The Tudors monarchs were a very important part of English history for over 100 years. The Tudor kings and queens ruled from 1485 to 1603. Here, Anthony Ruggiero follows his article on Tudor Queen Mary I (here), and considers how the Tudors took power in England and the importance of the reigns of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII. The article includes a consideration of England’s relationship with France and Spain.

Portrait of King Henry VIII of England,

Portrait of King Henry VIII of England,

Throughout the sixteenth century, the monarchs of the Tudor dynasty each left a mark on England. For example, King Henry VII reorganized a country that was in disarray after years of civil war, while his son, King Henry VIII, established precedence through forming the Church of England. The Protestant Reformation also greatly affected the country. The Reformation challenged the practices of the Catholic Church, as well as the Pope’s authority in Rome. Many English people were critical of the Roman Catholic Church and embraced the Reformation. While religion was one of the most important and persistent issues, the Tudor monarchs also handled foreign relations with two prominent Catholic and Western European nations at the time, Spain and France. These two countries engaged in an on-and-off rivalry during the sixteenth century, with Tudor England being placed in the middle. England’s involvement with Spain and France would have both negative and positive impacts on the country, such as war, marriage, and trade.


The Tudor Rise – King Henry VII

Prior to the Tudors, the political and social state of England during the fifteenth century was in disarray. The country was divided in a civil war between multiple noble families who were all vying for the English crown. Fifteenth century England was a “prison-house,” where any progression seemed impossible to achieve due to the country’s political issues.[1]Church officials, nobles, and knights controlled a majority of the aggregate land. For example, between 60 and 170 barons, earls, and dukes controlled the land.[2]These nobles produced two-thirds of revenue in the country.  Additionally, there were between 9,000 and 10,000 Church parishes in England.[3]Resources produced on these manors were primarily being sold in local markets. Additionally, foreign advances in trade and alliances were scarce, despite England controlling lands such as Calais in France.[4]

The year 1485 was a pivotal year in England’s history as it resulted in the rise of one of England’s most significant dynasties, the Tudors. Throughout the fifteenth century, the English crown was primarily divided between the ruling houses of Lancaster and York, which fought in a civil war known as “The War of the Roses.” By 1485 the York house had been restored, and King Richard III ruled over England. Despite the restoration, the country was still engaged in a civil war, now between King Richard III and Henry Tudor. Henry’s claim to the throne came through his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was a descendant of King Edward III. Although his claim was questionable, Henry staunchly fought for his right to the throne.[5]The two engaged in battle at Bosworth Field, where on August 22nd, 1485, Richard III was slain, and Henry, later styled King Henry VII, emerged as the new king of England, effectively ending the War of the Roses.[6]During his reign, Henry VII managed to have multiple positive impacts on the country that helped move England from a decentralized, medieval state towards a stable nation. For example, Henry managed to unite the feuding houses in England through his popular marriage to Elizabeth of York, who was viewed as having a strong claim to the throne in her own right. Henry VII was also responsible for printing books, building more chapels and monasteries, helping reorganize Parliament, and establishing trading relations with the Netherlands and Spain. The latter two resulted in more revenue for England, such as obtaining more trade products in cloth and access to fisheries to increase English food supply and trade circulation.[7]The Spanish treaty also resulted in the marriage of Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, to Henry’s son Arthur, and after Arthur’s death in 1502, to Henry’s younger son, Henry. [8]England under Henry VII experienced political stability, economic expansion and a royal marriage that addressed decades of animosity with Spain.


King Henry VIII

Following Henry VII’s death in 1509, his then seventeen-year-old son, who would ultimately become one of England’s most famous and notorious monarchs, Henry VIII, inherited the throne. Henry VIII would ultimately be remembered for breaking away from the Catholic Church; however, prior to these events Henry was a devout Catholic, raised with a strong knowledge of theology. Earlier in his reign, when German priest Martin Luther spoke out against the practices of the Catholic Church that sparked the Protestant Reformation, Henry defended Catholic traditions and was declared “Defender of the Faith,” by Pope Leo X in 1521.[9]However, after the papacy refused to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to remarry to produce a male heir to the throne, Henry sought autonomy from the Catholic Church and decided to break from the Church in what would be known as the English Reformation between 1532 and 1534. During this time, Henry and Parliament devised a series of acts that ultimately fashioned Henry as the Supreme Head of the newly-created Church of England.[10]The Act of Restraint Annates, devised in 1532, forced the clergy in England to stop paying taxes to the church in Rome and required them to pay taxes to the Church of England, which ultimately meant the crown.[11]That same year Parliament would also pass the Submission of the Clergy Actthat would force them to deny the authority of the Pope or face confiscation of their landholdings.[12]Finally, the Act of Royal Supremacy in 1534 officially recognized Henry as the head of the Church of England.[13]Although many of these changes shared similarities with Protestantism, Henry’s new church possessed many Catholic traditions. For example, under the publication of his Six Articlesin 1539, the clergy were recommended to take vows of chastity, which contradicted the Protestant views that the clergy should be allowed to marry. This publication also declared private mass and Holy Communion valid, and any denial of these decrees was subject to excommunication and execution.[14]Henry VIII had a lasting legacy and effect on England through his establishment of the Church of England. Despite these reforms religion would remain a controversial and divisive issue through the reigns of Henry’s three children: Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. 


Foreign Policy – France & Spain

England’s involvement with two of the major European powers, Spain and France, would have significant impacts throughout the Tudor period. During the 1490s and early 1500s, Spain prospered from multiple explorations and the accumulation of resources from the New World. During this time, King Charles ruled over the Catholic Spain and would later be created Emperor Charles V.[15]Despite both countries maintaining the Catholic faith, Spain would often clash with France. Ruled by the Valois family, particularly under King Francis I, France plunged itself into war with Spain over claimed lands in Italy, known as the Italian Wars, throughout the sixteenth century.[16]During this time both countries made attempts to rally England behind them; these alliances would alter throughout the fifteenth century and inevitably lead to conflicts between each country. Under both Henry VII and Henry VIII’s regimes England’s relationship with both countries regularly shifted. England’s treaty with Spain earned the country revenue and resulted in the marriage between Catherine of Aragon and the later King Henry VIII. England and France would engage in battle 1513 and would attempt to negotiate a treaty in the years that followed, including at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, which resulted in the betrothal of Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary, to the dauphin of France.[17]However, Henry’s pro-French policies quickly soured, the betrothal of Mary to the dauphin was canceled, and Henry once again turned his attentions towards Spain. This new alliance also resulted in the betrothal of Mary to Charles V who was sixteen years her senior. However, the age gap was an issue for Charles, who ultimately called off the betrothal in favor of a matured bride. This angered Henry who again looked to France for an alliance.[18]This back and forth would ultimately continue through Henry’s reign, but would also occur throughout the reign of his three children.


In Conclusion

The Tudors had significant impact on England during their reign over England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Henry VII brought stability to England following years of warfare. Although Henry VIII may be remembered by some due to his six marriages, his religious changes ushered in the English Reformation, impacting England for years to come. Furthermore, through Henry VIII’s three children: Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI, England would continue to experience various changes that would ultimately result in the country emerging as a world power.


What do you think of the importance of King Henry VII and King Henry VII in the rise of England as a global power? Let us know below.

[1]Feiling, England Under The Tudors and Stuarts,8.

[2]Peter Turchin and S. A. Nefedov, Secular Cycles(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 83.

[3]Turchin and Nefedov, Secular Cycles, 84.

[4]Feiling, Keith. England under the Tudors and Stuarts. New York: H. Holt and, 1927, 7-8.

[5]Feiling, England Under The Tudors and Stuarts, 19.

[6]Sharpe, Kevin. Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-century England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, 61-62.

[7]Feiling, England Under The Tudors and Stuarts, 27.

[8]Sharpe, Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-century England, 62-64.

[9]Jones, Whitney R. D. The Mid-Tudor Crisis: 1539-1563. London: Macmillan, 1973, 75.

[10]Jones, The Mid-Tudor Crisis: 15.

[11]Conrad Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 94.

[12]Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660, 98-99.

[13]Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660, 100-101.

[14]Jones, The Mid-Tudor Crisis: 1539-1563, 77.

[15]Thomas, Hugh. The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America. New York: Random House, 2010, 2-4.

[16]Titler, The Reign of Mary I, 77.

[17]D. M. Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1558(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979), 6, 8.

[18]Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1558, 8-9.

Britain’s role in the abolition of slavery during the 19thcentury is a well-known and well-studied part of the historiography of slavery. While it is often said this was due to the British upholding their Christian moral duty, there were other, more sinister motives that led to the British abolishing slavery. Thomas Cripps explains.

William Wilberforce, perhaps the most famous campaigner in favor of abolishing slavery. Painting by John Rising.

William Wilberforce, perhaps the most famous campaigner in favor of abolishing slavery. Painting by John Rising.

How the British Abolished Slavery – And Ensured Many Others Did the Same

In 1765 Granville Sharp issued the first meaningful petition against Britain's role in the slave trade, and by 1783 there were significant protests outside of the British Parliament; in part due to the Zong Massacre of the same year where 130-150 slaves were massacred aboard a trading vessel. This in turn meant that by 1788-89 William Wilberforce, probably the most well known abolitionist, petitioned the government to end the Slave trade, yet this took 19 more years to happen. It was not until March 1807 and the Slave Trade Act that it would be illegal to trade in slaves, nevertheless slavery was still in place in much of the British Empire until the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which ended slavery in the British Empire.

