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A New York Times Notable Book of 1996 It was in tolling the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835 that the Liberty Bell cracked, never to ring again. An apt symbol of the man who shaped both court and country. Working from primary sources, Jean Edward Smith has drawn an elegant portrait of a remarkable man. Lawyer, jurist, scholars; soldier, comrade, friend; and, most A New York Times Notable Book of 1996 It was in tolling the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835 that the Liberty Bell cracked, never to ring again. An apt symbol of the man who shaped both court and country. Working from primary sources, Jean Edward Smith has drawn an elegant portrait of a remarkable man. Lawyer, jurist, scholars; soldier, comrade, friend; and, most especially, lover of fine Madeira, good food, and animated table talk: the Marshall who emerges from these pages is noteworthy for his very human qualities as for his piercing intellect, and, perhaps most extraordinary, for his talents as a leader of men and a molder of consensus. A man of many parts, a true son of the Enlightenment, John Marshall did much for his country, and John Marshall: Definer of a Nation demonstrates this on every page.


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A New York Times Notable Book of 1996 It was in tolling the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835 that the Liberty Bell cracked, never to ring again. An apt symbol of the man who shaped both court and country. Working from primary sources, Jean Edward Smith has drawn an elegant portrait of a remarkable man. Lawyer, jurist, scholars; soldier, comrade, friend; and, most A New York Times Notable Book of 1996 It was in tolling the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835 that the Liberty Bell cracked, never to ring again. An apt symbol of the man who shaped both court and country. Working from primary sources, Jean Edward Smith has drawn an elegant portrait of a remarkable man. Lawyer, jurist, scholars; soldier, comrade, friend; and, most especially, lover of fine Madeira, good food, and animated table talk: the Marshall who emerges from these pages is noteworthy for his very human qualities as for his piercing intellect, and, perhaps most extraordinary, for his talents as a leader of men and a molder of consensus. A man of many parts, a true son of the Enlightenment, John Marshall did much for his country, and John Marshall: Definer of a Nation demonstrates this on every page.

30 review for John Marshall: Definer of a Nation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manray9

    The Constitution of the United States was not born fully-formed and mature. All three branches of the federal government grew into their respective responsibilities and proper roles. In 1788 Alexander Hamilton wrote that “the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three branches.” This was undeniable true. The people of the United States owe a great debt to John Marshall for transforming the wobbly leg of the Constitutional stool into one that effectively checked executive and legisla The Constitution of the United States was not born fully-formed and mature. All three branches of the federal government grew into their respective responsibilities and proper roles. In 1788 Alexander Hamilton wrote that “the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three branches.” This was undeniable true. The people of the United States owe a great debt to John Marshall for transforming the wobbly leg of the Constitutional stool into one that effectively checked executive and legislative powers and fostered the rule of law. Jean Edward Smith, with another excellent political biography, reveals the extent of that debt. John Marshall was not our first Chief Justice, but he was the most significant. He took over a Supreme Court with no authority and little prestige. The court's decisions under his guidance cemented its role as a separate and equal branch of the U.S. government. The decisions were groundbreaking. In Marbury v. Madison the Marshall Court established the principle of judicial review – creating the basis for the Supreme Court's role as arbiter of the Constitution; McCullough v. Maryland authenticated the implied powers of Congress and confirmed the supremacy of federal actions under the Constitution; in Cohens v. Virginia the court refuted the compact theory of states' rights and cut the ground from under secessionist legal arguments decades before the Civil War; and with Dartmouth College v. Woodward it upheld the sanctity of contracts thereby strengthening free enterprise throughout the Union. These decisions made the court a powerful bulwark in the drive for national unity. When Marshall assumed the bench, the Supreme Court's role in America was ambiguous. When he died, still sitting as Chief Justice in 1835, that role was indelibly impressed into the fabric of American life. The Marshall Court sat in an era of contentious partisanship, but did so fairly, thoughtfully, articulately, and judiciously. Perhaps its greatest legacy was in drawing a stark line between the law and politics. Marshall knew politics – and kept his court out of them. As with all of Jean Edward Smith's biographies, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation immerses the reader in the life and times of his subject, and does so in a manner scholarly and comprehensive (524 pages of text, 151 pages of Smith's typically illustrative footnotes, and 30 pages of