1819, March: (from Ammon, “The Richmond Junto”)
At the same time that it undertook to condemn the mild nationalism of Monroe, the Junto, under the auspices of Judge Spencer Roane, was engaged in a reformulation of the state rights doctrine. The revival of this creed was occasioned by two of the most famous decisions of the Supreme Court – McCulloch vs. Maryland (1 8 I 9) and Cohens vs. Virginia (I82I). Since both these decisions were based upon a loose construction of the Constitution, they provided an excellent point of departure for a re-examination of the ancient conflict over the nature of the Union and the interpretation of the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution. In a series of legalistic, verbose essays Roane developed an extreme state rights theory maintaining that the federal compact was no more than a union among sovereign states which had delegated only certain specific powers to the central government.
The first series of essays in which Roane used the pseudonym, “Hampden,” appeared in the Enquirer during March and April, I819; the second series over the name, “Algernon Sidcney,” appeared in May and June, 182I. The authorship of these essays was an open secret. Roane sent copies to Madison, Jefferson, Monroe, Barbour, and other prominent figures. Adams learned the name of the author from George Hay, Adams, Memoirs, V, 264-265, OCt. 28, 1821.
Roane’s essays, backed by the prestige of his name and the approval of the Junto, became the official creed of the Republicans of the state and the text for many a fulsome political sermon. The standard which Roane raised received the endorsement of the state legislature. This body, in which the influence of the Junto was all-powerful, adopted a resolution in 1819 urging the introduction of an amendment to deprive the Supreme Court of the power to consider matters affecting the interpretation of the Constitution and to create a special tribunal for that purpose.” Following his second series of essays Roane himself drafted a set of three amendments which were introduced into the General Assembly by John Wayles Eppes. The first of these restricted the power of Congress to those laws which were “absolutelyn ecessary”t o carryo ut the provisions of the Constitution. The other two reduced the power of the Supreme Court by denying it jurisdiction in cases where states were involved unless both parties were states and in denying the court power to hear appeals from state courts.45A lthough these three amendments were approved by the legislature, they do not seem to have been proposed in Congress.
While Roane and the Junto had no difficulty in securing legislative approval of their crusade against the Supreme Court, popular response was disappointing. Roane was dismayed at the “apathy of the times” which seemed to see no danger in the usurpations of the federal judiciary. There were no popular meetings of protest as there had been in I798 and 1799 when Jefferson and Madison had first raised the standard of state rights. Seemingly the Junto had been in control of the party for so many years that the popular contact that had existed before 18oo had vanished and the people were no longer accustomed to participate.
For an excellent analysis see Albert J. Beveridge, Life of John Marshall (4 vols., New York, 19I9), IV, 3I4-326, 358-360, and Beach, “Spencer Roane,” William and Mary Quarterly, ser. 2, XXII, I – 17.
All from Ammon, “The Richmond Junto”