Sunday, February 15, 2015

On the Birth of American Judicial Review

On the Birth of American Judicial Review: This concept may seem somewhat rudimentary, but it's crucial to the founding of the United States federal government. In 1803, a major case involving the constitutionality of a federal law came before the Supreme Court, which did not have a permanent home in Washington D.C. till around 1810. Known as Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall, whose formal legal training was no longer than six weeks, held that part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was "unconstitutional." In doing so, Marshall established the principle of "judicial review," which saw the Supreme Court curbing the power of Congress (and the Presidency). This principle essentially completed the trifecta of "checks and balances" that the Constitution's writers had originally envisioned (and borrowed from Montesquieu). Ultimately, it would be fifty-four years before the Supreme Court invalidated another federal law (see the 1857 Dred Scott decision). And although Alexander Hamilton had discussed "judicial review" in his Federalist No. 78 essay, the concept had never been put into practice. Thus, until Marshall rose to the occasion in the Marbury case, the Supreme Court (or Judicial Branch) was commonly viewed as the weakest (or least effective) branch of the federal government.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

On the Golden Age of Caribbean Piracy

On the Golden Age of Caribbean Piracy: Pictured above is a version of the Jolly Roger (flag) flown by pirates (mostly English privateers) during the early eighteenth century. A more traditional Jolly Roger would contain crossbones instead of crossed swords. This specific version was actually invented by Calico Jack, who was perhaps the most notorious pirate to operate from New Providence Island in the Bahamas during the early 1700s. What made Calico Jack particularly intriguing was the fact that he allowed two female pirates in his crew, Mary Read and Anne Bonny. For the most part, the presence of female pirates on ships was extremely rare throughout the Caribbean, as eighteenth-century seafaring occupations were almost entirely male-dominated. In fact, Read often had to dress like a man in order to be taken seriously as a privateer. Although Read was born in England and Bonny in Ireland, they both ended up in the Bahamas by the late 1710s. Read was originally part of the British military (dressed as a man), but left after realizing that her prospects for promotion were severely limited in peacetime. Bonny, on the other hand, had married a small-time pirate named James Bonny, who eventually became an informant for the Bahamian Governor (Woodes Rogers). Yet Anne decided to join forces with Calico Jack, becoming his mistress and "baby mama" in 1720.