One Temporary Friend, One Permanent Enemy

The U.S. Marshal Service has been providing protection for federal judges since 1789. In 2010, Marshals investigated about 1,400 threats and inappropriate communications to the federal judiciary, and provided protection for more than 2,000 federal judges. Although there has been a noted increase in recent years, threatening federal judges is hardly a new phenomenon.

When he was appointed in 1805, Matthias B. Tallmadge was the fifth judge of the (then) District of New York. During his tenure on the bench, Tallmadge heard a large number of cases among which was the notable case U.S. v. Smith and Ogden, which concerned the Miranda Affair in Venezuela and violation of the Neutrality Act of 1794, which provided that no U.S. citizen should agitate against a country with whom the U.S. was at peace.  

Tallmadge's papers indicate that in 1809, he received a number of threats, varied in their aggressiveness. One reminds Tallmadge that judges are not infallible and will be judged themselves by a higher power.

Citation: Matthias B. Tallmadge Papers, MS 612, Box 1, Folder 4

The second threat was is far more disturbing. Within it, Tallmadge is told “Sir,

This is just to inform you that if you keep condemning property as you have done under the [embargo?] law as you have done we will have your life if it is 20 years after, burn your house also murder your children you have robbed us & you or yours shall pay us who can bear the […] of property.”

Citation: Matthias B. Tallmadge Papers, MS 612, Box 1, Folder 4

In the threat against his life, children, and house the writer makes a direct reference to the fact that Tallmadge foreclosed on property, indicating that it was in response to a judgment (or judgments) Tallmadge handed down. This threat, as jarring in 2011 as it was in 1809, proves the old judge’s adage: with every ruling, you make one temporary friend and one permanent enemy.

-Christine George

Creative: Tronvig Group