Quotes of the Day: The Founding Fathers on the Right to Jury Trials for Civil Suits

“Quote of the Day” will be a regular feature of the 7th Amendment Advocate, and we’ll begin with quotes by the Founding Fathers voicing their dedication to a jury trial for civil suits. The Founders’ quotes can be found in an outstanding two-volume set, “In Defense of Trial by Jury,” assembled by South Carolina attorney J. Kendall Few and published by the American Jury Trial Foundation.

“The civil jury trial is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.” — Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776

“In civil suits the parties have a right to trial by jury and this method of procedure shall be held sacred.” — Massachusetts Constitution, 1780

“Trial by jury in civil causes,… trial by jury in criminal causes, [and] the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus… all stand on the same footing; they are the common rights of Americans.” — Richard Henry Lee

“I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” — Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine

“By a declaration of rights I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by juries in all cases…” — Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald

“The civil jury is a valuable safeguard to liberty.” — Alexander Hamilton

“In suits at common law, trial by jury in civil cases is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.” — James Madison

“In suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is one of the greatest securities to the rights of the people.” — Virginia Bill of Rights, 1788

And finishing with this commentary by a contemporary jurist in the “conservative” camp: “The founders of our nation considered the right of trial by jury in civil cases an important bulwark against tyranny and corruption, a ‘safeguard too prescious to be left to the whim of the sovereign.'” — Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 1979