That being said, this came with some caveats. The East India Company was exempt from the Act as was the colony of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the island of St Helena, although this did end in 1843 when the 1833 Act was enforced to its fullest extent. Furthermore, the slave owners received large compensation payments for their losses, the sum of which is estimated at around £20 million at the time. 

The trading of slaves in the British Empire was apparently now at an end, it was now their Christian duty of the British Empire to ensure that others partook in this humanitarian gesture and they set out to enforce this. 

Between c. 1833 and the end of the 19thcentury there was still a thriving illegal slave trade. Thousands of African slaves were being transported to the America’s, perhaps most notably to Cuba and Brazil. To combat this the British government increased the size of the Royal Navy’s West African Squadron that had been created in 1808 following the initial Slave Trade Act. By 1850 there were 50 ships in the region of West Africa. These ships aimed to deter would be slave traders, often stopping them forcefully in the process of transporting slaves who would then be returned to the African continent. This led to the expansion of societies such as Freetown in Sierra Leone where these ‘liberated’ slaves were delivered.



Ulterior Motives for the Abolition of Slavery

Whilst many of these actions may seem to be pointing the moral compass in the right direction, there were mostly certainly ulterior motives to the British enforcement of abolishing slavery and expanding the end of slavery globally.

The end of slavery cannot completely be seen as being motivated by the moral compass of Britain. And while there were certainly some who were driven by this, the powers that be were less certain and this can be seen as a large part of why the aforementioned legislation took so long to come to pass. Key wealthy individuals who had made significant monetary and political gains obviously objected to its end and funded serious campaigns against abolition. An apt example of this is William Beckford, who was a 22,000-acre plantation owner during the late 1700s and twice Mayor of London. In addition to this there were a large number of British Members of Parliament (MPs) who sided with the anti-abolition movement. It was not until later they came to the realization that it was no long conducive to profit. 

Excessive planting of crops, most notably tobacco, had lead to a large percentage of the soil in these areas becoming eroded meaning it was less profitable than it had been in the past to harvest these crops. Once the profitability of slavery was on the decline, it was not in the interest of the British Empire to continue with its previous policy on slavery. 


From Slavery to Colonialism

It is then, no coincidence that the number of British colonies in Africa significantly increased during the period following the abolition of slavery. In many ways their role in enforcing the end of slavery was a pretext for the expansion of imperialism into the African continent. 

Under the guise of a civilizing mission, to rid the ‘heathens’ of their inherent barbarism, the British among other European nations undertook a mission to ‘civilize’ the ‘dark continent’. The British abolition enforcers were then in a prime position to see that this goal was achieved.

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s the city of Lagos in modern day Nigeria was in a succession crisis. Kosako, one of the contenders for the city declared his loyalty to the Oba of Benin and repulsed a British force. The British reaction was to support the other contender who agreed to abolish slavery in support for their help in overthrowing Kosako. Following a British bombardment of the city in December 1851 he was replaced with his British-backed rival Akitoye. Again, this may seem like a noble and chivalric mission, yet within ten years Lagos was seized as a crown colony and by 1887 the remainder of the former Benin Empire was seized as part of this so-called civilizing mission. 

Then, in 1884, at the Berlin Conference European nations met to discuss the partition of Africa. Following this, the well-known ‘Scramble for Africa’ took place - Britain was in pole position due to its activities in abolishing slavery.

By the turn of the century Britain had the largest empire in Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Kenya, the Gold Coast (Ghana), and Sierra Leone.

In 1833 only 10% of Africa was colonized, by 1914 this figure sat at 90%. Only Liberia and Ethiopia, then known as Abyssinia, managed to successfully navigate the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and even Ethiopia was colonized in 1935 by Italy.

Whilst, Britain did not colonize the whole continent or force other countries to engage in imperial practices, it did utilize its maritime dominance and the opportunity afforded by the ending of the slave trade to expand its own imperial possessions.


What do you think about the motives of the British in ending the slave trade?

California is not talked about too much in the context of the American Civil War (1861-65). It had only joined the Union in 1850 and was far from the main action in the east of the USA. However, California did have a part to play during the US Civil War. Daniel L. Smith explains.

An Independent gold hunter on his way to California, circa 1850. California’s gold helped to fund military activities during the US Civil War.

An Independent gold hunter on his way to California, circa 1850. California’s gold helped to fund military activities during the US Civil War.

California and Statehood

It was prior to 1850 that the true nature of the Wild West existed in California, this pristine region of the country. Ideology was split, and even within the split, there was further fracturing due to cultural differences as well as consistent fighting for property rights. The discovery of gold exacerbated the issue of regional turmoil as California was pulled into the US Civil War. This is just the tip of the iceberg on how California existed during this era. Many, or almost all people, are not aware of how truly important California as a region was during the Civil War.

California and Californians themselves endured in its struggle and existence. California had essentially wrapped itself in the American Civil War in politics, finances, and culture. California ethos (or ideology) was absolutely split politically. In hindsight, it was seemingly more than “Blue & Grey” ideology in a state that was overwhelmingly Native American. California had always been home to a Native American and slave population well before being “settled” by Americans East of the Mississippi.

It all started when California made statehood in 1850. Soon thereafter in 1859, the legislature of California was split into two states – Northern California and Southern California (as Colorado Territory). Even though Southern California was part of the Union, it had strong Confederate sympathies. These Confederate ties were due to the large number of Southerners who had transplanted to the Southern California area during the famous Gold Rush. This mass-relocation showed its evidence in the 1860 presidential elections. Lincoln had received only 25% of the Los Angeles vote. 

On the brink of the Civil War California chose the Union, abandoning three other choices: secession, neutrality, and independence. Arguments and counterarguments were made from every political and civic level of the community. It seemed as though some people were in doubt and tossed about in which decision it should have been. Although California was isolated from the conflict in the East and despite the diversified political beliefs of her people, a feeling of loyalty to the United States and federal government was overwhelming. California Republican and Union-Democratic leaders expressed an unwavering loyalty in a multitude of ways.  

Ultimately, the Unionist political candidates took over two-thirds of the votes for state government. Various estimates have been guessed regarding the number of pro-Confederates in the population in California. Indeed, although the loyalty of the state appeared evident, militias were activated. 


Revenue and Turmoil

Oaths of loyalty were required for certain groups and individuals, and of course occasional military arrests were made to solidify loyalty. Regardless, California would end up being a major financial contributor to the federal government during the Civil War, because the gold deposits were direct revenue to pay for war costs. In fact, quite a large portion of the federal government’s war budget was reinforced by new gold from California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. General Grant, in fact, said, "I do not know what we could do in this great national emergency, were it not for the gold sent from California.” 

The U.S Army built and operated many fortifications along frontier trails in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. What people do not know is that although California leaned towards the Union, they were so wrapped up in their own civil discord at home they were not able to send organized regiments east. In late 1861, a Confederate Brigadier General Henry Sibley was allowed to open up an easier route into California through northern Arizona Territory, with further instruction to capture the gold fields in San Francisco by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. This instruction would be for the purpose of a preemptive strike against the Unionist state and in turn show how significant California really was in the Civil War.

Little did both sides realize, California was in regional turmoil on its own accord without the help of a formal war. Now, aside from the status quo bleeding “Blue & Grey,” some non-traditional elements to the war are that the settlers who had come to California were still dealing with the effects of settling tribal lands, adding negative social, criminal, and economic dilemmas between the local Native American tribes, settlers, and the U.S. government.[1]For example, in Humboldt County (approximately 271 miles north of San Francisco) on March 29, 1862, a Humboldt Times headline read, “Horrible Indian Outrages!—The Savages Become Bolder!”  

In this letter submitted to the paper’s editors on March 27, 1862, the citizens of Arcata were “really alarmed at the extent of their (the Native America) evil deeds and the increased boldness and daring… “.  The letter states that local natives shot Mr. Zehendner and burned his home, burnt Goodman’s house and the next day, Mrs. Brehmer’s. On Friday, March 28, Augustus Bates was shot and killed. The natives burned his house. The letter ends, “What a sudden reverse - peace and fancied security one day - death and destruction the next. Surely human life is mutable and occurrences like this bring the fact impressively to our mind. This is a gloomy letter, and ours is a gloomy town.  I can think and write of nothing else.” 


