After the American Revolution and the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, tensions lingered among the people living in the colonies – now the United States of America. Hostility remained between the Patriots, who had been against the Crown, and the Loyalists (or Tories), who had been in favor of the colonial British government. Loyalists were persecuted and treated badly in many areas of the country – even though it was strictly forbidden in the terms of the Treaty of Paris to do so. The New York State legislature established a law known as the Trespass Act, allowing residents who had fled their homes and businesses during British military occupation to sue Loyalists for unauthorized use of and damage to their property.
Alexander Hamilton, who would go on to become the first Secretary of the Treasury and a key figure in George Washington’s administration, was also a lawyer in New York for a short period following the American Revolution. Hamilton was known for defending Loyalists in his court cases – not because he himself was a Loyalist or because he agreed with their views, but because he believed that everyone deserved a fair trial regardless of their political views.
One of Hamilton’s most famous cases in the time he practiced law was that of Rutgers v. Waddington. Tried in the New York City Mayor’s Court in 1784, the case saw a Patriot widow suing a Tory merchant for damages to her property during the Revolution, under the conditions of the Trespass Act. The case has become notable in United States history for helping to establish the precedent of judicial review. Judicial review is the means by which legislative and executive actions are subject to review and even removal or invalidation when they are found to be in violation of or incompatible with the Constitution.
What allowed Patriots to sue Tories over property disputes in New York State following the Revolutionary War? Describe how Alexander Hamilton was involved in these lawsuits.
Describe key points from the case presented in the video. Do you think any of the key points reflect other ideas or attitudes held by American citizens following the Revolutionary War? Explain your answer.
Why is this case historically relevant?
How do you feel about the case? Which side are you on?
Do you think this video represents the case of Rutgers v. Waddington in an accurate, thoughtful manner? Explain your answer.