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[Source] Dear Sir,
I had the pleasure of receiving your letter of the 30th of Dec’r while Genl Pinckney was at this place and of delivering to him the packet it inclosed. He left us with the ladies of his family on the 4th in health and spirits.

I thank you for the charge of Judge Addison; ♦ ’tis certainly well written and I wish that as well as some other publications on the same subject could be more generally read. ♦ I believe that no argument can moderate the leaders of the opposition—but it may be possible to make some impression on the mass of the people. For this purpose the charge of Judge Addison seems well calculated. I shall forward it to Mr Washington. [Rest of letter omitted]

charge = 2. An accusation, typically one formally made against a prisoner brought to trial

My first guess was definition 2 above, but this connotes negativity, which contradicts the last para above, because the 2nd sentence wherein (that I surrounded with ♦) approves of Judge Addison's charge. Moreover, if definition 2 above were true, John Marshall probably wouldn't forward it to Mr Washington?

  • 2
    What about ODO's 3.3, "An official instruction, especially one given by a judge to a jury regarding points of law"? – Andrew Leach Dec 23 '14 at 14:50
  • The only context we have is that the author of the charge is Judge Addison. The phrase a/the judge's charge means the instructions that a/the judge gives to a jury or to some other special body or person who is given charge of some project, like a trial or inquest. Those are the rules under which the project is to be completed; since it's a legal project, it's likely to be quite complex. Hence the advisability of clarity on the part of the writer. – John Lawler Dec 23 '14 at 15:06
  • Google Books claims an estimated 370,000 written instances where a judge charged the jury. I doubt if any of them involve the judge accusing the jury of anything - they'll all be about the judge placing a (metaphorical) burden (of responsibility) on the jury. That's OED's definition 13a To impose a duty, task, or responsibility upon; to burden, entrust, commission with – FumbleFingers Dec 23 '14 at 15:35
  • @Law Area 51 Proposal: Let's say for the sake of argument that the charge was critical of someone or something. What if the author of the letter concurred in that criticism? Could he not then forward the charge to General Washington as something with which he found himself in agreement? – TRomano Dec 23 '14 at 18:53
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The word "charge" here refers to a piece of persuasive writing by Judge Alexander Adison (of the court of common please for Pennsylvania's fifth circuit) which he presented as grand jury instructions in September 1798. In this charge he defended the constitutionality of the alien and sedition act.

In the Life of John Marshall, volume two, page 46:

These charges of Judge Addison were, in reality, political pamphlets. They had not the least reference to any business before the court, and were no more appropriate than sermons. They were, however, written with uncommon ability.

You can read the whole passage on Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=D9p2AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA46

I believe this is the charge refered to:

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/rbpe:@field(DOCID+@lit(rbpe04601100))

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