bibliography), yet also entertaining. While most of the book is devoted to Marshall's career as Chief Justice, Smith does not neglect his combat experiences as a soldier during the Revolution, his years as the most prominent and successful lawyer in Virginia, a term as a Federalist member of the U.S. Congress, his exemplary performance as a peace commissioner in France during the notorious XYZ Affair, as well as service as Secretary of State under John Adams, and authorship of a five volume biography of George Washington. Any reader with interest in the early days of the American republic and the shaping of our government and institutions need look no further than John Marshall: Definer of a Nation. Jean Edward Smith earned Five Stars from me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Good biography. This is a reread from a few years ago. In many ways John Marshall was as important as the framers and first executives and legislators of the new emerging American republic. This biography covers both his personal life and his legal work. The organization is logical and the book keeps moving. I never felt that it bogged down anywhere. The writing is readable. At times it could get a bit repetitive when it described Marshall in the same terms several times throughout the text. But Good biography. This is a reread from a few years ago. In many ways John Marshall was as important as the framers and first executives and legislators of the new emerging American republic. This biography covers both his personal life and his legal work. The organization is logical and the book keeps moving. I never felt that it bogged down anywhere. The writing is readable. At times it could get a bit repetitive when it described Marshall in the same terms several times throughout the text. But, otherwise, solid writing. The content is a good balance between the personal and professional life of the subject. Marshall’s personal life is discussed enough to give a sense of what he was like as a human being, and is professional life, while in-depth, isn’t overdone. This book continues to have the high opinion I had when I first read this biography. So, I give this a 4. It’s a good solid biography of an important person in American history. It’s readable and it’s a good balance between the personal and professional lives of John Marshall. I recommend.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a definitive biography of the country's first important chief justice of the Supreme Court (with apologies to John Jay--the first). Marshall transformed the Court from an equivocal position among the three branches of government to a coequal branch, as per the Founding Fathers' preference. The book makes several contributions: (a) it provides a good depiction of Marshall the person; (b) it gives the reader a sense of his effect on the American governmental system through his influence on This is a definitive biography of the country's first important chief justice of the Supreme Court (with apologies to John Jay--the first). Marshall transformed the Court from an equivocal position among the three branches of government to a coequal branch, as per the Founding Fathers' preference. The book makes several contributions: (a) it provides a good depiction of Marshall the person; (b) it gives the reader a sense of his effect on the American governmental system through his influence on the Supreme Court. A few words about each. John Marshall as a person is an important issue, since, in some ways, it affected his performance as Chief Justice. He was an affable person. Less politicized than others in the Federalist political camp. By the mid-1790s, the country had begun to develop its political party system in a rather primitive way. The Federalists--the party of President George Washington (who despised the concept of political party) and of those who desired an energetic national government. Then, the Democrat-Republicans--the party of Jefferson and Madison, desiring a less powerful national government. Marshall was a Federalist, but not of the fire-breathing variety. He was more an accommodationist. One point: He and Jefferson were related but had a healthy dislike for one another. The volume does a very good job depicting Marshall as a person. And this was not unrelated to his performance as Chief Justice. The book also does a fine job of describing his jurisprudence. It covers his role in such major cases as Marbury v. Madison, Ogden v. Gibbons, the Dartmouth case, McCulloch v. Maryland and so on. His impact on constitutional law is immense and the book details this nicely, There is also tidbits about his self perception. Late in his career, he noted of himself: "Non sum qualis ernam" (if my memory is accurate)--"I am no longer who I was." I find the passage powerful in that it shows his understanding of where he was as opposed to where he had been in his powers, acuity, and so on. All in all, a masterful biography of a major figure in American history.