Still The Wild West

On April 2, 1862, many of the citizens of Arcata signed a petition asking the military to remove all the Native Americans from the county completely and push them far away. They went on to state that they didn’t want them in Mendocino County or Crescent City – as it was too easy to get back.[2]  This shows that California was essentially dealing with its own problems, as well as the internal war. With a combination of civic non-cohesion of indigenous native populations, the settlers of the newly established towns, and with the two warring governments remaining active in the state, it appears as though both the centralized governments failed to see the deeper issue residing in California.[3]

Overall, there were handfuls of land skirmishes in California. Within the timeline of the war, California seemed to be most concerned with keeping political tension at a minimum. A further example of the civil issues that California would have to navigate would be the Bullion Bend Robbery.Two stagecoaches were robbed of their silver and gold near Placerville. A letter was left for authorities explaining that they were not committed criminals but carrying out a subversive operation to funnel money to the Confederacy.[4]

In 1864, a magistrate and handful of men became known as the Partisan Rangers.They sacked the property of Union-loyal civilians in the rural and outlying areas around Stockton. For the next two years they posed as “Confederate Partisan Rangers” but acted out criminally. They were found committing robberies, thefts, and murders located in the counties of San Joaquin Valley, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Clara, and a few other counties located in Southern California.[5]

A final notable incident required a superb show of force by the Federal Cavalry in the streets of San Bernardino at the end of election day in September of 1864. They quelled a Confederate political demonstration during the gubernatorial elections in San Bernardino County.[6]


California’s Permanent Divide

After the Civil War ended in California the state took greater control and quickly began to integrate the counties of what would end up being on today’s political boundary maps. With the last of the Pacific coast Native Americans being rounded up to be placed on reservations and the fizzling out of what would come to be known as Westward Expansion, the state would start to consolidate its power as the new and now truly established authority in the West.[7]

It was now no longer considered the Wild West – as you would see on old black and white Western movies. Even so, the Union won the Civil War and California adopted the Union’s policies, there would always be a permanently heavy Democratic and Republican divide that would simmer beneath the voting cracks.


What do you think of the role of California in the US Civil War? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at

[1]Charles B. Turrill."San Francisco and the Civil War." Museum of the City of San Francisco. Last modified 1876.

[2]“Horrible Indian Outrages! - The Savages Become Bolder!”The Humboldt Times, March 29th, 1862. p.3 col. 1.

[3]Brian McGinty. "I Will Call a Traitor a Traitor: Albert Sidney Johnston." Civil War Times Illustrated, 1981.

[4]John Boessenecker (1993). Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California.Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 133–157. ISBN 0806125101. Retrieved 21 October 2018.

[5]William B. Secrest, (2007). California Badmen: Mean Men with Guns.Sanger, Calif.: Word Dancer Press. pp. 143–147. ISBN 1884995519. Retrieved 21 October 2018.

[6]Henry Martyn Lazelle; Leslie J. Perry (1897). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 21 October 2018.

[7]Kevin Starr. California: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2015

The US Supreme Court becomes a very important political issue whenever a vacancy arises. Here, Jonathan Hennika continues his look at the history of the US Supreme Court (following his article on Marbury v Madison here), and focuses on slavery. He looks at the case of Dred Scott, and the 1850s ruling that said freed slaves were not US citizens.

Dred Scott, circa 1857.

Dred Scott, circa 1857.

In his Congressional testimony refuting the allegations of Dr. Christine Ford, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said in part: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”[i]In 2018 the political reality is the line drawn between the Right (Conservatives/Republicans) and the Left (Liberals/Democrats).  As the final arbiter of all things Constitutional, Supreme Court nominees have and always will be a political firestorm. After his testimony, concerns were raised by the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations, both political and apolitical, regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial independence. Judicial independence is as strong a myth in the system of American Jurisprudence as an apolitical court. 

In the teaching of American history, there was a euphemism used to discuss slavery: the peculiar institution. The phrase originated in the early 1800s as a “polite” way to discuss the topic of slavery. Southern historians later appropriated the phrase in an attempt to re-brand the image of the New South, i.e., the post-reconstructed South. These historians postulated and taught the paternalistic theory of slavery—that the life of the slave was better because the fatherly master-class took care of the slave’s basic needs. Such phraseology and historical excuses are intellectually dishonest. The question of slavery is one that troubled the founding fathers and the framers of the American Constitution. To see that conflict, one need look at Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which reads: 

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”


Known as the “Three Fifths Compromise,” it was a stop-gap measure in determining the number of Representatives in Congress from the Southern States. Throughout the 19thcentury, as the nation grew, the debate raged on as to whether a territory or state admitted to the union were permitted to have slaves. Other measures included the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. As the nation grew and slavery became tied into the economy of the South, Southern politicians railed against Northern interference in the “peculiar institution.” The country balanced on a fulcrum of “free” and “slave” states. Each new admission to the Union tipped the balance one way or another. One of the methods the Southern plantocracy used to their advantage was through political patronage and judicial appointments. Southern politicians, such as John Calhoun, were adroit at imposing the will of the South on the nation.


The Question of “Citizenship”

It was not long for the question of slavery to reach the Supreme Court. It did so in the case of Dred Scott v Sanford60 US 393 (1856). As is often the circumstance, the Dred Scott case was two separate cases brought together for Supreme Court review. The slave, Dred Scott, sued under Missouri law and brought a second suit in Federal Court. These are the cases that became the Dred Scott case. The statutes in question were criminal trespass and false imprisonment. The historian Walter Ehrlich wrote extensively on the subject of Dred Scott and discovered heretofore lost court documents of Scott’s state action:

“The origin of any court litigation involves at least two basic issues. The first is grounds—do the law and the facts warrant legal action? The second is motivation—what specific circumstances impel the plaintiff to take his legal action….An investigation of Missouri statutes…reveals quite clearly not only that there were laws which prescribed circumstances under which a slave might become free, but also that ample precedent existed of slaves actually having been freed under those laws…Dred Scott…qualified substantially for his freedom.”[ii]


Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinionthat held:

“A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State and were not numbered among its "people or citizens." Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them. And not being "citizens" within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States, and the Circuit Court has not jurisdiction in such a suit…. The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves.”[iii]


Sectionalism as a Deciding Factor 

In a 7 to 2 vote the Taney Court declared that the rights and privileges of citizenship did not apply to slaves and freed Africans. In the 20thand 21stcentury the Justices’ votes are often broken down via political lines; the left, the right, the middle. In the 19thcentury, sectionalism dominated the discussion. What section of the country did the Justice represent? There were nine members of the Taney Court:

-       Roger Taney (Chief), Maryland: Majority

-       John McLean, Ohio: Dissent

-       James Moore Wayne, Georgia: Majority

-       John Catron, Tennessee: Majority

-       Peter Vivian Daniel, Virginia: Majority

-       Samuel Nelson, New York: Majority

-       Robert Cooper Grier, Pennsylvania: Majority

-       Benjamin Robbins Curtis, Massachusetts: Dissent

-       John Archibald Campbell, Georgia: Majority


The Court’s majority hailed from states that left the Union in 1860. Chief Justice Taney was from Maryland, wooed by President Lincoln as a border state, and could have been a member of the Confederacy. Of the two Northerners who voted in the majority, President Buchanan pressured Justice Grier to join the majority to avoid the appearance that the ruling ran along “sectional lines.”[iv]The Executive branch used its friendship to influence the political topic of the day. These men on the Supreme Court may have attempted to “rise above” partisan rhetoric. If you examine them within the context of their times, a question arises: when declaring that Dred Scott and the many other slaves were not protected by the laws of man, were they thinking of their own section’s best interests? 

Dred Scottwas not the last time the Supreme Court had the opportunity to weigh in on the constitutionality of racial subjugation. The next time the Court sat on this question, the entire national dynamic had changed, though the culture remained. 


What do you think of the political nature of the US Supreme Court? Let us know below.

[i]“Brett Kavanaugh’s Opening Statement: Full Transcript.” New York Times¸ September 26, 2018. Retrieved October 14, 2018

[ii]Ehrlich, Walter. “The Origins of the Dred Scott Case,” The Journal of Negro History59 (April 1974):133

[iii]Scott v Sanford,60 US 393 at 393

[iv]John Mack; et al. Out of Many: A History of the American People(Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2005) 388

In the early days of the Cold War, during the years after World War II, spies became a key weapon for the USSR and USA. But perhaps the most important spies were those American-born Soviet spies who provided secrets about America’s nuclear weapons program, the Manhattan Project, to the Soviet Union. Scott Rose tells us about Cold War nuclear weapons spying in the USA.

Lona Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

Lona Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

Morris Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

Morris Cohen, an American-born Soviet spy on a Russian postage stamp.

In summer this year, an alleged Russian spy named Maria Butina was arrested in Washington, DC, where she currently awaits trial, charged with conspiring to act as an agent for a foreign government. However, Russian espionage in the United States is not a new phenomenon, actually beginning in earnest during the Soviet era, particularly during World War Two. During the war and the years immediately afterward, Russian spies in the U.S. gained unprecedented access to the American atomic research community.

Soviet spying took on all sorts of forms through the years, from homegrown Russian agents who took on American appearances to American citizens who betrayed their country and stole highly sensitive information, including the data needed to build the Soviet Union’s first atomic weapon.


The Race to Build the Bomb

The United States knew that Nazi Germany was actively trying to develop atomic power during World War Two. In 1942, the U.S., along with Great Britain and Canada, began what was called the Manhattan Project, with the purpose of building atomic weapons before the Germans could develop their own. The Soviets also started an atomic development program, though much smaller than the American project. The Soviet research team consisted of about 550 people; whereas the Manhattan Project at its peak employed over 130,000. With so much more money and manpower at work, the Americans were seemingly light years ahead of Soviet atomic research.

