Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Jay, and the Political Court

Ian Millhiser - John JayJohn Jay was the first Chief Justice of the United States. Appointed at a time when the Supreme Court played a far more diminished role than it does today — the Court heard only four cases during Jay’s six years on the bench — Jay took a break from his judicial duties to serve as President Washington’s envoy to negotiate a trade agreement with Great Britain.

It’s difficult to exaggerate the divisiveness of the Jay Treaty. As Ron Chernow details in the book that inspired the musical Hamilton, this treaty formed one of the sharpest dividing lines between Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists and Thomas Jefferson’s Republicans. To Jefferson’s faction, “the Jay Treaty represented, its rawest form, a Federalist capitulation to British hegemony and a betrayal of the historic alliance with France.”

Graffiti appeared in Boston proclaiming “Damn John Jay! Damn everyone who won’t damn John Jay!! Damn everyone that won’t put lights in his windows and sit up all night damning John Jay!!!” Jay himself once quipped that he could travel at night from Boston to Philadelphia guided only by the light of his burning effigies.

It’s as if Justice Ginsburg had spent the Court’s summer recess drafting and personally lobbying for Obamacare, taking a break only to negotiate an open borders agreement with Mexico. The first Chief Justice of the United States was the central figure in one of the most contested issues in the nation’s early history — an issue so divisive that it played a significant role in the creation of coherent political parties in the United States.

—Ian Millhiser
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is the Latest in a Long Line of Justices to Weigh in on Politics

6 thoughts on “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Jay, and the Political Court

    • I’m with James Loewen on this. It’s not that Americans don’t care. It’s that the official version is so damn boring. Greatest country ever, greatest heroes ever. Yup. Got it!

      I do some volunteer stuff at a local historical site, and guess what stuff really interests most visitors? That we had slaves in Minnesota. That we had an internment camp for Dakotas before we forcibly relocated them, and many died from neglect in the camp. How did women stand wearing those frilly wool clothes in stultifying summer heat?

      Make history about actual history, and Americans like it fine! (Well, the clever ones do. We have some closed-minded twerps, like anywhere.) But when “history” just means sanitized propaganda, it is boring as heck, and I don’t blame anyone for being adverse to it.

      Here’s a fun story. So I drive this golf cart to help people with mobility issues get around. And we get tour groups from all over. Last year we had one from Alabama. And as we’re passing some older black ladies, the white ladies on the cart tell me “sugar, you better slow down, see if our sisters here could use a ride.” As we slow down and offer a ride, the black ladies ask “is there room?” And one of the white Alabamans quickly responds, “sure. But you have to ride on the back.”

      I couldn’t believe it! How terrible! And all the old ladies of both ethnicities started howling with laughter. Seemed like people who had all been through that battle together and remembered it proudly.

      Real history isn’t boring. And it’s not depressing either, no matter how sad the story. In the worst moments of horror there’s always some true heroism, some human decency. And most people are fascinated by this stuff, when they get the chance to learn it!

      • There is much that I could add to this. But I’ll be cheeky and just refer to the hot clothes with this very funny skit:

        • Oh Lord. Somebody needs to lock those two in a room with Odenkirk/Cross and say “no food for you until we get ten episodes.”

          • Their show was canceled (or the BBC equivalent of it). So it isn’t that they wouldn’t do it. I’m sure we will get more from them. It will be like with Fry and Laurie.

    • Part of it is having a young country. Another part of it is Donald Trump. I’ve come to see that he is party responsible for everything bad that has ever happened.

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