"THE FIRST AND THUS FAR ONLY IMPEACHMENT OF A SUPREME COURT JUSTICE": FIRST EDITION OF REPORT AND TRIAL OF THE HON. SAMUEL CHASE, 1805—"A TURNING POINT IN AMERICAN LEGAL HISTORY"
CHASE, Samuel. Report of the Trial of the Hon. Samuel Chase, One of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, Before the High Court of Impeachment, Composed of the Senate of the United States, For Charges Exhibited Against Him by the House of Representatives, In the name of themselves, and of all the People of the United States, For High Crimes and Misdemeanors, Supposed to Have Been Committed… Taken in Short Hand by Charles Evans, And the Arguments of Counsel Revised by Them from His Manuscript. Baltimore: Samuel Butler and George Keatinge, 1805. Octavo, original gray-green paper boards rebacked; uncut; pp. (i-vi), (1), 2-12, (3) 4-10, (11), 12-24, (25), 26-49, 52-55, (56-57), 58-100, 101*-112*, 101-172, 171, (blank) 173-212, 212*, 214*-234*, 205-236, 237*-244*, 237-268, (1-3), 4-6, (7), 8-40, (41), 42-62, 62 (Table of the Votes), (blank) (64), 65-68. $3000.
First edition of the authoritative Report of the Trial of Founding Father and Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Chase, published 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 edition, first printing: "Taken in Short Hand by Charles Evans"; precedes the New York edition. Collates complete: mispagination as issued without loss of text. A separate account, titled "Trial of Samuel Chase," issued same year with transcription by Smith and Lloyd, no priority established. Sabin 12204. Shaw & Shoemaker 8173. Cohen 14471, Early own signatures to preliminary blank, and above title page; a few leaves with faded early marginalia.
Text fresh with occasional soiling, Appendix with small open tear to one leaf, paper flaw to another affecting text. mild rubbing to original boards. A very scarce extremely good copy.