Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Robert H. Hells, 12 May 1822

St Charles, Missouri. May 12th 1822.—

Dear Sir

I am conscious, that in addressing you. I take a liberty not warranted by the rules of Etiquette; But although I have not the honor of Knowing you personally; with your character I am by no means unacquainted—presuming on which, and your Known politeness, I address you on a political subject, that has excited much Interest in this state. Many of the principals of Government, that have for a long time been considered as Settled in the Elder States, are now here under discussion. Among which is the power and duty of the Judges of a State, in Suits between individuals regularly before the Court, to decide on the Constitutionality of Acts of the Legislature of the Same State, which are in contravention of the Constitution of the United States, or their own State. Or, of the Judges of the United States courts, to decide on the constitutionality of acts of the Several States or Congress; which are in contravention of the Constitution of the United State. Or in other words, the power and duty of the Judges to declare Such acts void.

This question has been discussed with more Interest on account of recent decisions of the Courts of this State. Those who deny this power in the Judiciary, cite as an Authority, your letter to Mr Jarvis respecting certain passages in his Book—the Other party deny that your letter will bear Such a Construction—and its interpretation has become a Matter of Newspaper discussion. This must not Surprise you, Yet, I assure you, there is no man whose political opinions are more reverenced in this State—No one whose declared opinion would go further to Sanctify or disgrace a political Measure.

As I believe an improper and unfair Construction has been given to your Letter; you will do Justice to yourself, And oblige me,—by Communications your real opinion on this Subject. I know well that it is disagreeable for those who have retired from public life, to hear their Opinions again brought upon the “Gridiron” of public discussion; but in this case, the Evil, if any, has been effected.

With Great respect I remain Your Obt. Humble Servt

Robt H. Hells

MoSHi: Thomas Jefferson Collection (formerly Bixby).

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