A Tale of a Whiskey Rebellion Judge: William Paterson, Grand Jury Charges, and the Trials of the Whiskey Rebels


ABSTRACT: The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 resulted in trials in the federal Circuit Court in Philadelphia in April–June 1795. US Supreme Court Justice William Paterson, who presided in several of those trials, has been represented as a partisan Federalist judge whose directed charge to the jury resulted in a treason verdict in two of those cases (U.S. v. Mitchell and U.S. v. Vigol). Sparse law reports, among other limited materials, provide little direct evidence of the trials or of the criticism of Justice Paterson’s conduct of the trials. This paper provides evidence from grand jury charges that deal with the Whiskey Rebellion to add to our understanding of the trials and to test whether Justice Paterson has been fairly criticized or not. It argues, in addition, that his conduct in the trials was affected by a transition in American law from popular sovereignty to constitutional review by the courts.