Friday, November 23, 2007

John Rutledge

I was looking at biographical information about John Rutledge, who served as a delegate from South Carolina to the Constitutional Convention and ran across a fact of which I was totally unaware of: he was a Justice of the Supreme Court twice.

Here's Wikipedia:
George Washington then appointed him as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but he served for only two years. In 1791, he became chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. . . .

In 1795, George Washington again appointed Rutledge during a recess of the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, this time as Chief Justice of the United States replacing John Jay. Rutledge became Chief Justice on July 1 of 1795. Soon thereafter, on July 16 of 1795, Rutledge gave a highly controversial speech denouncing the Jay Treaty with England. He reportedly said in the speech "that he had rather the President should die than sign that puerile instrument — and that he preferred war to an adoption of it."

Rutledge's outspoken opposition to the Jay Treaty, and the rumors of mental illness he had suffered since the death of his wife in 1792, caused the Federalist-dominated Senate to reject his appointment on December 15, 1795. As a result, Rutledge's recess appointment automatically expired at the end of that Senate session. Rutledge thus became the only U.S. Supreme Court Justice in history to be forced out of office involuntarily, ending his public career. . . . [He left] office as Chief Justice on December 28 of 1795.

The Wikipedia article also mentions that Alexander Hamilton questioned Rutledge's sanity. Here is Hamilton's letter to Rufus King on Rutledge:
December 14, 1795.
My Dear Sir:

An extraordinary press of occupation has delayed an answer to your letter on the subject of Mr. R. Though it may come too late, I comply with your request as soon as I can.

The subject is truly a perplexing one; my mind has several times fluctuated. If there was nothing in the case but his imprudent sally upon a certain occasion, I should think the reasons for letting him pass would outweigh those for opposing his passage. But if it be really true that he is sottish, or that his mind is otherwise deranged, or that he has exposed himself by improper conduct in pecuniary transactions, the bias of my judgment would be to negative. And as to the fact, I would satisfy myself by careful inquiry of persons of character who may have had an opportunity of knowing.

It is now, and, in certain probable events, will still more be of infinite consequence that our judiciary should be well composed. Reflection upon this in its various aspects weighs heavily upon my mind against Mr. R. upon the accounts I have received of him, and balances very weighty considerations the other way.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails