David Brearley


I was a lawyer who determined some of our earliest legal policies.

I was born in 1745 in Maidenhead – today we call it Lawrence Township – at Spring Grove Farm, and became a lawyer in nearby Allentown. During the war for independence, my brother Joseph and I served in both the militia and the Continental Army.

In 1780 I was chosen Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. In the case of Holmes v. Walton, I overturned the conviction of John Holmes for trading with the enemy, declaring the law passed by the Assembly to be unconstitutional. This set a precedent that would later impact an important decision in the national Supreme Court case called Marbury v. Madison, which ruled that the courts had the power to determine the constitutionality of actions taken by the other two government branches.

I attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and supported the New Jersey Plan, which proposed each state should get one vote, rather than getting votes based on population which is what was chosen. I was also chairman of the Committee on Postponed Matters, which dealt with many issues including how to elect a President. I signed the Constitution representing New Jersey and voted for George Washington to be President. And I was a federal district judge.

It was a lot for someone who died pretty young, at age 45, at Trenton in 1790.

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