Robert Yates (January 27, 1738 – September 9, 1801) was a politician and judge well known for his Anti-Federalist stances. He is also well known as the presumed author of political essays published in 1787 and 1788 under the pseudonyms "Brutus" and "Sydney". The essays opposed the introduction of the Constitution of the United States.
Robert Yates was born January 27, 1738, in Schenectady, New York, the oldest of 12 children of merchant Joseph Yates and Maria Dunbar.
He learned the craft of the surveyor and then decided to pursue a career in law. After clerking for William Livingston in New York City, in 1760 he was licensed to practice on his own. In 1765, he married Jannette Van Ness and settled in Albany, New York. The couple had six children.
Surveying supplemented Yates' attorney's income as he made a number of important land maps during the 1760s. He drew the first civilian map of Albany in 1770. He also relied on patronage from the Albany Corporation through his uncle, alderman Abraham Yates, Jr. In 1771, he was elected to the Common Council as an alderman for the second ward. In those years he served on a number of committees, provided legal advice, and stepped forward to compile and issue the first published version of the “Laws and Ordinances of the City of Albany” in 1773.
From the beginning of the struggle for American independence, although he did not sign the Albany Sons of Liberty constitution of 1766, he was prominent in the local resistance to the Stamp Act. By 1774, he had joined the Albany Committee of Correspondence and stood among its first members when the committee’s activities became public in 1775. At that time, he was still a member of the Albany common council – although its activities were being replaced by the extra-legal Committee of Correspondence, Safety and Protection. He represented the second ward on the committee and was in close contact with it from his subsequent offices until it ceased operations in 1778. At the same time, he also served as secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners – a post that required him to travel to the frontier.
Beginning in the spring of 1775, Yates was elected to represent Albany in each of the four New York Provincial Congresses. The first three met in New York, while the last one, convened after the Declaration of Independence, met under duress in locations throughout the Hudson Valley. In 1776–77, he served on the committee that drafted the first New York State Constitution and also was a member of the "Secret Committee for Obstructing Navigation of the Hudson."
In October 1777, Yates was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court.
After the war ended, although principally an associate justice of the state Supreme Court, Yates maintained a modest legal practice and continued surveying as well. During the 1780s, his political star continued to rise in the "party" of Governor George Clinton as he spoke in opposition to the expansion of the scope of a national government. In 1787, he was appointed with John Lansing, Jr. and Alexander Hamilton to represent New York at the Philadelphia convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. Arriving in Philadelphia, Yates and Lansing felt the mood of the convention to produce an entirely new form of government was beyond their authority. After sending a letter to Governor Clinton urging opposition to the new Constitution, they returned home. His personal notes from the Philadelphia convention were published in 1821.
In 1788, Yates was elected as an antifederalist delegate to the New York State ratifying convention at Poughkeepsie, and worked against adoption of the Constitution. Among the leading antifederalists who attended the Poughkeepsie Convention, he was the most vocal delegate in support of protecting individual liberties. After the Poughkeepsie Convention ratified the Constitution with an accompanying request for amendments to protect individual liberties, Yates pledged his support as a matter of patriotic duty.
In 1789, he ran for governor against George Clinton with the support of the New York Anti-Federalists – who viewed him as a reasonable, potentially kindred spirit who was not from a wealthy family. He was defeated by Governor Clinton. Approached by the Federalists again in 1792, Yates refused to run citing the financial drain caused by past politicking. In the gubernatorial campaign of 1795, considerable sentiment existed for Yates's candidacy as he was firmly established in the center of the former antifederal party. John Jay defeated him in a close election, effectively ending Yates's political career. By then, he already had devoted himself to the law.
In September 1790, Yates was chosen Chief Justice of the New York State Supreme Court. He served until the mandatory retirement age of sixty in 1798. Unlike many "new men of the Revolution," he did not attain great wealth and retired to his middling Albany home.
He died in Albany, New York on September 9, 1801, at age 63.
- ^Klein, Milton. "Nature’s Gift; The Colonial Origins of the Bill of Rights in New York" in The Bill of Rights and the states: the colonial and revolutionary origins of American liberties, p. 222 (1992). His uncle Abraham Yates, Jr. was the only other leading antifederalist who spoke out publicly for individual liberties.
- ^"Biography of Robert Yates". Laughtergenealogy.com. Retrieved 2010-03-22.
In his Essay XI, Brutus wished to focus on the part of the Judiciary within the proposed Constitution.
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Of the three branches of government, the one that had received the least of attention was the Judiciary arm. There was plenty to say about the executive branch, and the legislative branch, but the judiciary was hardly touched. That being, Brutus of the Anti-Federalist party wished to address in his Essay XI.
The same sentiments can be proclaimed today as they were at the time of this essay. The power that was to be granted by the proposed Constitution to the Judiciary branch was feared by many. Echoed today, it is easy to see why concern was raised as to the lengths of their power.
One concern was that there was none above them. These are appointed positions by the president, but answered really to no one. There was nobody to put them in check. There was none that would be their balance. At least that was the concern, and rightly so. These men, and women of today, really have free reign. The only check and balance to their nature, is in the election of the president.
Another plight was that eventually politics would get in the way and they would be able to legislate from the bench. Today, that issue is always of great debate.
Thirdly, Brutus wanted their powers to be strictly laid before them. It was in his argument that they were to clearly focus on the interpretation of the Constitution, and that it would favor neither party or the government over the people. It was in his opinion that they would lean in favor of the government, and that they would be able to mold the shape of government for years to come.
These same concerns are as relevant today as they were when he wrote this essay. With certainty, the judiciary branch has no real oversight. Who is to question the ruling of the Supreme Court? That was the fear then, and is certainly an issue today.
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