did Judge Chase say nothing about a seditious temper in the town of Wilmington in Newcastle county?
A. I do not recollect that he did. The subject has occupied my attention since I saw Mr. Read’s testimony given to the committee of inquiry of the House of Representatives; and I have not been able to trace in my mind any recollection of the kind. What I said to the judge shows that I did not hear such remarks. Another circumstance strengthened my conviction that no such remarks fell from him. There was a publication in the Mirror, on the fourth of July, giving an account of the proceedings of the court; in which many circumstances that occurred appeared to me to be highly exaggerated; and yet in that publication no such remarks are ascribed to the judge.
Mr. Harper. Was there anything authoritative or commanding in the language of Judge Chase to the attorney of the district; or was what he said in the nature of a request?
A. It was a request, made in the usual style of a request.
Mr. Harper. Was the business conducted with apparent good humor?
A. It appeared so to me.
Mr. Harper. From what source did the printer obtain his statement of the proceedings of the court?
A. The printer stated that he had it from a person in court.
Mr. Randolph. Was the title of the paper mentioned at this time?
A. I think not. I believe I suggested the title when inquiry was made as to the procuring a file.
Mr. Rodney. In what manner did the judge address the grand jury?
A. In his usual manner of speaking; but without passion.
Mr. Rodney. Do you recollect whether on the second day there was not an unusual concourse of people in court?
A. I believe there was.
Mr. Rodney. Did not Judge Chase ask whether there were not two printers in town?
A. I believe he did ask that question… .
Mr. Nicholson. You are not certain whether Judge Chase cited the title of the paper?
A. I am not certain.
Mr. Nicholson. What induced you to consider what he said as applicable to the Mirror?
A. We had two papers printed in Wilmington, one of which was federal, and the other, the Mirror, democratic.
Mr. Rodney. Do you recollect whether it is the general practice in Delaware to discharge the grand jury the same day they are empanelled?
A. I believe it is the general practice.
Mr. Randolph. Do you recollect whether the judge, when speaking of the printer, said, “and one of them, if report does not much belie him, is a seditious printer and must be taken notice of. I consider it a part of my duty, and it shall or must be noticed. And it is your duty, Mr. Attorney, to examine minutely and unremittingly into affairs of this nature; the times, sir, require that this seditious spirit, which pervades too many of our presses, should be discouraged and repressed.”
A. I have no recollection of such words… .
Archibald Hamilton, sworn.
Mr. Harper. Please to inform the court whether you were present at a circuit court for Delaware in 1800?
A. I recollect that I was present on the 27th of June. I arrived about ten o’clock, at which time Judge Chase was not there. Some time after, the court was formed, the grand jury was sworn, and Judge Chase delivered a charge. Having retired for about an hour, the grand jury returned to the bar. Judge Chase asked them if they had any bills or presentments to make. Their reply was that they had not. Judge Chase then asked the Attorney of the District if he had no business to lay before them. He said he had not. The jury requested to be discharged. Judge Chase said it was not usual to discharge them so early, some business might occur during the course of the day. He told them he had been informed that there was a printer who was guilty of libelling the Government of the United States; his name is———; here he stopped and said, “perhaps I may commit myself, and do injustice to the man. Have you not two printers?” The attorney said there were. Well, said Judge Chase, cannot you find a file of the papers of the one I allude to? Mr. Read said he did not take the papers or that he had not a file. Some person then observed that a file could be got at Mr. Crow’s. Judge Chase asked the attorney if he could examine the papers by the next morning. Mr. Read said that, under the directions of the court, he conceived it to be his duty, and he would do it.
On the second day the same questions, whether they had found any bills, were put to the grand jury. They answered that they had not. Mr. Chase asked the Attorney of the District if he had found anything in the papers that required the interposition of the jury. He said that he had found nothing which in his opinion came within the Sedition Law; but there was a paragraph against his honor. Judge Chase said that was not what he alluded to. He was abused from one end of the continent to the other; but his shoulders were broad enough to bear it.
Mr. Harper. Did the judge say anything of a seditious temper in that State?
A. I do not recollect any such expressions.
Mr. Harper. Were you in the court the whole time?