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    If you have any interest in the early years of our nation and how it was formed, this is a must read. This is also a biography of John Marshall, which fits hand in glove with how he was involved in the Revolutionary War, was involved in the formation of the constitution, and how his knowledge of the constitution and the division of responsibilities served him as our Chief Justice. They talk about the tightrope that the Supreme Court walked since the constitution does not spell out exactly how the If you have any interest in the early years of our nation and how it was formed, this is a must read. This is also a biography of John Marshall, which fits hand in glove with how he was involved in the Revolutionary War, was involved in the formation of the constitution, and how his knowledge of the constitution and the division of responsibilities served him as our Chief Justice. They talk about the tightrope that the Supreme Court walked since the constitution does not spell out exactly how the Supreme Court will operate - and John Marshall carved out the courts place in the USA. I know that some people today agree with Thomas Jefferson who worked hard to reduce the influence of the court. Did you know the blood connection between the 2 men? And which of these 2 men would be more lively at a dinner party? I have an interest in the Supreme court and am interested in other books that you can recommend on the current courts. I read The Bretheran! Maybe more scholarly.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Janelle

    After reading this John Marshall may be my new favorite founding father. The man who shaped the Supreme Court was in turn shaped by his upbringing in the foothills of Shenandoah and his service in the Revolution. His devotion to his country and family was remarkable as well as the skill with which he got his fellow justices to work together despite differences in judicial opinion. As the title states, he did a lot to define the nation and he did so with the utmost sense of duty and integrity. Th After reading this John Marshall may be my new favorite founding father. The man who shaped the Supreme Court was in turn shaped by his upbringing in the foothills of Shenandoah and his service in the Revolution. His devotion to his country and family was remarkable as well as the skill with which he got his fellow justices to work together despite differences in judicial opinion. As the title states, he did a lot to define the nation and he did so with the utmost sense of duty and integrity. The descriptions of him in his rumpled and simple clothing while loving a good party contrast with the gravity of duty he felt toward the bench. Aside from highlighting a somewhat forgotten founder, the book also provided great detail on how the country was shaped, what sentiment was really like at the times, and how things initially worked. Great read for history and biography lovers.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Perron

    When President John Adams utter the words "I believe I must nominate you" he committed--as Smith points out--the most important nomination since he had recommended that General Washington be made Commander-In-Chief of the American Army during the Revolutionary War. John Marshall is known as the `Great Chief Justice'. He was not the first but the fourth man to serve as Chief Justice of the United States; nevertheless it was he who would turn the Court into the institution it is today. John Marsha When President John Adams utter the words "I believe I must nominate you" he committed--as Smith points out--the most important nomination since he had recommended that General Washington be made Commander-In-Chief of the American Army during the Revolutionary War. John Marshall is known as the `Great Chief Justice'. He was not the first but the fourth man to serve as Chief Justice of the United States; nevertheless it was he who would turn the Court into the institution it is today. John Marshall's accomplishment makes him probably the greatest public servant never to serve as president. I have read and reviewed Professor Smith's biographies of Presidents Grant and Franklin Roosevelt. One of the things that Professor Smith does extremely well is his ability to cut through the myth of any particular individual and get straight to the substance of who they really were. Here, in his first attempt, Smith succeeds in getting to the man behind the myth. Smith's Marshall is a Revolutionary solider whose nationalism is strengthened at Valley Forge along with men like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. He becomes a successful lawyer who finds himself thrust into public service. Often he is pressured to enter the arena by the man who he admired the most: George Washington. Marshall greatly admired Washington and after the death of the first President of the United States, Marshall became his biographer. "In Marshall's opinion, the power of government derived from the express authority granted by the people. Unlike the British parliament, the American government was not sovereign, and when it acted in the economic sphere, it was bound by the same laws of contract as a private citizen. This view became law of the land in such leading decisions of the Marshall Court as Fletcher v. Peck and the Dartmouth College case. The holding in those cases reaffirmed the vested rights of property against governmental intrusion and helped set the stage for the growth of American capitalism." (p.108) As the Chief Justice of the United States, Marshall laid down what was to be the foundation of American constitutional law. Smith shows that Marshall was helping to do that even before he was on the bench, his action concerning the Robbins case during his stay in Congress is a good preview of what he would do on the court. This book was written in 1996, I wish some Supreme Court justices had read this prior to the disaster that was Bush v. Gore. "Marshall was drawing a distinction between legal issues and political questions. Not everything that arises under the Constitution