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Martin v. Hunter's Lessee

Significance

Because the Commonwealth of Virginia had refused to recognize an earlier decision of the Supreme Court awarding the land to Martin, the case was a testing ground for whether state or federal power would prevail. Martin v. Hunter's Lessee was one of the major cases establishing the supremacy of federal over state courts.

In the early days of the United States, many aspects of the country's new government were constantly being tested. Because the United States had originated as 13 separate colonies, one of the major conflicts in the new country was the tension between state and federal power. Many key court cases in the nation's early decades established the supremacy of the federal government over the states.

The state-federal issue was so central that it helped create the names of the nation's first two political parties. The Federalists, led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong central government. Part of their agenda was to insure that a strong elite--almost an aristocracy--would have charge of national affairs, for they tended to mistrust "the common people."

The Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, believed in decentralized power and tended to have faith in the ordinary citizen. They saw federal power as less democratic and preferred to support the sovereignty of individual states.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832Martin v. Hunter's Lessee - Significance, The President Vs. The Supreme Court, Rightful Owner Or Alien Enemy?, "the Supreme Law Of The Land"