George Washington and Thomas Jefferson Implement the Judiciary Act of 1789, Appointing One of the Original 16 U.S. Marshals To Administer Justice in the New Nation

A rare consequential appointment signed by both men

Purchase $55,000

Our research discloses no other original Marshal’s appointment having reached the market

The Constitution of the United States was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, a number of steps were required for it to become the law of the land. It first had to be...

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George Washington and Thomas Jefferson Implement the Judiciary Act of 1789, Appointing One of the Original 16 U.S. Marshals To Administer Justice in the New Nation

A rare consequential appointment signed by both men

Our research discloses no other original Marshal’s appointment having reached the market

The Constitution of the United States was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, a number of steps were required for it to become the law of the land. It first had to be reviewed and voted upon by the Continental Congress sitting under the Articles of Confederation; this was done and Congress approved. Then it had to be submitted to the 13 states; the approval of nine states was needed for it to come into effect. In the few months before 1787 was up, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey ratified the Constitution. By February 1788 Georgia, Connecticut and Massachusetts had. That made 6. The next group of states – Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia and New York – ratified in the April-July 1788 time frame. So then there were 11 states, more the the 9 required, and the Constitution came into effect. But Rhode Island had feared all along the idea of an authoritarian Federal government and failed to attend the Constitutional Convention, and now she and North Carolina were concerned that the Constitution contained no Bill of Rights to protect individual freedoms; they held out all through 1788. When the United States Government was established in March-April 1789, they took no part and were not represented. But a Bill of Rights was introduced in Congress by James Madison, and it passed Congress and was sent to the states on September 25, 1789. So satisfied with that result and under pressure from neighbors Virginia and South Carolina, North Carolina held a convention and ratified the Constitution in November 1789. Now just Rhode Island held out.

By March 10, 1790, 8 states had ratified the Bill of Rights amendments, which was not enough for the Amendments to become part of the Constitution. The vote of Rhode Island could make the difference between their passage or failure. Moreover, it was becoming increasingly untenable for the state to carry on as a sole hold-out, and there was talk of the U.S. treating Rhode Island trade as foreign trade and imposing tariffs if it remained outside the Union. Rhode Island is a maritme state, and trade was its life blood; a tariff against it could have devastating results. These were all powerful considerations, and on May 29, 1790, Rhode Island ratified the Constitution of the United States, becoming the last of the original 13 states (and indeed colonies) to do so. Just 8 days later it ratified the Bill of Rights.

Washington considered the several offices created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 of premier importance to the new nation. “Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government,” he wrote Attorney General Edmund Randolph on September 28, four days after signing the Act into law, “I have considered the first arrangement of the Judicial department as essential to the happiness of our Country, and to the stability of its political system; hence the selection of the fittest characters to expound the laws, and dispense justice, has been an invariable object of my anxious concern.” The Supreme Court Justices, the Attorney General, the district court judges and attorneys, the court clerks, and the United States Marshals would define, administer, and enforce the growing body of federal laws. By their actions, these men would determine the boundary between federal authority and local autonomy.

During Washington’s first administration, Congress created 16 judicial Districts. Each state constituted one judicial District, except Massachusetts which was divided into the Districts of Massachusetts and Maine.  In addition, Vermont and Kentucky, which did not enter the union as a state until 1791 and 1792 respectively, were two of the original judicial Districts.  Thus, each state had one original Marshal to administer justice locally.

William Peck had fought valiantly in the Revolutionary War, having served as major and aidedecamp to Maj. Gen. Joseph Spenser, and then Deputy Adjutant General of the Eastern Department of the Continental Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel.  In February 1790, anticipating that Rhode Island would vote to join the Union, Peck wrote to President Washington, asking for the job of Customs Officer.  He sent the President a resume justifying his suitability for the position.  Washington, who also received letters of recommendation for Peck, chose instead to make him Marshal, the first US Marshal for Rhode Island and the last of the original 16, a position he filled in July, 1790, immediately after his state’s the ratification of the Constitution, and would hold for 20 years. Peck would be the longest serving of the original 16.

Document signed by both George Washington as President and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, New York, July 3, 1790, being Washington and Jefferson’s appointment of Peck as the first US Marshal for Rhode Island.  It reads in part, “Know ye that reposing special trust and confidence in the integrity, ability, and diligence of William Peck of Rhode Island, Esquire, I have nominated and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate do appoint him Marshall of and for Rhode Island District, and do authorize and empower him to execute and fulfill the duties of that office.”

Documents of importance signed by both Washington and Jefferson are rare, and those of any kind increasingly uncommon.

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