11 U.S. 32 (1812), U.s. v. Hudson

Citation:11 U.S. 32, 3 L.Ed. 259
Case Date:March 14, 1812
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 32

11 U.S. 32 (1812)

3 L.Ed. 259




United States Supreme Court.

March 14, 1812


Absent. Washington, justice.

THIS was a case certified from the Circuit Court for the District ofConnecticut, in which, upon argument of a general demurrer to an indictment for a libel on the President and Congress of the United States, contained in theConnecticut Currant, of the 7th of May, 1806, charging them with having in secret voted two millions of dollars as a present to Bonaparte for leave to make a treaty with Spain, the judges of that Court were divided in opinion upon the question, whether the Circuit Court of the United States had a common law jurisdiction in cases of libel.


PINKNEY, Attorney General, in behalf of the United States, and DANA for the Defendants, declined arguing the case.

The Court, having taken time to consider, the following opinion was delivered (on the last day of the term, all the judges being present) by JOHNSON, J.

The only question which this case presents is, whether the Circuit Courts of the United States can exercise a common law jurisdiction in criminal cases. We state it thus broadly because a decision on a case of libel will apply to every case in which jurisdiction is not vested in those Courts by statute.

Although this question is brought up now for the first time to be decided by this Court, we consider it as having been long since settled in public opinion. In no other case for many years has this jurisdiction been asserted; and the general acquiescence of legal men shews the prevalence of opinion in favor of the negative of the proposition.

Page 33

The course of reasoning which leads to this conclusion is simple, obvious, and admits of but little illustration. The powers of the general Government are made up of concessions from the several states--whatever is not expressly given to the former, the latter expressly reserve. The judicial power of the United States is a constituent part of those concessions,--that power is to be exercised by Courts organized for the purpose, and brought into existence by an effort of the legislative power of the Union. Of all the Courts which the United States may, under their general powers, constitute, one only, the Supreme Court, possesses jurisdiction derived immediately from the constitution, and of which the legislative power cannot deprive it. All other Courts created by the...

To continue reading