The Germans surrendered in April of 1945 without succeeding in building atomic weapons, and in July, the Manhattan Project tested its first atomic device at Los Alamos, New Mexico. On August 6th, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atomic bomb. Three days later, the second bomb destroyed Nagasaki, and the Japanese surrendered six days later.  

The Soviets realized that the United States had become the world’s first superpower with its development of the atomic bomb. They also knew it would take many years to catch up with American atomic abilities, unless they gained access to the Manhattan Project’s research. Even before the war ended, the Soviets used espionage for the purpose of acquiring America’s atomic secrets.

The scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project included some of the top researchers and mathematicians from America, Britain, and Canada. The Soviets aimed to glean information from scientists with leftist leanings, and in time these efforts bore fruit. In the 1940s, a young American from Philadelphia named Harry Gold began working for the Soviet Union. His orders were to make contact with a Manhattan Project scientist named Klaus Fuchs, and to move atomic information from Fuchs to the Soviets. Born in Germany, Fuchs had emigrated to Britain, becoming a citizen there. By the time he reached his early 30s, Fuchs was respected as a brilliant physicist, and his work would contribute greatly to the American development of the atomic bomb. Fuchs gave critical information on the Manhattan Project’s research to Gold during the war, unbeknownst to the Americans. In 1946, he returned to Britain to work for the new British atomic program, and he continued to pass information to Soviet agents in Britain.

Another of Gold’s sources was David Greenglass, a U.S. Army machinist from New York who had worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Greenglass had been recruited into espionage by his sister and brother-in-law, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were committed Communist Party members, and some of the information Greenglass collected was passed to them. They in turn passed the same information along to their Soviet handlers.

The Soviets had taken several German atomic scientists back to the U.S.S.R. after the war, and although the Germans had failed to produce an atomic bomb, these scientists were a huge boost to the Soviet atomic program. With the accelerated pace of Soviet research, and stolen atomic secrets from America, the Soviets were able to make up ground quickly. Still, America was shocked when the Soviets tested their first atomic device in August of 1949. Now the world had two superpowers instead of one.

The American military distrusted the Soviets, even during the war, when the two countries were allies, and the U.S. suspected the Soviets were in the business of using Americans to gather intelligence. In 1943, the Army launched the Venona Project, a program using complex mathematics to decode secret messages from the Soviets to their operatives in other nations. Venona was so secret that President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t even know about the program when it commenced.


The Dominos Fall

One month after the Soviet atomic test, Venona hit a home run when it identified Klaus Fuchs as a Soviet spy. This information was passed along to British intelligence, and Fuchs was questioned about his activities. Fuchs denied having ever been a spy, and was not held in custody. However, in January of 1950, Fuchs contacted the British authorities and confessed to having passed atomic information to the Soviets through Harry Gold. Immediately arrested and put on trial for espionage, Fuchs was convicted, sentenced to 14 years in prison, and stripped of his British citizenship. He served just over nine years before being released early for “good behavior.” Upon release, Fuchs left Britain for East Germany, where he got married and went to work for that country’s nuclear research program, before passing away in 1988 at the age of 76.

When Fuchs was arrested in 1950, his confession led to the arrest of Harry Gold in the United States. Gold was interrogated, and confessed to having been a Soviet spy since 1934; he admitted to passing Fuchs’ atomic information to the Soviet General Consul. During Gold’s confession, he spilled the beans about his other espionage contacts, David Greenglass and the Rosenbergs. At the beginning of the year when Fuchs was arrested, Julius Rosenberg had given Greenglass $5,000 in order for Greenglass to escape to Mexico with his wife and children. Instead, the Greenglasses had stayed put and used the money to hire a lawyer. In June of 1950, the FBI arrested David Greenglass, charging him with espionage. 

Not long after Greenglass was arrested, he gave up his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, and at first, Greenglass denied his sister Ethel’s involvement in the spy ring. A couple of months later, Greenglass changed his story and implicated his sister as well, claiming Ethel had typed the notes he had passed from the Manhattan Project. Greenglass stated that Ethel had originally recruited him to become a spy, after being persuaded by her husband Julius. One of the Rosenbergs’ assistants, Morton Sobell, was arrested while on the run in Mexico City, and he was extradited to stand trial along with the Rosenbergs.

The trial began in early March and lasted 3 weeks. Greenglass testified that he had given Julius Rosenberg illustrations of atomic bomb research, and Harry Gold testified that he had worked as a courier for the Rosenbergs, who never admitted their guilt. The couple and Sobell were convicted; while Sobell got a 30 year sentence and was sent to Alcatraz, the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death. Judge Irving Kaufman, during sentencing, claimed the Rosenbergs crime was “worse than murder”. He blamed the Rosenbergs for giving the Soviet Union access to atomic weapons, which he argued had led to the communist aggression in Korea that cost thousands of American lives.

Many people around the world felt the sentence was overly harsh. There was a worldwide campaign for clemency, and many leading artists, writers, and scientists of the day joined the movement. Even Pope Pius XII asked President Eisenhower to reduce the Rosenbergs’ sentence, but the president refused. After two years of appealing their sentence, the Rosenbergs were executed on July 19th, 1953, meeting their fate via the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing prison. 

The other members of the spy ring were much luckier than the Rosenbergs. Sobell was released from prison in 1969 and wrote a book, spoke on the lecture circuit, and maintained his innocence for many years before finally admitting his guilt in 2008, claiming that by aiding the Soviets, he had simply “bet on the wrong horse.” Sobell is still alive and residing in New York at the age of 101. Harry Gold was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but didn’t serve even half of his sentence before being paroled. He died in 1972 and was buried in his hometown of Philadelphia. David Greenglass only served nine years in prison before returning to New York and changing his name. He gave an interview to the New York Timesin 1996, claiming he had exaggerated his sister Ethel’s involvement in the spy ring in order to protect his own wife from prosecution. During the rambling interview, Greenglass declared “My wife is more important to me than my sister. Or my mother or my father. OK?”


To Russia with Love 

The Rosenbergs were not the only American couple to help the Soviets attain atomic secrets. Another New York couple, Morris and Lona Cohen, were united by their Marxist ideologies, and proved to be valuable agents for the U.S.S.R. Morris had served in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, and he was recruited into Soviet intelligence at that time. Lona was an eager partner in her husband’s espionage activities, and the couple established contact with several Manhattan Project scientists. When Klaus Fuchs was arrested in Britain, the Cohens didn’t wait for the trail to lead back to New York, leaving immediately for the Soviet Union. In 1954, the childless Cohens re-emerged in London as “Peter and Helen Kroger”, operating a small antique book shop. They were also operating a new espionage network for the Soviets. Seven years after their arrival in England, the Cohens were caught with a houseful of spying equipment and arrested. Put on trial and convicted, luck would intervene for the “Krogers” in 1969, when they were traded to the Soviet Union for British prisoner Gerald Brooke. Many Britons criticized the exchange, claiming the Soviet Union should have been forced to pay a higher price for the Cohens, as by this time it was known that they were two of the most dangerous spies on the planet. They would live out the remainder of their lives in Russia, where they died in the early 1990s.

When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, old Soviet espionage files were opened that detailed the contributions made by spies to the Soviet atomic program. These files showed that while the Rosenbergs gave valuable information to the Soviets, the secrets gathered by the Cohens were most vital to Soviet development of the atomic bomb. Seemingly confirming the Cohens’ importance was the fact that during the last years of the Soviet Union’s existence, commemorative Soviet stamps were printed honoring both Morris and Lona Cohen. The honors bestowed on the couple in Russia seem an ironic twist, given the fact that these Americans did so much, in the name of idealism, to hurt their own country.


What do you think about Soviet spies in the USA during the Cold War? Let us know below.


Chester B. Hearn, Spies & Espionage: A Directory, Thunder Bay Press, 2006

Slava Katamidze, Loyal Comrades, Ruthless Killers: The Secret Services of the USSR 1917-1991, Barnes & Noble, 2003

Robert McFadden, “David Greenglass, the Brother who Doomed Ethel Rosenberg, Dies at 92”, The New York Times, October 14, 2014

Sam Roberts, “For First Time, Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying for Soviets”, The New York Times, September 12, 2008

Allen Hornblum, The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb, Yale University Press, 2010

Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1995

Robert Chadwell Williams, Klaus Fuchs: Atom Spy, Harvard University Press, 1987

The Sicarii were a Jewish group who used various methods to rebel against Roman rule in the first century – in particular prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. If around today, many would consider the tactics they used as terrorism. Here, Dean Smith (following his article on the longest bombing run in history here) tells us about the Sicarii.

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus . Artist: David Roberts, 1850.

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus. Artist: David Roberts, 1850.

Terror in the First Century

Picture the scene, a hot sun scorched day in a major metropolitan city. Passers-by go about their daily business unaware of what is about to unfold. From the crowd emerges an individual wielding a knife. A fanatic with a mind riddled by a complex mixture of religious zealotry and political ideology.  The knifeman begins a horrific spree of violence, killing some with his blade, and severely wounding others. The targets may have been specifically chosen or just been anonymous passers-by, seen as valid targets by what they represent rather than who they were. After the bloody rampage has been completed, the individual has a choice, either to martyr themselves at the hands of law enforcement or to attempt to escape back into the crowd. 

