Trial of Samuel Chase

CHASE TRIAL   |   Benjamin C. HOWARD   |   Samuel CHASE

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Trial of Samuel Chase
Trial of Samuel Chase
Trial of Samuel Chase


(HOWARD, Benjamin C.) (CHASE, Samuel). Trial of Samuel Chase, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Impeached by the House of Representatives, for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, before the Senate of the United States. Taken in Short-Hand, by Samuel H. Smith and Thomas Lloyd. Washington City: Samuel H. Smith, 1805. Two volumes. Octavo, original blue-gray boards rebacked in paper, later paper spine labels, uncut and partially unopened; pp. (i-iv), 1-387; (1-2), (3), 4-405 (3), (i), ii-viii. Housed together in a custom chemise and clamshell box.

First and only 1805 Washington edition documenting the Impeachment Trial of Justice Samuel Chase, an exceptional association copy with owner signature on the title page of Volume II of Congressman Benjamin Chew Howard, who served two terms in the House of Representatives and nearly two decades as Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. This two-volume Trial of Samuel Chase is the only Washington trial record published the same year as his "long, bitter, sensational" impeachment that featured testimony by Chief Justice John Marshall, with Chase's acquittal confirming "independence of the judiciary… Samuel Chase's legacy," a fundamental work in "one of the few really great crises in American history," very rare uncut in original boards.

Named Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Washington in 1796, Samuel Chase "signed the Declaration of Independence, served in the Revolutionary War Congress" and was known as a man "not given gladly to suffering fools." When he rode circuit in 1800, his action in the trial of John Fries, of the Fries Rebellion, became "the first of the impeachment charges brought against Chase" and in the seditious libel trial of James Callender, Chase's conduct provided "some of the most serious impeachment charges against him… The final event that triggered his impeachment" occurred during Jefferson's presidency, when Chase "delivered a charge to a Baltimore grand jury blasting the Jeffersonians… for undermining judicial independence… this is said to have convinced Jefferson to consent to what became the first and thus far only impeachment of a Supreme Court justice" (Presser, Verdict on Samuel Chase, 261-68). Chase's 1805 impeachment trial, with Vice President Aaron Burr presiding, "was long, bitter, sensational… what Beveridge called 'one of the few really great crises in American history'" (Friedman, History of American Law, 131).

"Before the Chase impeachment, judicial independence was largely understood as the freedom for judges to interpret, follow and decide issues of law without fear of political retribution. Following Chase's acquittal, however… current canons of judicial conduct reflect the teachings of the Chase impeachment and bar federal judges from rendering opinions on pending and impending cases and from publicly endorsing candidates for public office… At a critical time in our nation's history… his impeachment trial likely did more to define the boundaries of judicial independence and the scope of impeachment more than any other single event up to that time." When called to testify, Chief Justice John Marshall's vague words reflected "his fear that Congress and the President would devastate the Court… his testimony on Chase's behalf reflected this caution" (Perlin, Impeachment of Samuel Chase, 728-29, 760). "Ultimately, the Chase impeachment was about power: the power of the judiciary versus the power of Congress, the limits of the judiciary's power in the political sphere, and the power of judges versus the power of juries. Chase's acquittal marked a turning point in American legal history and shifted the balance of that power in favor of the judicial branch. In so doing, the Senate affirmed the importance of judicial independence, limited the scope of impeachable offenses, reassessed the apportionment of power between judges and juries, defended the concept of judicial review, debated the role of precedent, and answered the question of whether the elected branches may properly use impeachment… Chase's impeachment went to the heart of the experiment and sharpened the debates over the destiny of the young republic. For posterity, it confirmed the independence of the judiciary, while nonetheless redefining what that meant. This is Samuel Chase's legacy" (Perlin, 732).

"One of the seminal thinkers of the early" Supreme Court, Chase never resigned and died in office in 1811 (ANB). First "Washington City" edition: "Taken in Short-Hand by Samuel H. Smith and Thomas Lloyd"; issued same year as Report of the Trial (by a separate publisher in Baltimore and New York, containing "short-hand" transcription by Charles Evans), no priority established. This is the only 1805 Washington edition; complete with Volume I noting the same year's Volume II: "is in the press, and will be published in a short time." Sabin 12205. Not in Shaw & Shoemaker. This rare association copy contains the owner signature in Volume II of Benjamin Chew Howard. Born in 1791, the son of a Maryland senator and governor, he was an officer in the War of 1812 before beginning his political career in Baltimore city government, followed by four terms representing Maryland in the U.S. Congress. On returning to Maryland, where he was a senator in the state's General Assembly, Howard resigned before the end of his term to become the fifth Reporter of Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, charged with the often controversial duties of editing, publishing and distributing the Court reports. He held that that position until 1861. After an unsuccessful bid for governor of Maryland, he died in 1872. Below Howard's signature on the Volume II title page is an unclear crossed-over signature. Each volume contains very small numerical inkstamps and inked numbers on an early text leaf.

Text generally fresh with occasional dampstaining, primarily to a few concluding leaves of Volume I.

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