Q: Did Marshall and Bingham Share the same Constitutional Philosophy?

by P.A. Madison on September 2nd, 2008

A reader would like to know what ideological differences there might had been between two influential individuals of constitutional law: Chief Justice John Marshall and John A. Bingham. While John Bingham spoke cordially of C.J. Marshall, the two sat at opposite poles of each other. Here is a quick illustration of their differences:

Mr. Bingham was a self-proclaimed “state rights” man; Marshall on the other hand was a Nationalist to the left of George Washington.

Mr. Bingham viewed the Alien and Sedition Act as unconstitutional while Marshall considered the Act constitutional under the latitudinarian position of “powers necessary for the attainment of all objects, which are general in their nature, which interest all America … would be naturally vested in the Government of the whole.”

Marshall denounced Madison’s Virginia resolutions as dangerous; Bingham embraced his resolutions. Bingham adored Thomas Jefferson; Marshall disliked him (which is probably why Adams selected him for the court – revenge for losing the war to Jefferson’s state rights platform).

Bingham believed national government could not exist without States; Marshall believed the States could not exist without a powerful national government.

Bingham believed the Constitution was more than words alone, it has a spirit born out of past events – and the Constitution can only be interpreted as a whole and not from isolated words. Marshall believed there is a spirit, but only words alone defined that spirit.


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