The decision is of minimal importance, the task has already been completed. The attack, an impossible to ignore example of propaganda by deed. 

The above scenario likely conjures up horrific images of recent knife attacks in London or Paris, of fanatical terrorists wielding blades in the name of religious and political ideology. However, the event I just described took place almost 2000 years ago, in first century Judea. After two millennia, political violence appears to have changed little. 


Judea Prior to the Romans

For centuries prior to the Roman rule in Judea, the Jews of the eastern Mediterranean had already been living under a string of foreign rulers. When the Syrians took Israel from the Ptolemaic dynasty in 168 BCE they quickly introduced worship deities from the Hellenistic Greek pantheon. This led to a Jewish priest by the name of Mattathias, and his sons, including the legendary Judah the Maccabee, to slay a Syrian official amid those who supported him. This attack was apparently not intended merely to destroy an enemy, but to inspire others to rise up against the occupation. This led to the event known as the Maccabee Revolt (Law, 2007). 

The result of the revolt led to the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty, a political system that would eventually spell disaster for Israel. After multiple civil wars, one of the rulers of the Hasmoneans’ line appealed to Rome for help in 64 BCE. This led to Israel being incorporated into the Roman Empire as a vassal state. In order to maintain their state and position within Israeli society, many members of the priestly caste, known as Sadducees, collaborated with their Roman occupiers (Bloom, 2010).


Occupiers and Traitors

As is the rule of foreign occupations supported with collaborators from within the old nobility, a revolutionary movement began to form within Israeli society. A small movement proclaiming, “no masters above God”, violently rebelled against both the Roman occupiers and their associated collaborators (Bloom, 2010). 

These events set the stage for one of the earliest recorded groups that would fit the profile for what we now call terrorists, the Sicarii. 

The debate around the historical events concerning the Sicarii continues to this day, almost 2,000 years later. This is primarily due to the fact that almost all the information recorded on the group comes from a single writer, the Jewish general, turned roman defector, Josephus (Chaliand,2007). 

According to the records laid out in his work, The Jewish War, Josephus states that the Sicarii began their activities in the mid-50s of the common era. As the latest advocate of the notion of Jewish sovereignty, their stated goals were the liberation of Israel and Judea from Roman rule (Josephus and Whiston, 1981). 

The Sicarii derived their name from the distinctive type of dagger they used, similar in size and shape to the Roman word Sica. This is of particular importance from a historical context because we have no evidence that the group ever referred to themselves as Sicarii. The word is only mentioned in the works of Josephus and is of Latin origin, not Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, the languages the people of the region would have used. This may be viewed as a case of the defeated group being named by the victor, since over a century before the events of the Jewish war, the Latin word Sicarius has come to mean “assassin” in Roman law (Law, 2007). 

The actions carried out by the Sicarii are disturbingly similar to modern groups who bear the moniker of terrorists. They assassinated prominent Jewish figures who were seen as Roman collaborators. These attacks often took place in public, allowing the attackers to blend back into the surrounding crowds after the attack had taken place. According to the writing of Josephus:

The first to have his throat cut by them (the Sicarii) was Jonathan the high priest, and after him, many were murdered every day. More terrible than the crimes themselves was the fear they aroused, every man hourly expecting death, as in war. (Josephus and Whiston, 1981)


This poignant statement creates a vision similar to acts of terrorism in the modern age, where the actual violence being committed is secondary to the level of fear and terror that such actions inspire. This is further compounded by other actions which the Sicarii participated in, such as the kidnapping and ransom of prominent Jewish figures for a multitude of reasons. These included raising funds for the cause, gaining the release of imprisoned compatriots, and further spreading the sense of fear and instability amongst the community. If the Sicarii could get to the most powerful and influential members of Jewish society, then no one was safe from their grasp (Laqueur and Hoffman, 2016). 

The Sicarii also carried out campaigns of looting from pro-Roman Jewish gentry in the countryside surrounding Jerusalem. According to some historians, this was seen as an attempt to ferment uprising amongst the local Jewish population by demonstrating that the Roman authorities were powerless to maintain law and order (Bloom, 2010). It has also been suggested by some that the Sicarii were attempting to provoke a harsh crackdown on anti-roman Jewish movements by the Sadducees, further inspiring rebellion amongst the population. It is interesting to note that these are very similar to the types of tactics that Left-Wing revolutionary groups would apply to their campaigns, almost 2,000 years later (Hoffman, 1998). 

During the period in the lead up to the Jewish revolt of 66CE, the Sicarii were led by Menahem ben Judah, until he was assassinated by rivals. According to Josephus this is attributed largely to his leadership that: “turned to savagery and....became unbearably tyrannical”. His death spelt the end of the Sicarii’s participation in the Jewish revolt that eventually led to the scattering of the Jewish population and the destruction of the second temple (Law, 2007). 


Retreat and Last Stand

The Sicarii shifted the location to the mountain top fortress of Masada. During this period the group started raiding and pillaging the local countryside surrounding the fortress. Josephus describes one raid in particular, on the village of Engedi, where the Sicarii apparently “butchered’ seven hundred woman and children, “stripped the houses bare, seized the ripest of the crops, and brought the loot to Masada”. These actions are well in line with modern terrorist groups, who often blur the line between political activism and banditry when it is in support of an ideological cause. 

This period eventually came to an end with the Roman siege of Masada. The Roman forces apparently used Jewish slave labor from the sacking of Jerusalem to build a wall around Masada. They prevented any supplies reaching the entrenched Sicarii and stopped any attempts at escape (Richmond, 1962). 

The siege finally ended with the mass suicide of all inside the fortress of Masada, including the families and children of the Sicarii. This type of ritual suicide of a political faction, holed up in a fortress under siege has echoes in the modern era. Similarities can be seen between the siege of Masada and the incident in Waco, Texas, where a religious faction known as the Branch Davidians chose to end the siege by setting fire to their compound, killing everyone inside (Law, 2007). 

As with all terrorist organizations, the history of the Sicarii is short and bloody. Their legacy is a mixed one, with some schools of thought regarding them as martyrs who died for their faith, whilst others see them as murderous fanatics intolerant of change. Whatever the case may be, one thing that stands out is the striking similarity between both the motivation and modus operandiof the Sicarii and terrorist groups that exist in the twenty-first century. After two thousand years, the ability to instill terror in the hearts of the masses through simple means, a knife and a man willing to use it, remains the same. 


What do you think the main parallels are between the Sicarii and contemporary history? Let us know below.


Bloom, J. (2010). The Jewish revolts against Rome, a. 1st ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, pp.100-125.

Chaliand, G, and Blin, A., eds. (2007). The History of Terrorism. From Antiquity to Al Qaeda. Berkeley etc: University of California Press, ch. 1.

Grant, M. (2002). The History of Ancient Israel. New York: History Book Club, Ch. 20.

Hoffman, B. (1998). Inside terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press, pp.63-81.

Josephus, F. and Whiston, W. (1981). The Complete Works of Josephus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Pub.

Laqueur, W, and Hoffman, B. (2016). A History of Terrorism: Expanded Edition. Expanded ed. edition. Transaction Publishers, ch. 1.

Law, R. (2009) Terrorism: A History. 1 edition. Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity, pp. 1-14.

Richmond, I. A. (1962). "The Roman Siege-Works of Masada, Israel". The Journal of Roman Studies. Washington College. Lib. Chestertown, MD.: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. 52: 142–155.

Simon, J. (2008). The Forgotten Terrorists: Lessons from the History of Terrorism, Terrorism and Political Violence20, no. 2: 195–214

John Tyler was the 10thPresident of the Unites States. He was born in 1790 and was American President from 1841 to 1845. Amazingly he still has two living grandchildren. Here, Casey Titus explains how this is possible - as well as considering Tyler’s legacy.

John Tyler in his later years.

John Tyler in his later years.

John Tyler was the first vice president lifted to the presidency on the death of the then president of the United States (he followed William Henry Harrison), and the first president to marry in the White House. Despite serving as the tenth President of the United States from 1841 to 1845, he has been ranked near the bottom of surveys, including the Rasmussen poll conducted in 2007 where John Tyler had lowest positive favorability.


John Tyler’s Presidency

He may have not been remembered today except for the untimely death of the ninth U.S. president, William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia just thirty-one days into his term. Despite Tyler being firmly resolute that he was the 10thPresident of the United States, his political opponents refused to accept him and fierce debate ensued about whether the phrasing of the U.S. Constitution meant that a vice president should become president upon the death of the incumbent, inheriting the title of President, its powers, and residency in the White House. His opponents argued that Tyler should merely fulfill the constitutionally-specified duties of the Executive Office while Congress guided the nation until the next presidential election and continued to address him as “Vice-President” or “Acting President.” Author Gary May in his 2008 biography of John Tyler referred to Tyler as the “Accidental President.” This ascendency to full presidential power would eventually direct such future successions and organize itself into the twenty-fifth amendment to the Constitution.

