Appellant: John Barron
Appellee: The Mayor and city council of Baltimore, Maryland
Appellant's Claim: That Baltimore's city improvements severely damaged his harbor business constituting a taking of property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Chief Lawyer for Appellant: Charles Mayer
Chief Lawyer for Appellee: Roger Brooke Taney
Justices for the Court: Gabriel Duvall, William Johnson, Chief Justice John Marshall, John McLean, Joseph Story, Smith Thompson
Justices Dissenting: None (Henry Baldwin did not participate)
Date of Decision: February 16, 1833
Decision: Ruled in favor of Baltimore by finding that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in the case because the Fifth Amendment only applies to federal government actions and not state disputes.
Significance: The ruling legally established the principle that the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, apply to and restrain the federal government's powers but do not apply to state governments. This legal doctrine was not reversed until the twentieth century when the Supreme Court gradually included the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees.
"Beware! Beware!—you are forging chains for yourselves and your children—your liberties are at stake." Words spoken by Elbridge Gerry, Massachuset's delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Gerry was one of a handful of delegates refusing to sign the newly crafted Constitution. As did many citizens of the newly forming nation, he feared a domineering central government. Memories of British rule were fresh. The British army had forced owners of private homes to house soldiers, they assessed unfair taxes, and customs officials invaded homes to search for smuggled goods. The Constitution as written did not contain a bill of rights, a summary of the basic rights and liberties of the people. The lack of a bill of rights, which many believed would guard against a strong-arm central government, was the most serious obstacle to ratification by the states. Only after the federalists, who favored a strong central, or federal, government and believed a bill of rights was unnecessary, compromised and agreed to draft a list of basic rights to be added later to the Constitution was the tide turned toward ratification. Thus, one of the first acts of the new Congress in 1789 was to pass the first ten amendments (changes or additions) to the Constitution that came to be known as the Bill of Rights. Moreover, it was common knowledge of the day that the Bill of Rights was added because people feared the federal...