On March 15, 1715. Lewis Morris (1671-1746) was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature in the colony of New York, presiding over the notable case of Cosby v. Van Dam in 1733. King George II had appointed William Cosby as Governor of New York with the President of the Province’s Council, Rip Van Dam, serving as interim Governor prior to Cosby’s arrival. Upon landing, Cosby and Van Dam quarreled over the division of salary and fees, and brought the matter before the Court. Justices De Lancey and Philipse found in favor of Cosby, but Morris dissented, finding that the Court lacked jurisdiction. Cosby, enraged, demanded Morris’ written opinion.Morris provided it, but also arranged to have it printed and distributed along with a letter stating:
If judges are to be intimidated so as not to dare to give any opinion, but what is pleasing to the Governor, and agreeable to his private views, the people of this province who are very much concerned both with respect to their lives and fortunes in the freedom and independency of those who are to judge them, may possibly not think themselves so secure in either of them as the laws of his Majesty intended they should be.
In response the Governor removed Morris from office, a decision Morris appealed to the Lords of the Board of Trade in London, which found Governor Cosby’s actions illegal.
Morris was a strong advocate for freedom of opinion and the press, and supported John Peter Zenger’s counsel in his landmark case against the crown for seditious libel. Morris went on to serve as Governor of New Jersey and was grandfather to Declaration of Independence signatory Lewis Morris III and New York statesman Gouverneur Morris.
See generally, Lewis Morris. Retrieved from https://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/luminaries-supreme-court/morris-lewis.html.
John Watson (American, 1685-1768). Governor Lewis Morris, ca. 1726. Oil on linen, 30 1/16 x 25 in. (76.3 x 63.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by John Hill Morgan, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Museum Collection Fund, 43.196