Marbury v. Madison, Document K: Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819

Do you use document-based questions in your classroom?

This summer the Bill of Rights Institute is blogging a document-based question on the Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison (1803). Each weekly post will feature an excerpted document related to the case, along with some questions to guide your thinking on it. Each document should be used to address the question: “Argue whether or not the Supreme Court should have the power to overturn unconstitutional federal laws.”

Check out our previous posts for Document A, an excerpt from the Anti-Federalist Papers; Document BDocument C, and Document D, excerpts from Federalist no. 78; Document E, an excerpt from Federalist no. 81; Document F, an excerpt from Article III of the US Constitution; Document G, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution; Document H, an excerpt from the Judiciary Act of 1789; Document I, the Kentucky Resolution; and Document J, an excerpt from Marbury v. Madison‘s unanimous opinion.

Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819

For intending to establish three departments, coordinate and independent, that they might check and balance one another, [the Constitution] has given, according to this opinion [Marbury v. Madison], to one of them alone the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others, and to that one, too, which is unelected by and independent of the nation. …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.

> How does Jefferson’s reaction 4 to the decision in Marbury v. Madison compare to Hamilton’s description of the judicial branch in Document B?


Check back each week to see the next document and how it might change your thinking on this important question that affects all public school teachers and students in the U.S.! If you are enjoying this DBQ – be sure to check out our curriculum Supreme Court DBQs: Exploring the Cases the Changed History.

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