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Spencer Roane

Spencer Roane Biographies Famous Historical Events American History Law and Politics

This colorized image depicts a drawing of Spencer Roane, Esq. Thomas Jefferson communicated with him, by letter, regarding the Supreme Court's decision in Marbury v Madison

Jefferson was mightily upset with the decision in the famous case which gave the power of overturning laws, passed by Congress, to the U.S. Supreme Court. That right, Jefferson insisted, was not given in America's Constitution.

Jefferson - an astute legal scholar himself - instantly recognized that judicial review, as Chief Justice John Marshal envisioned it, would give the Supreme Court sweeping powers.  Among other things, Jefferson noted this in his letter to Roane:

If this opinion be sound, then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de se [act of suicide]...The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.

Spencer Roane was also a strong supporter of States' rights. He might have held a place on the high court, had Jefferson been given the chance to appoint him.

Jefferson, it is said, wanted to appoint Roane to the U.S. Supreme Court (to fill the vacancy left by John Jay), but John Adams (then a "lame-duck" President) appointed John Marshall not long before Jefferson's inaugural as America's third President.

It is often the timing of events which gives rise to how a country's culture is shaped. Adams' appointment of Marshall, instead of Jefferson's appointment of Roane, is just one example.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5186stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jun 20, 2019


Media Credits

Image online, courtesy the U.S. Library of Congress.

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