Tyler had aligned himself with the Whig Party and the enemy of the Democratic Party (Jacksonian Democracy sin particular), despite being a former affiliate. His downfall from the party was prompted by his strong stance on states’ rights and vetoing Henry Clay’s bills to establish a National Bank with branches in several states. All of his Cabinet members except the Secretary of State resigned. In 1842, Tyler vetoed a tariff bill and the first impeachment resolution against a President was introduced in the House of Representatives as a result. That same year, President Tyler did sign a tariff bill that protected northern manufacturers and ended a Canadian boundary dispute with the Webster-Ashburton treaty. In the final year of his term, Texas was annexed and Tyler left office in 1845 when Texas was on the cusp of entering the Union as a slave state. Tyler was an advocate of slavery’s expansion; the nation’s intense division over the issue of slavery would erupt into the Civil War.


A little known fact

Whether his presidency is regarded well or even widely known, possibly the most interesting fact about the 10thPresident of the United States, who was born in 1790, is that his two grandchildren are still living among us. How is that possible?

John Tyler married Letitia Christian in 1813 and fathered eight children. After Letitia died of a stroke in the White House in September 1842, the first First Lady to do so, President Tyler met and fell in love with Julia Gardiner who was 30 years his junior. After numerous attempts to woo her, Julia finally accepted his proposal and the first wedding in the White House was conducted in 1844. She bore him seven surviving children.

It is certainly remarkable that a man born in the 18thcentury and during George Washington’s first presidential term, and who died in the mid-19thcentury, has two grandsons alive today, more than a decade into the 21stcentury. Throughout early American history, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth or disease and their husbands to be left widowers with children to provide for. It was rare for men to be alone as they could not cope with running a household and establishing themselves financially at the same time so he would then marry another woman to be his wife and stepmother for his children in addition to any future children they might have together. It was also not unusual for widowers like Tyler, to wed women much younger than themselves. His youngest child with Julia, Pearl Tyler, was born in 1860, when Tyler was 70 years old, and even lived through World War II, dying in 1947. 

President Tyler’s 13thchild was Lyon Gardiner Tyler, a genealogist, historian, and the 17th president of the College of William and Mary. Lyon continued his father’s marriage tradition by having three children with his first wife, Anne Baker Tucker Tyler, and three more with his second wife, Sue Ruffin Tyler, who was thirty-five years his junior. After Anne’s death, he married Sue when he was nearly 70 years old. One of their three children died in infancy, but the other two, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, born in 1924 and 1928 respectively, are still with us.


The grandsons now

Harrison currently resides at Sherwood Forest Plantation – the historic Tyler family home in Virginia where President Tyler once lived. “Sherwood Forest” is named in recognition of Robin Hood whom Tyler relates with as a “political outlaw.” Visitors are still given tours. John Tyler’s presidency is regarded poorly due to its supposed lack of events and being overshadowed by an unexpected and awkward shift in power, but his descendants disagree. Harrison speaks fondly of his grandfather and stands by his presidential decisions. According to New York magazine’s Dan Amira: 

He’s been maligned in some ways, because he was elected to the Confederate Congress, so people say he’s a traitor. But actually, he should be known for his efforts as the organizer of the Peace Conference in Washington in 1861. He tried to get the uncommitted states to all agree on a program, and then get the other states to join in, and get everybody back together.

Harrison’s son, William Tyler, believes that his great-grandfather stood by his beliefs and the Constitution, and evaded tumultuous foreign policy bungles, describing it as “the things you really want a president to do.” Despite the family’s rich political history, both William and Harrison joked they don’t want to continue that ambition. “I know better,” William said in an interview with CBS News’s Chip Reid.


What do you think of John Tyler? Let us know below.

The US Supreme Court becomes a very important political issue whenever a vacancy arises. Here, Jonathan Hennika looks at the history of the US Supreme Court and the importance of Marbury v Madison, the ruling that established judicial review and that allows courts to strike down unconstitutional government actions.

William Marbury. Painting by Rembrandt Peale.

William Marbury. Painting by Rembrandt Peale.

James Maddison. Painting by Gilbert Stuart.

James Maddison. Painting by Gilbert Stuart.

The recent confirmation battle over President Trump’s choice to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy was a critical moment for the Judiciary. During the news coverage, some analysts commented on the framer’s intentions for the Supreme Court to be apolitical. Richard Wolffe, a columnist for The Guardian, quoted Nebraska Senator Deb Fisher in a recent piece on the confirmation battle: “Judges make decisions based on law, not on policy, not based on political pressure, not based on the identity of the parties.”[i] An examination of Supreme Court presidence indicates that Judges do make decisions based on political pressure, policy, and/or party/regional identification.  In fact, it was the fear of political pressure that guided Chief Justice John Marshall in writing his majority opinion in the case of Marbury v Madison. 


Marbury v Madison: The Question of Judicial Review

Writing in 1912, Constitutional historian Andrew C. McLaughlin defined the theory of judicial review as the right of “any court [to] exercise the power of holding acts invalid, in doing so, it assumes no special and peculiar role; for the duty of the court is to declare what the law is, and, on the other hand, not to recognize and apply what the law is not…. This authority then in part arose…from the conviction that the courts were not under the control of a coordinate branch of the government but entirely able to interpret the constitution themselves when acting in their ownfield.”[ii]  To reach this definition, Professor McLaughlin utilized the majority opinion issued in the case of Marbury v Madison, 5 US 137, (1803). Commonly taught in high school civics classes,Marbury v Madison established the right of the Judiciary branch to rule on the Constitutionality of laws enacted by either the Legislative branch or orders issued by the Executive branch.  This concept, cleverly called a “balance of power” has weaved its way through the American narrative since the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1879. 

What then was the case of Marbury v Madison? While serving as Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State, founding father and future President, James Madison refused the commission of William Marbury to a federal judge post. The decision to hold up Marbury’s commission was a political one on the part of Jefferson and Madison. Marbury was one of sixty last-minute appointments that Federalist John Adams made to the judicial branch in his final forty-eight hoursin the office. The incoming Jefferson was an ardent Democratic-Republican and opposed the selectionof the “Midnight Judges,” the derisive name given by anti-federalist proponents.[iii]

Marbury filed for a Writ of Mandamus (an order enforcing the issuance of his Commission) with the Supreme Court. The Court issued its ruling on February 24, 1803.  In writing the majority opinion[iv], Chief Justice John Marshall broke the case down to three questions: (i) Did Marbury have a right to his commission; (ii) If Marbury had a right to his commission, is there a legal remedy available for him to have it; and (iii)If there was a remedy, what was it, and was the Supreme Court the proper jurisdiction?[v]


The Determination of the Court 

The Court ruled yes to the first two questions. It is the answer to the third question that we begin a discussion of judicial review and the Supreme Court’s place in the ConstitutionalRepublic. Madison’s argument was the Commissions arrived athis office late, i.e.,after Jefferson’s inauguration, and as such, the commissions were invalid. The Court rejected this argument, writing: “The [President's] signature is a warrant for affixing the great seal to the commission, and the great seal is only to be affixedto an instrument which is complete. [...] The transmission of the commission is a practice directed by convenience, but not by law. It cannot, therefore, be necessary to constitute the appointment, which must precede it and which is the mere act of the President.” As to the second question, the Marshall Court concluded: “The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws whenever he receives an injury. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection. The Government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right.”[vi]

The third questionbecame pivotal. Marshall knew that the Court was in a precarious political position. If the Court ruled in favor of Marbury,the implication was the judiciary favored the Federalist cause. Marshall also believed that Jefferson and Madison potentially might ignore any order to issue the commission, thus showing the inherent weakness of the Judicial Branch. This weakness, the inability to enforce its rulings, will appear again in the fallout of the Brown v Board of Educationdecision in the 1950s. However, Marshall was not comfortable with a rulingagainst Mr. Marbury, handing Jefferson a political victory. 

The decision then became that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to make a ruling for or against Marbury. To avoid the appearance of a political victory for Jefferson, the Marshall Court tempered the decision by enacting judicial review. Procedurally, the Supreme Court heard the case under the Judiciary Act of 1789. The relevant part of the law read “The Supreme Court shall have powerto issue writs of prohibition to the district courts, when proceeding as courts of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and writs of mandamus, in cases warranted by the principles and usages of law, to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.”[vii]Marshall ruled that this portion of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional. In the ruling, Marshall cited Article Three of the Constitution which laid out the duties and the responsibilities of the Supreme Court. Under the concept of judicial review, Marshall determined that Congress had violated the Constitution when it laid out functions regarding the dutiesand obligations of the Supreme Court. Thus, while the Supreme Court was constitutionally boundto hear the case of Marbury v Madison; it was not constitutionally bound to issue a ruling.


The Specter of Political Influence 

To make the Court apolitical, Marshall had to become political. He allowed the appearance of political influence on the judiciary to influence the judiciary’s decision in Marbury. Strengthening the Marburydecision was theCourt’s ruling in McCulloch v Maryland17 US 316 (1819). In a case brought surrounding the constitutionality of the Second Bank of the United States, the Court ruled that the Constitution granted Congress implied powers to implement the powersexpressed in the Constitution for there to be a functional national government. In other words, if McCullochcamefirst, then a decision needed to be rendered in Marbury v Madison because the Judiciary Act of 1789 was an example of a Congressional implied power used to aid an expressed power of the Constitution. The precedents of Marbury and McCullochcemented the definition of the judiciary as the ultimatearbiter on all questions Constitutional. They helped define the role of the legislative branch.  These cases are pointed to as the cornerstones of American Jurisprudence and holds the Supreme Court above the political fray. The decisions that defined the roles of the Judicial and Legislative branches were based, in part, on political pressure and the identity of the nascent parties. 

