It’s as American as apple pie: the trial by jury.
We love juries in the United States, even if we disagree with what they decide now and again. While most of the rest of the world has gotten rid of jury trials for civil cases, they’re still used extensively in the American court system. Today, a whopping 80 percent of jury trials worldwide take place in the United States.
The History of Jury Trials
The origins of the American jury go all the way back to colonial times. While the first English colonists were rebellious in many ways, they brought with them a healthy respect for the rule of law.
However, the English king and his court system were an ocean away, and in the absence of trained judges - and the presence of Crown-appointed administrators who did not treat the colonists fairly - the jury of peers became the best way to ensure liberty and justice for all.
That’s why it’s unsurprising that the framers of the Constitution found the trial by jury one of the few places where they could agree.
The Debate of Length Served as President
So many things that we think of as fundamentally American were points of debate among the Founding Fathers. For instance, there was much debate over how long the president could serve, or even whether he would be a president at all.
Some of our nation’s founders wanted to name George Washington their king. The same goes for the legislative branch of our government. The system they settled on - a House in which representation was based on state population, a Senate in which every state had the same number of seats - was a compromise.
The Common Belief: Jury Trials Work Best
On the matter of trials by jury, though, the Founding Fathers were all of one mind. According to John Adams, “Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty.” His longtime rival Thomas Jefferson said much the same thing: “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
The early Federalists, led by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, saw trial by jury as “essential to secure the liberty of the people.” Their rivals, the Anti-Federalists, had a completely different view of the role of government, yet they agreed on the matter of juries.
According to leading Anti-Federalist Patrick Henry, “Trial by jury is the best appendage of freedom.”
Whatever else we might say about our system of government today, we agree: The Founding Fathers were right about trial by jury.