1821: The Attorney General and the Rule of Law

in A Community Built on Words

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780226677231
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226677224 | DOI:
1821: The Attorney General and the Rule of Law

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William Wirt was one of the greatest public lawyers of the early Republic. As a young Republican lawyer he was a member of the defense team representing the defendant in a notorious Sedition Act prosecution, United States v. Callender, and later sat at the opposite table as one of the prosecutors in United States v. Burr. In later years he served briefly as U.S. attorney in Virginia and then for almost twelve years (1817–1829) as attorney general of the United States, the longest period anyone has held that office. Wirt did as much to shape the position of attorney general as anyone before or since, and long enjoyed a reputation, as an early-twentieth-century court put it, as a “learned...great and able lawyer.” One of Wirt's central accomplishments was his regularization of the attorney general's role as the executive branch's chief interpreter of the law.

Keywords: rule of law; attorney general; William Wirt; Sedition Act; executive branch; interpreter of law

Chapter.  1891 words. 

Subjects: Constitutional and Administrative Law

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