The paradox of an apolitical Supreme Court shows itself throughoutitscareer. The laws at the heart of their decisions are born from politics, so how can the Supreme Court maintain an apolitical position? Unfortunately, the Court cannot negate the intertwining of its rulings and the Court of Public Opinion, a.k.a. Politics. 


What do you think of the Marbury v Madison ruling? Let us know below.

[i]Richard Wolff. “Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation isn’t democracy. It’s a judicial coup,” The Guardian, October 6, 2018. Retrieved October 12, 2018

[ii]Andrew McLauchlin as quoted in Edward S. Corwin, “Marbury v Madison and the Doctrine of Judicial Review,” Michigan Law Review, 12 (May, 1914), 548.

[iii]Paul Brest, Sandord Levinson, et al Process of Constitutional Decision-making: Cases and Materials (New York: Wolters Kluwer, 2018), 115

[iv]However, there was no minority opinion as the decision of the Marshall Court was a unanimous vote of 4-0.

[v]Erin ChemerinskyConstitutional Law: Principles and Policies.(New York: Wolters Kluwer, 2015). 39.

[vi]Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137  at 158, 160, 163

[vii]Judiciary Act, 1stCongress, Sess. I. Ch 20 1789, 80-81

Julia Catherine Stimson (1881-1948) was a nurse who led a remarkable life. This included playing a key nursing role for the United States in World War One, notably leading all American nurses in France. Here, Matt Goolsby follows his articles on US Civil War nurses Clara Barton (here) and Cornelia Hancock (here), and continues his series on Nurses in War.

Julia Catherine Stimson in 1920.

Julia Catherine Stimson in 1920.

Into the Twentieth Century

The early 20th century in the American experience brought forth several foundational technological changes.

The automobile was introduced along with the highly efficient manufacturing assembly line innovated by Henry Ford. Many Americans could save for and afford a new Model T nicknamed ‘Tin Lizzie’ for a mere $300.

The Wright brothers championed flying in Kittyhawk, North Carolina, thus forever changing the nature of travel.

With these technological innovations, the nature of warfare dramatically changed. 

By the start of World War I, the mechanisms of war utilized a much broader array of innovative weapons that included: aircraft that dropped artillery over the battlefield, tanks that charged positions indiscriminately, flamethrowers that were used to ‘vacate’ captured trenches, and submarines that decimated convoys carrying much needed supplies.

Fortunately, medical care had also made huge advances forward in the treatment and care of the critically wounded.

One of the modern inventions of the day was the X-Ray machine. Cumbersome for the time and unable to be used on a mobile platform, Madam Marie Curie developed smaller, portable units called “Little Curies” that could be utilized at field hospitals.


Educational foundations

The United States Army had come a long way since the Civil and Spanish-American War eras by the early 1900s both in its view of the medical profession and nurses in particular. Numerous advancements in the care of the wounded led to a much greater survival rate despite the weapons used in World War I.

Gone were the days that nurses were ‘Volunteers’ or on contract. They were now fully-fledged members of the US military. Stepping into the spotlight at this time was Julia Catherine Stimson.

Julia was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on May 26, 1881 to Dr. Reverend Henry A. Stimson and Alice Wheaton Bartlett Stimson. She was the second of seven and was born into a prominent family that had distinguished itself in Public Service. 

Dr. Lewis Atterbury Stimson, her uncle, was a surgeon who was the first to perform a public operation utilizing a procedure known as the ‘Joseph Lister antiseptic technique’. He also wrote the original charter for Cornell University’s medical school and helped to secure an endowment to open it.

Julia’s cousin Henry L. Stimson, her uncle Lewis’s son, became the Secretary of War and Secretary of State under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His sister Candace also served in World War I administering the anti-tetanus serum. 

Public Service was born into the Stimson lineage.

A recurring theme throughout Julia’s life was the transient nature of her career path. Having had a father who was a pastor, there were times that the family relocated from its Northeastern locale.

When Julia was five, the family moved to St. Louis so that her father could take the job of pastor at the Pilgrim Congregational church, part of the United Church of Christ. Seven years later, the family relocated to New York where her father took the job of Pastor of the Broadway Church in Manhattan, New York City and where she attended the Brearley school. This is where her education took a profound turn forward as shown in her writings. 

The private Brearley school for girls was founded by Samuel A. Brearley Jr. in 1884 as an institution whose mission as their website states is: “To provide young women with an education comparable to that available to their brothers.”

Women were not given the same opportunity for education in the late 19thcentury as their male peers, so this proved to be a foundational event in her young life.

Upon graduating from Brearley, Julia began studies at the Vassar Women’s college in Poughkeepsie, New York. She started her college career at the tender age of 16 and graduated in 1901 with an A.B. degree along with her eldest sister Alice. Her three younger sisters also graduated from Vassar; Lucille in 1904, Dorothy in 1912, and Barbara in 1919.

It is of note that when she graduated she wanted to become a physician, but her parents and uncle Henry Stimson discouraged her from entering the male dominated world of medicine. Her youngest sister was later able to enter the medical profession as an orthopedic surgeon, as their parents relaxed their standards with the most juvenile offspring.


Personal experience leads to Nursing

In 1903, Julia was hospitalized for a chronic skin condition, and it was there that she met who was to become her mentor, Annie Warburton Goodrich, head of the New York Hospital Training School for nurses. Ms. Goodrich would later go on to become the first Dean of Yale School of Nursing.

Through this relationship, Julia enrolled in the New York Hospital training school and graduated in 1908. She became supervisor of nurses at Harlem Hospital from 1908 to 1911, thus honing her leadership skills.

Her career would be further refined through numerous posts until the latter part of World War I when the United States entered the war.

A succession of graduated experiences included being the head of social service at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, and later becoming the Superintendent of the Training School for Nurses at Barnes Hospital and then St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

She even managed to fit in a Graduate degree in Sociology while living in St. Louis.

The many work and life experiences that Julia had, prepared her for the trying times to come.


Chief of Nurses

With the American entrance into World War I on April 2, 1917, Julia Catherine Stimson volunteered to join the US Army Nurses Corps and became the Chief Nurse of Base Hospital #21 at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. This unit would soon be transferred to Rouen, France to care of the wounded on the front lines.

She effectively organized and selected the nurses who would accompany her to the European theater. Her writings attest to the joy she felt at the privilege of being able to serve in a larger cause:

“Don't you worry about me one least little bit. I am having the time of my life and wouldn't have missed it for anything in the world.”

–       Written May 25, 1917 onboard ship.


Her humanity and compassionate spirit come through in much of her writing, although it was often mistaken that she was a cold-hearted administrator:

“In the blinding light of war, her dominant personality stood out in the same bold outlines as did her Amazonian physique. Her regular, boyish features habitually wore a thoughtful expression, which brought to the observer an impression of dignity and power. Her well-trained mental processes, clean-cut often to the point of brusque speech, were as direct in their focus as were her keen blue eyes.”


While some may have found this complimentary, she took offense at how she was portrayed by some of her peers and complained that she was unfairly characterized. It is written that she was a shy and sensitive woman who clearly knew what her work in life was to be.

She demonstrates her sensitivity to the horrors of war in a letter dated, July 16, 1917 from Rouen, France:

“On the fourth of July we thought how like a home Fourth it was, but here the popping and the shots sound every day. And it is not fireworks that are being shot off. At neighboring camps there are experts in bayoneting, experts in gassing, experts in Hate Talk. There are actually special men who sometimes talk to as many as three thousand men to make them feel that their chief business is to kill. It is incomprehensible. Whenever will this toppling world right itself?”


As the war continued, Julia was right in the middle of treating the most critically wounded. Her courage along with the nurses in her charge was evident numerous times in her letters. She writes of an incident that occurred on September 28, 1917:

“A nurse was holding a droplight over the bed, another nurse was holding the arm, a doctor was adjusting the tourniquet so that the vein would show up well, then the two men who were working were bending over the arm, I was handing them instruments, for I was scrubbed up, since everything must be sterile. The patient was just gasping, rapidly growing worse, but the point went in successfully and the blood began to flow into his vein, when all the lights went out and the patient stopped breathing!”


Unfortunately, the patient she wrote of passed in the middle of being treated. However, her fortitude was put to good use many times as demonstrated when her younger brother Philip, himself a doctor who was assigned to a company of the US Army in France, was wounded by random shrapnel fire. 

After being treated, Julia worked diligently to have her brother transferred to her hospital unit to be in her care and had a personal escort from her hospital unit, a Captain Veeder, also a doctor, travel with her 130 miles via ambulance to retrieve Philip. They drove all the way back to her assigned hospital unit in Rouen where she was able to oversee his care and convalescence. It is remarkable what she did to care for others!


First Colonel of the Army Nurse Corps

As the war continued on, Julia was reassigned to the American Red Cross in Paris where she became the Chief Nurse in France with 10,000 nurses reporting to her. Her administrative abilities came to full fruition with this assignment and the next in November 1918, as she became the director of nursing for the American Expeditionary Forces.