involves a legal issue. Some matters are political. And the courts are empowered to render decisions on legal issues only. They have no authority to decide political questions. These are the province of the executive and the legislature. Three years later in the great case of Marbury v. Madison, Marshall employed that distinction to establish the authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution in matters of law. While explicitly recognizing that political questions might raise constitutional issues, Marshall stated that these questions were ultimately the responsibility of the president and Congress. The distinction that Marshall drew has become one of the cornerstones of American constitutional law. In the case of the Vietnam war for example, important constitutional questions were raised about war powers, but these were political questions not legal ones. Federal courts consistently declined to entertain suits testing the war's constitutionality, citing the distinction first articulated by Marshall in his speech on the Robbins case."(p.261) One of the myths that Smith shoots down is with the rivalry and hatred between him and President Jefferson. Smith does not say the rivalry did not exist but he shows that this developed as time went on; each side built up reasons not to like the other. A major part of myth that Smith breaks down is Jefferson's reasons for not liking the famous Marbury v. Madison decision, not because of the decision's ultimate result but rather minor technicalities with it. "It was judicial tour de force. Marshall had converted a no-win situation into a massive victory. The authority of the Supreme Court to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional was now the law of the land. Typically, Marshall's decision paid heed to the claims raised on both sides of the case. The High Federalists were awarded the nominal prize of hearing that Marbury was entitled to his commission, and the Republicans gained a victory with the dismissal of the rule to show cause. But the real winner was the Supreme Court an, some might say, the Constitution itself. The legal precedent for judicial review, that unique American doctrine that permits the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress and the executive unconstitutional, traces the holding in Marbury v. Madison. Marshall did not say that the Supreme Court was the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution. He did not say that the authority to interpret the Constitution rested exclusively with the Court, and he certainly did not endorse grandiose schemes that envisaged the Supreme Court as a board of review sitting in judgment of each act of Congress to determine its constitutionality. He simply stated that the Constitution was law, and that as a judicial matter, it could be interpreted by the Court in cases that came before it." (p.323-4) Marshall would also lay down what would be the bane of the South's argument of the nature of the Union with important decisions that reinforced the position of the Federal Government over the states. "Marshall returned to Washington in early February for the 1810 term of the Court, a term that, with possible exception to 1803, would prove to be the most important during his tenure as chief justice. In 1803, in Marbury v. Madison the Court had established its authority to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. In 1810, in another landmark case, Fletcher v. Peck, it would assert its authority to strike down state laws repugnant to the Constitution." (p.388) Probably the decision that most affected the nation as a whole, was the restatement of national supremacy that would become the bedrock of Constitutional law, John C. Calhoun be damned. "The Court's decision in McCulloch v. Maryland is a ringing restatement of national supremacy. Marshall's eloquent phrases have been invoked repeatedly by later generations of jurists and legislators to justify the expansion of national authority at the expense of the states. At the time, however, Marshall could not have envisioned the modern federal government with its greatly augmented powers to regulate the economy and promote social welfare. His decision was a defensive one. In 1819 the Court was concerned with preserving the Union against the powerful centrifugal forces that constantly threatened its dissolution. McCulloch did not so much expand federal sovereignty as restrict state sovereignty. As one scholar has written, the Court's intention was to enable the federal government to exercise its powers effectively and to prevent state encroachments upon its legitimate operations." (p.445) The final chapter deals with the Chief Justice's last years. He dies waiting for President Andrew Jackson to get done being president so that he can retire as the Chief Justice. Marshall does not make it; Jackson is elected to a second term defeating Marshall's favorite Henry Clay. Although President Jackson did not make any Supreme Court appointments that Marshall did not like, he clashed directly with Jackson on the rights of Native Americans. However popular support was not on the aboriginal people's side. The Court stood powerless to stop what would become the trail of tears. "The Supreme Court was on record. The Indian laws passed by the state of Georgia were unconstitutional. `The Court has done its duty,' Story wrote, `let the nation now do theirs.' But the nation was unwilling. Georgia again ignored the Court; Worcester and Butler remained in prison; and President Jackson is reported to have said, `Well, John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.' Jackson probably did not say that, and at that point the president had no responsibility for enforcing the judgment. The degree issued by the Supreme Court merely instructed Georgia to reverse its decision and release the missionaries. The Court adjourned shortly thereafter, which meant that the decree could not be enforced until the 1833 term and that the state would not be in defiance until then." (p.518) Like the other two books I read by Smith, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation is a great read. It is the book you want to read if you want to know about one of our most important figures in American jurisprudence, John Marshall.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vheissu

