Thomas Jefferson Papers

Henry V. Bingham to Thomas Jefferson, 1 May 1822

From Henry V. Bingham

Franklin Howard county Missouri 1st may 1822


knowing your patriotism and firm attachment to our happy form of government; in which you bore such a disquingusd part in the formation—I have ventured to ask of you your opinion respecting the power and duty of Courts; when a question is brought before them which origionates under a law; that the Courts believe to be repugnent to the constitution—my reason for troubleing you with this enquiry; is; that our courts have decided the Replevin and property Law of this state to be unconstitutional; and directed the officers to proceed; as if the Law had never been enacted—The citizens of this state are in considerable ferment respecting these measures; those oposed to the Courts proceeding as they have done—use as one of their strongest arguments—An opinion expressd by your self in a letter to a Mr Jarvis respecting some Book he has published—The other party Rebutt that arguement by saying you did not intend to convey an Idea that the courts were not authorised to Judge of the Constituonallity of a Law that would affect the1 rights of any individual when fairly brought before them; but that you meant, that they were not the umpire by whom all constitutional questions were to be settled; as there might arise constitutional questions that would not Imediatly affect the rights of any individual but of the Republic in genneral; that being the case; such a question could not be brought before a Court; and in such cases the people must be the only power to correct the evil—Now sir in our present unsettled conditition (as it respects our Laws;) I hope you will be so good as to write and let us know your sentiments on these things (and I need not inform you) that you are here considered one of the best and greatest fathers of the American people and that your opinion has more weight tha[n] that of any other man in the United States; and we wish you in your Experience, and matured wisdom; to write to us and let us know your2 opinion Explicitly respecting the point in controvercy—exuse my presuming to write to you in my plain humble stile; (as I know you will when you Recollect that you are yourself one of the ablest advocates in favour of Genneral information and Equal liberty;) I am your Sincer friend tho unknown to you;

Henry V. Bingham

RC (DLC); ink stained; at foot of text: “Mr Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 June 1822 and so recorded in SJL.

Henry Vest Bingham (ca. 1785–1823), tavern keeper and tobacco manufacturer, was born in Augusta County. In 1809 his father-in-law gave him nearly 1,200 acres of land there, much of which he later lost through a security debt. In an attempt to retrieve his fortunes, Bingham moved his family in 1819 to Franklin, Missouri. He opened a tavern in the spring of 1820 and operated a tobacco manufactory there starting in 1822. A Freemason, Bingham also served as a justice of the Howard County Court, 1821–23. His death rendered destitute his wife and children, including the future artist George Caleb Bingham (Fern Helen Rusk, George Caleb Bingham: The Missouri Artist [1917]: 7–15; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 14 May 1817; Marie George Windell, ed., “The Road West in 1818, the Diary of Henry Vest Bingham,” Missouri Historical Review 40 [1945–46]: 21–54, 174–204; Franklin Missouri Intelligencer, 6 May 1820, 7 May, 4 June, 4 Dec. 1821, 2 Apr., 14 May 1822, 30 Sept., 30 Dec. 1823, 15 Jan. 1824).

In response to the economic panic of 1819, a number of western states passed new laws designed to delay prosecutions for debt and shield properties from foreclosure. One of these, Missouri’s 1821 replevin and property law, “An Act pointing out the manner that executions may be stayed, and regulating the sale of property under execution,” had recently been invalidated in a state court. The tribunal ruled that the statute conflicted with several provisions of the United States Constitution, specifically, “1. That nothing but gold and silver coin shall be a tender in payment of debts. 2. That justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay. 3. That no law shall be passed impairing the obligation of contracts, or retrospective in its operation.” The legislation was accordingly repealed the following November (Laws of a Public and General Nature, of the District of Louisiana, of the Territory of Louisiana, of the Territory of Missouri, and of the State of Missouri, up to the year 1824 [1842], 1:817–22, 941; Baltimore Niles’ Weekly Register, 8 June 1822).

1Manuscript: “the the.”

2Manuscript: “you.”

Index Entries

  • Bingham, Henry Vest; and judicial review search
  • Bingham, Henry Vest; identified search
  • Bingham, Henry Vest; letter from search
  • books; on government search
  • coinage; gold and silver search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and judicial review search
  • gold; as currency search
  • Jarvis, William Charles; letter from TJ referenced search
  • Jarvis, William Charles; The Republican; or, A Series of Essays on the Principles and Policy of Free States search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; judicial review search
  • law; and judicial review search
  • law; endorsement, property, and replevin search
  • Missouri (state); and judicial review search
  • Missouri (state); property and replevin laws in search
  • politics; books on government search
  • silver; as currency search
  • The Republican; or, A Series of Essays on the Principles and Policy of Free States (W. C. Jarvis) search
  • United States; Panic of1819 search