The relationship between the American Red Cross and the US Army was and is a close one as the Red Cross has a unique charter of working in an integral way with the US military. 

When the war ended, Julia returned to the US and was appointed the acting Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and the Dean of the Army School of Nursing. Her appointment became permanent at the end of 1919. 

With the passage of the amended Defense Act on June 4, 1920, she became a major in the US Army, the first and only woman of that rank at the time. 

She went on to serve as the Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps until 1937 when she retired having served her country for twenty years caring for those in need. 

When World War II broke out, she was recalled to Active Duty to recruit women for the Army Nurse Corps. She was promoted to the rank of Colonel shortly before she passed away in September of 1948 at the age of 67. 

It is awe inspiring to read about the courageous nature and beautiful spirit that Julia Stimson graciously demonstrated throughout her life as well as the relationships she developed that lasted her entire career.

May we each be motivated to live a life that inspires and moves others to good deeds.


What do you think of Julia Catherine Stimson? Let us know below.


Julia Catherine Stimson, “Finding themselves: The letters of an American Army Chief Nurse in a British Hospital in France”, The Macmillan Company, New York, September 1918.

Lavinia L. Dock,Sarah Elizabeth Pickett,Clara D. Noyes,Fannie F. Clement,Elizabeth G. Cox, Anna R. VanMeter, “History of American Red Cross Nursing”, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1922.

 “Twelve Technological advancements of World War I”,

“Alumni of Vasser College – Julia Stimson”,

“Lewis Atterbury Stimson – Partial Biography”,

“The Brearley School”,

“Julia Catherine Stimson and the Mobilization of Womanpower” – Marion Hunt,

“The history of Red Cross Nursing”,

The Roman Republic lasted from 509 BC to 27 BC. It started after the period of the Roman Kings and ended with the start of the Roman Empire. Here, Cameron Sweeney explains how government operated in the Roman Republic. It considers the Senate, the Assembly, the Quaestors, Aediles, and Praetors, the Consuls, and the Censors.

a 19th-century depiction of the Roman Senate by Cesare Maccari. The painting is called  Cicero attacks Catiline .

a 19th-century depiction of the Roman Senate by Cesare Maccari. The painting is called Cicero attacks Catiline.

Rome. Surely the best-known empire in the history of mankind. Rome has left behind it a legacy of art, philosophy, literature, and architecture (and a horse Consul, but we will ignore that). People know of the writings of Seneca, or of the story of Aeneid, or even about the aqueducts and Coliseum. Whether it be when Caligula declared war on Neptune or the stories of Julius Caesar, people typically know quite a bit about Rome. But what many people don't know about is their government. The Romans have left a mold in which western civilizations have used in the formation of their government.


Social Divisions During the Republic

Up until Julius Caesar took hold of Rome in 49 BC, Rome was not ruled by an all-powerful individual, but by two elected Consuls. At that time, Rome was considered a Republic, and Rome was the closest it would ever be to a democracy.

The citizens of the Republic were broken up into three main social classes; the Patricians, Plebeians, and Slaves.

The patricians were usually the wealthiest and elite families of Rome. I emphasize families because Rome was a society where even the wealthiest plebeians weren't considered patricians, due to their “gens” or name. Patricians lived in grand villas and had slaves do their work for them. Due to their elite social class, they were allowed to vote and participate in government.

The plebeians were the lower class of Rome. Typically without wealth or slaves, the plebeian class usually had to work for a living (an utterly repulsiveidea, I know). It was not uncommon, however, for a wealthy plebeian to buy their way into the patrician class, if a certain patrician family was in dire need of funds. Regardless of this, Plebeians were still citizens of Rome and thus were also allowed to vote and participate in government.

The slave class of Rome, on the other hand, had no money, no land, and no freedoms. Although slaves, they had some rights and often would occupy important positions such as accountants or physicians. Nonetheless, they were not considered citizens of Rome and were not allowed the right to vote or participate in government.


The Senate

Throughout the history of Rome, the Senate played an important part in Roman politics and government. The Senate consisted of men aged 30 or older, and senators held their office for their entire life!  Senators would advise the Consuls, and even the Emperor later in Roman history, and would often discuss and vote on legislation.

What makes the Senate interesting is that it had no legislative power. That's right, the Senate had no power to create or destroy laws. This didn't make it powerless, as the Senate still held a significant influence over government and acted as a prime advisory body to the Consuls in the time of the Republic.

During the time of the Emperor the Senate naturally lost significant power. Even so, the Senate discussed domestic and foreign policy and supervised relations with foreign powers and governments. The Senate would direct the religious life of Rome and, most importantly, controlled state finances. The ability to control finance was an incredible tool for the Senate's disposal, as that gave them leverage when the Germanic tribes decided they wanted to give taking over Rome just one more try, and the Emperor needed additional funds to wage war.


The Assembly

Throughout Rome, there were several different assemblies that held legislative power. The Senate may have held influence over legislation and policy, but the assemblies had legislative power. The most prominent assembly was the “Concilium Plebis,” or the Council of the Plebeians. This assembly allowed Plebeians to gain a say in Roman law. These assemblies acted as the voice of Rome and portrayed the needs and desires of the general public.

Even more so than the elite Senate, these assemblies represented the voice of the plebeians, and even more, the voice of the ordinary citizens of Rome. By no means was this system fully democratic, but the establishment of these assemblies was one of the first steps to modern democracy, that is used in many nations today. The assemblies’ critical role in Roman government is what gave it a name in their military standard, SPQR - "Senatus Populusque Romanus."


The Quaestors, Aediles, and Praetors

At the very beginning of the Roman Republic, people quickly realized that they would need magistrates to oversee various administrative tasks and positions. Over time, these positions became known to be sort of a “path to consulship.” Each position had a different task and purpose to fulfil.

The first step of the “path to consulship” was the Quaestor. Men 30 years (28 if you were a patrician) or older were eligible to run. Quaestors served in various financial positions throughout the Empire. Quaestors did not possess the power of imperium and were not guarded by Lictors Guild.

The next step was the Aediles. At 36 years old, former Quaestors were allowed to run for Aedile. At any time there were four Aediles, two patricians and two plebeians, each of which were elected by the Council of the Plebeians. They were entrusted with administrative positions, such as caring for public buildings and temples or organizing games. This ability to organize games was critical to boosting any aspiring politicians popularity with the people, and was certainly utilized to its fullest.

The final step to Consulship was the Praetor. After occupying the office of the Aediles or Quaestor, a man of 39 years could run for office. In the absence of either Consul, a Praetor would hold command over the garrison. The main purpose of the Praetor, however, was to act as a judge.


The Consuls

The two consuls of the Roman Republic really represented two main things; an executive branch, and checks and balances. With the establishment of Consulship after the fall of the Roman Kings, this showed the beginning of an executive branch, in the sense that there is one, or two in the case of the Romans, powerful head(s) of a government. What made this system interesting is that there were two Consuls at any given time, and bothcould veto each other.

Giving this executive, the Consul, the power of veto is another addition into Roman checks and balances put in place to keep one man from ruling all of Rome, which is why there was never a Roman Emperor… Oh, wait a second… Anyway… Up until Caesar, Romans kept the Consuls in check through their own system of checks and balances. Since both Consuls could veto each other, and there was an assembly to vote and discuss laws, the Consul was kept from overpowering Roman government. 

The Consul had the power of Imperium,or basically the power to lead the army, presided over the Senate, and represented the state in foreign affairs. That being said, even with checks and balances, each Consul wielded significant power. Once Rome was ruled by Emperors, the office of the Consul dramatically lost its powers to the Emperor, but was still maintained as a sort of symbolic reminder of Rome’s Republican past and where they came from.     


The Censors & Magister Populi

Becoming a Censor in Rome was considered the pinnacleof public office for several reasons. During the time of the Republic, the Censor held an 18 month term, as opposed to the usual 12 month terms. This position was elected every five years and although without the power of imperium, it was still considered a great honor.

Censors not only counted the population, or census, in Rome but had the ability to add and remove Senators from office, as well as construct public buildings. An example of this being Appius Claudius, who sanctioned the first aqueduct. 

The last “public office,” that needs to be brought up is that of the dictator, or Magister Populi.In times of immense danger or crisis, the people would elect one of the sitting Consuls to adopt the title of Magister Populi, or Master of the People. This position served for six months and essentially ruled as an Emperor, with total power. This position continued until Julius Caesar was named dictator for life by the Senate, and the position would never be used again thereafter. Unfortunately in 44 BC, Caesar was stabbed in the back… literally… 23 times… His death ultimately ended the Republic, and began the reign of the Emperors.



The Roman Republic, and SPQR in general had been a civilization that stood the test of time, and ultimately existed for roughly 1800 years.The way they wrote, sculpted, and governed shaped, and continues to shape, the world we live in today. Their ability to govern, reform, and adapt to their growing environment is what ultimately allowed them to exist for almost two millennia, and prove themselves such a successful civilization.


What do you think about Roman Government? Let us know below.


“The Romans - Roman Government.” History, 11 May 2017,

“The Roman Republic.”, Independence Hall Association,

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Roman Republic.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 3 Apr. 2018,