    This is a first-rate scholarly account of one of if not the most important Supreme Court justice in American history. Having re-read Gore Vidal's Burr , I was especially interested in Marshall's relationships with Jefferson, Hamilton, and Burr. Here, again, it is Thomas Jefferson who draws the author's greatest ire and who was one of the people that Marshall despised the most. Marshal personally presided over Jefferson's trumped up trial against Burr. Marshall didn't like Burr much, given his This is a first-rate scholarly account of one of if not the most important Supreme Court justice in American history. Having re-read Gore Vidal's Burr , I was especially interested in Marshall's relationships with Jefferson, Hamilton, and Burr. Here, again, it is Thomas Jefferson who draws the author's greatest ire and who was one of the people that Marshall despised the most. Marshal personally presided over Jefferson's trumped up trial against Burr. Marshall didn't like Burr much, given his deadly duel with Hamilton, but he believed that Jefferson was the actual threat to the Constitutional government proposed in 1787. Thomas Jefferson was not simply a slave-owner (and hypocrite), but he was a staunch defender of the expansion of slavery to the Louisiana Territory and defended the right of states to nullify federal actions and even secede from the Union. Jefferson was a well-known critic and abuser of civil liberties and denied the propriety of an independent judiciary. I suppose that we should always honor Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence; let his statues stand. As a person, politician, and president, however, Jefferson deserves the contempt of friends of liberty and rule of law.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    It appears that Smith has written a well-balanced biography of Marshall, looking at the many facts of his long history. The book is well researched into both his legal development and personal life. Smith has also set out to correct misinformation and errors of prior biographies of Marshall. Despite playing a prominent role in the early history of this country, Marshall has remained a surprisingly elusive subject for historians. Jean Edward Smith in “John Marshall: Definer of a Nation” does not It appears that Smith has written a well-balanced biography of Marshall, looking at the many facts of his long history. The book is well researched into both his legal development and personal life. Smith has also set out to correct misinformation and errors of prior biographies of Marshall. Despite playing a prominent role in the early history of this country, Marshall has remained a surprisingly elusive subject for historians. Jean Edward Smith in “John Marshall: Definer of a Nation” does not offer fresh insights into Marshall’s constitutional philosophy. Instead, Smith devotes nearly half the book to Marshall’s prejudicial career. Thus Smith discusses in detail Marshall’s family background, legal education, marriage to Polly Ambler. The author also describes Marshall’s success with his Richman legal practice, acquisition of large land tracts and early forages into Virginia politics. Smith demonstrates that Marshall enjoyed a superior instruction in the law by the standards of the era. Beside reading the law, he attended the first law classes at William and Mary College. Smith goes into depth about Marshall’s service in the Revolutionary Army. The wartime experience convinced Marshall of the need for effective national government. Smith obtained the rank of General in the Virginia Militia. The latter half of the book covers Marshall’s time as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Smith also covers the other members of the court and how they worked together most often producing a unanimous decisions. The author discusses the death and appointments of new justices and how they did or did not affect the relationship between members of the court. Many of the routines Marshall established about the operation of the Court and the Justices work assignments are still in effect today. Smith does a good job of explaining how Marshall set out to strengthen the Supreme Court as an institution. Marshall moved to reduce partisan influence of and on the court. Jean Edward Smith is the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University. He won the 2008 Francis Parkman prize for “FDR” (2007) biography. I read this as an e-book on my Kindle app for my iPad. If you are interested in early U.S. history or history of the Supreme Court you will enjoy this easy to read book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mark Fitzpatrick

