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This Day In Founding Fathers History – 27 February 2013
On this day in 1801, Congress established the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia (2 Stat. 103), authorizing one chief judge and two assistant judges to serve. The act “granted the court the same powers as the U.S. district courts as well as local civil and criminal jurisdiction within the District of Columbia.” It divided DC into two counties: Alexandria and Washington. The District of Columbia circuit court was to hold four sessions per year in each county. 1
In 1788 on this day, Federalist No. 62, “The Senate” authored by James Madison, was published. In this essay, Madison lays out the qualifications for senators, that they be at least 30 years of age and have been citizens for nine years: …The propriety of these distinctions is explained by the nature of the senatorial trust, which, requiring greater extent of information and stability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages; and which, participating immediately in transactions with foreign nations, ought to be exercised by none who are not thoroughly weaned from the prepossessions and habits incident to foreign birth and education.
He also discusses the length of term for senators: …I will barely remark, that as the improbability of sinister combinations will be in proportion to the dissimilarity in the genius of the two bodies, it must be politic to distinguish them from each other by every circumstance which will consist with a due harmony in all proper measures, and with the genuine principles of republican government.”
He concludes, in part: …It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?
Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many. 2
1 “Federal Courts of the District of Columbia,” History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center, fjc.gov/history/home.nsf/page/courts_special_dc.html; “Circuit Court of the District of Columbia,” History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center, fjc.gov/history/home.nsf/page/courts_circuit_dc.html
2 “The Federalist No. 62 – The Senate,” constitution.org/fed/federa62.htm