A. I was.
Mr. Harper. How were you situated?
A. I was directly under Judge Chase, and nothing could fall from him without my hearing it.
Mr. Rodney. Do you recollect whether he mentioned the name of the paper?
A. I do not recollect that he did.
Mr. Rodney. What was the manner of the judge?
A. I saw nothing unusual.
Mr. Rodney. Do you recollect whether his manner made any impression at the bar?
A. On nobody but the printer.
Mr. Rodney. Do you recollect that the District Attorney said he conceived it his duty to inquire into matter of the kind he alluded to?
A. I do… .
Gunning Bedford, called.
Mr. Rodney. Did Judge Chase, in a conversation with you, subsequent to the discharge of the grand jury, complain that he could not get a person indicted in Delaware for sedition, though he could in Virginia.
Mr. Bedford. I have no distinct recollection of that kind. I have some indistinct recollection that in a small circle of friends, though not to me personally, he said some such thing in a jocular way.
William H. Winder, sworn.
Mr. Harper. I will ask you whether you were in the circuit court of the United States, held at Baltimore, in May, 1803?
Mr. Winder. I was present at that court when it was opened and the jury empaneled, and I heard Judge Chase deliver his charge. After delivering the general and usual charge to the grand jury, he said he begged leave to detain them a few minutes while he made some general reflections on the situation of public affairs. He commenced by laying down some abstract opinions, stating that that Government was the most free and happy that was the best administered; that a republic might be in slavery and a monarchy free. He also drew some distinctions with regard to the doctrine of equal rights, and said that the idea of perfect equality of rights, more particularly such as had been broached in France, was fanciful and untrue; that the only doctrine contended for with propriety was the equal protection of all classes from oppression. He commented on the repeal of the judiciary system of the United States and remarked that it had a tendency to weaken the judiciary and to render it dependent. He then adverted to the laws of Maryland respecting the judiciary, as tending to the same effect. One was a law for the repeal of the county court system. He also alluded to the depending law for the abolition of two of the courts of Maryland. He said something of the toil and labor and patriotism of those who had raised the fair fabric (constitution of Maryland) and said that he saw with regret some of their sons now employed in destroying it. He also said that the tendency of the general suffrage law was highly injurious, as, under it, a man was admitted to full political rights, who might be here today and gone tomorrow.
This is the amount of my recollection; and I think I have stated the language of the judge in as strong terms as he himself used. Since I was summoned as a witness I have never seen the charge of the judge, or that published in the National Intelligencer, or by Mr. Montgomery. I conclude that it was most proper not to avail myself of those publications. My impressions, therefore, are altogether unassisted by them.
Mr. Harper. Did you attend carefully to the charge?
A. I did. I am sure no part of it escaped me.
Mr. Harper. Did Judge Chase appear to read it from a paper?
A. I so took it. Occasionally he raised his eyes, but not longer than I should imagine a person would who was familiarly acquainted with what he was reading.
Mr. Harper. Did you hear him use any of those expressions deposed by one of the witnesses—that the Administration was feeble and inadequate to the discharge of its duties, and that their object was to preserve power unfairly acquired. Did he use any such words?
A. To my best belief, he did not… .
Mr. Harper. Did the judge use any arguments against pending measures?
Mr. Harper. Did he mention the present Administration?
A. I believe not. If he had, it would have struck my mind very forcibly… .
Mr. Nicholson. Did Judge Chase say anything of the motives of the members of the Legislature of Maryland?
A. He did, according to my impression.
Mr. Nicholson. What were the motives he ascribed to them?
A. As I understood him, the motive he ascribed to them was to get rid of the judges, and not the system.
Mr. Nicholson. He did certainly, then, allude to the motives of the members of the Assembly of Maryland?
A. I think he did. If he did not, that was the impression produced on my mind by what he said.
Mr. Nicholson. Do you recollect whether Judge Chase did at the close of his charge recommend to the members of the grand jury to return home and prevent certain laws from being passed?
A. I think that was the result which he drew from what he had previously said.
James Winchester, sworn.
Mr. Harper. Please, sir, to state to this court your recollection respecting a charge delivered by Judge Chase in the circuit court of Maryland in May, 1803?
Mr. Winchester. As already stated, that court sat in May, 1803, in a room in Evans’s tavern. The court and gentlemen of the bar sat round several dining tables. I sat on the left of Judge Chase, and the jury were on his right. He addressed a charge to them, the beginning of which was in the usual style of such addresses. He then commenced what has been called the political part of the charge, with some general observations on the nature of government. He afterwards adverted to two measures of the Legislature of Maryland; the first related to an alteration of the Constitution on the subject of suffrage; the other contemplated an alteration in the judiciary. He commented on the injurious tendency of the principle of universal suffrage, and deprecated the evil effects it was likely to have. Incidental to these remarks, he adverted to the repeal of the judiciary law of the United States. I say incidental, for my impression was that his object was to show the dangerous consequences that would result to the people of Maryland from a repeal of their judiciary system, and to show that as the act of Congress had inflicted a violent blow on the independence of the federal judiciary, it was more necessary for the State of Maryland to preserve their judiciary perfectly independent. I was very attentive to the charge for several reasons. I regretted it as imprudent. I felt convinced that it would be complained of; and I am very confident from my recollection, and from the publications respecting it, which I afterwards perused, that all the political observations of the judge related to the State of Maryland… .
Mr. Harper. Did you hear any expressions applied to the present Administration, or was the Administration mentioned at all?
A. My impression is very strong that neither the present Administration was mentioned or the views or designs of any member of it in any manner whatever. I am confident of this, because if such remarks had been uttered, they would have made a strong impression on my mind.
Mr. Harper. Did you ever hear the judge allude to such topics in his charges?
A. I never heard Judge Chase in any of his charges reflect on any Administration. I have heard a great many charges of his containing political matter, and they have been all rather calculated to support the existing Administration.
Mr. Harper. Have you heard any since 1800?
A. I recollect no particular charge delivered by him since that time.
Mr. Harper. Was the general tenor of his charges since and before 1800 calculated to support the laws?
A. I think there has been this difference. Those delivered before 1800 called on the jury to support the measures of the government as wise and upright; since that period he has made no allusion to the measures of the Administration.
Mr. Harper. But his general practice has been to recommend to them the observance of law and the support of government?
A. He generally addressed the jury on the necessity of obeying the laws; that has been the tenor of his charges at all times… .
Mr. Nicholson. I will ask you whether Judge Chase recommended to the jury, on their return home, to use their exertions to prevent the adoption of a depending law?
A. I do not know whether the recommendation came from the judge in language and terms. I rather think it flowed as an inference from what he had said… .
Exhibit Number Eight, Referred to in Judge Chase’s Answer
Copy of the conclusion of a charge delivered and read from the original manuscript at a circuit court of the United States, holden in the city of Baltimore, on Monday the second day of May, 1803, by Samuel Chase, one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Before you retire, gentlemen, to your chamber to consider such matters as may be brought before you, I will take the liberty to make a few observations, which I hope you will receive as flowing only from my regard to the welfare and prosperity of our common country… .
The purposes of civil society are best answered by those governments where the public safety, happiness, and prosperity are best formed, whatever may be the constitution and form of government; but the history of mankind (in ancient and modern times) informs us “that a monarchy may be free, and that a republic may be a tyranny.” The true test of liberty is in the practical enjoyment of protection to the person and the property of the citizen from all injury. Where the same laws govern the whole society without any distinction and there is no power to dispense with the execution of the laws; where justice is impartially and speedily administered and the poorest man in the community may obtain redress against the most wealthy and powerful, and riches afford no protection to violence; and where the person and property of every man are secure from insult and injury; in that country the people are free. This is our present situation. Where law is uncertain, partial, or arbitrary; where justice is not impartially administered to all; where property is insecure and the person is liable to insult and violence without redress by law, the people are not free, whatever may be their form of government. To this situation I greatly fear we are fast approaching!
You know, gentlemen, that our state and national institutions were framed to secure to every member of the society equal liberty and equal rights; but the late alteration of the federal judiciary by the abolition of the office of the sixteen circuit judges, and the recent change in our state constitution by the establishing of universal suffrage, and the further alteration that is contemplated in our state judiciary (if adopted) will, in my judgment, take away all security for property and personal liberty. The independence of the national judiciary is already shaken to its foundation, and the virtue of the people alone can restore it. The independence of the judges of this state will be entirely destroyed, if the bill for the abolition of the two supreme courts should be ratified by the next General Assembly. The change of the state constitution, by allowing universal suffrage, will, in my opinion, certainly and rapidly destroy all protection to property and all security to personal liberty; and our republican constitution will sink into a mobocracy, the worst of all possible governments.
I can only lament that the main pillar of our state constitution has already been thrown down by the establishment of universal suffrage. By this shock alone the whole building totters to its base and will crumble into ruins before many years elapse, unless it be restored to its original state. If the independency of your state judges, which your bill of rights wisely declares “to be essential to the impartial administration of justice, and the great security to the rights and liberties of the people,” shall be taken away by the ratification of the bill passed for that purpose, it will precipitate the destruction of your whole state constitution, and there will be nothing left in it worthy the care or support of freemen.
I cannot but remember the great and patriotic characters by whom your state constitution was framed. I cannot but recollect that attempts were then made in favor of universal suffrage and to render the judges dependent upon the legislature. You may believe that the gentlemen who framed your constitution possessed the full confidence of the people of Maryland, and that they were esteemed for their talents and patriotism, and for their public and private virtues. You must have heard that many of them held the highest civil and military stations, and that they, at every risk and danger, assisted to obtain and establish your independence. Their names are enrolled on the journals of the First Congress and may be seen in the proceedings of the Convention that framed our form of government. With great concern I observe that the sons of some of these characters have united to pull down the beautiful fabric of wisdom and republicanism that their fathers erected!
The declarations respecting the natural rights of man, which originated from the claim of the British Parliament to make laws to bind America in all cases whatsoever; the publications since that period of visionary and theoretical writers, asserting that men in a state of society are entitled to exercise rights which they possessed in a state of nature; and the modern doctrines by our late reformers, that all men in a state of society are entitled to enjoy equal liberty and equal rights, have brought this mighty mischief upon us; and I fear that it will rapidly progress, until peace and order, freedom and property, shall be destroyed. Our people are taught as a political creed that men living under an established government are, nevertheless, entitled to exercise certain rights which they possessed in a state of nature; and also, that every member of this government is entitled to enjoy an equality of liberty and rights.
I have long since subscribed to the opinion that there could be no rights of man in a state of nature previous to the institution of society; and that liberty, properly speaking, could not exist in a state of nature. I do not believe that any number of men ever existed together in a state of nature without some head, leader, or chief, whose advice they followed and whose precepts they obeyed. I really consider a state of nature as a creature of the imagination only, although great names give a sanction to a contrary opinion. The great object for which men establish any form of government is to obtain security to their persons and property from violence; destroy the security to either, and you tear up society by the roots. It appears to me that the institution of government is really no sacrifice made, as some writers contend, to natural liberty, for I think that previous to the formation of some species of government, a state of liberty could not exist. It seems to me that personal liberty and rights can only be acquired by becoming a member of a community, which gives the protection of the whole to every individual. Without this protection it would, in my opinion, be impracticable to enjoy personal liberty or rights. From hence I conclude that liberty and rights (and also property) must spring out of civil society, and must be forever subject to the modification of particular governments. I hold the position clear and safe that all the rights of man can be derived only from the conventions of society, and may with propriety be called social rights. I cheerfully subscribe to the doctrine of equal liberty and equal rights, if properly explained. I understand by equality of liberty and rights only this, that every citizen, without respect to property or station, should enjoy an equal share of civil liberty, an equal protection from the laws, and an equal security for his person and property. Any other interpretation of these terms is, in my judgment, destructive of all government and all laws. If I am substantially correct in these sentiments, it is unnecessary to make any application of them, and I will only ask two questions. Will justice be impartially administered by judges dependent on the legislature for their continuance in office, and also for their support? Will liberty or property be protected or secured by laws made by representatives chosen by electors, who have no property in, a common interest with, or attachment to the community?