    Read for a graduate-level American Political Thought course. I must say, I was quite entertained by this biography. Smith does an excellent job outlining the political and cultural atmosphere during the revolutionary and Founding Generation within the context of Marshall's biography. Smith also does an excellent job breaking down Marshall's philosophy on federalism and how it related to the time and to other prominent Founding Generation figures. Court cases are given excellent details along wit Read for a graduate-level American Political Thought course. I must say, I was quite entertained by this biography. Smith does an excellent job outlining the political and cultural atmosphere during the revolutionary and Founding Generation within the context of Marshall's biography. Smith also does an excellent job breaking down Marshall's philosophy on federalism and how it related to the time and to other prominent Founding Generation figures. Court cases are given excellent details along with Marshall's military and early political career. Smith was able to make an interesting, page-turning work that not only gives the reader insight on Marshall personally, but also the early republican years for the country. "Definer of a Nation" is an apt title as Smith shows how Marshall was extremely influential in the judicial and societal framework for the federal government and the public/private sphere.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    John Marshall is a lesser known Founding Father. He shouldn't be, because he is to the Supreme Court what George Washington is to the Presidency. The author, Jean Smith, gives the reader a complete picture of John Marshall the man, but focuses on Marshall's term as Chief Justice of the court. Mr. Smith outlines the facts of the major cases decided by the Marshall court. Further, the author explains how these cases established the importance, reach, and character of the court. As Mr. Smith explai John Marshall is a lesser known Founding Father. He shouldn't be, because he is to the Supreme Court what George Washington is to the Presidency. The author, Jean Smith, gives the reader a complete picture of John Marshall the man, but focuses on Marshall's term as Chief Justice of the court. Mr. Smith outlines the facts of the major cases decided by the Marshall court. Further, the author explains how these cases established the importance, reach, and character of the court. As Mr. Smith explains, the Supreme Court we see today is largely the result of John Marshall. Mr. Smith is an able historian and biographer and his writing style makes reading a pleasurable trip through time. I have read Mr. Smith's book on U.S, Grant and look forward to reading his other writings.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Pasfendis

    This is an excellent biography of John Marshall, officer in the Revolutionary War, lawyer, congressman, Secretary of State under John Adams and Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court from 1800 to 1835. Written in a crisp, clear narrative style that moves along at an agreeable pace, the reader is transported back to revolutionary times and immersed in the profoundly important issues of the day. The thing that struck me most about this biography is that John Marshall's appointment to the bench was This is an excellent biography of John Marshall, officer in the Revolutionary War, lawyer, congressman, Secretary of State under John Adams and Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court from 1800 to 1835. Written in a crisp, clear narrative style that moves along at an agreeable pace, the reader is transported back to revolutionary times and immersed in the profoundly important issues of the day. The thing that struck me most about this biography is that John Marshall's appointment to the bench was one of those fortuitous events in the early history of the United States that, had it not occurred, had someone else been the Chief Justice when the most fundamental Constitutional issues were placed before the Court as a matter of first impression, the United States would not exist as we know it today. John Marshall and the Supreme Court that he led was the stabilizing force that glued the nation together in the first three decades of the 1800's and provided stability and force to the Constitution. The author also paints a vivid picture of John Marshall the man: unassuming, simple, likable and honest (he got along with everyone, even his political opponents other than Jefferson), but one of the strongest minds of his generation. Two caveats: this biography is extremely heavily footnoted- some chapters have well over a hundred footnotes, many of which are substantive and can be lengthy and some of which are placed in the middle of sentences. Some readers will find this disruptive. I did at first but grew accustomed to it as the book progressed. In the end, I was happy to have the information. Second, John Marshall's greatest contribution to history was as a judge, so be prepared to delve into the facts of many of the cases that came before the Supreme Court. This in-depth treatment of the cases allows the reader to understand the issues in context, but does sometimes bring back memories of law school. The author covers the cases skillfully though, so it was never a slog. All in all, a very good read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Fan fiction set in Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton" universe. The main character defends Aaron Burr in court and serves alongside Lafayette! makin' redcoats redder with bloodstains. I bought this book 15 years ago because people were singing its praises. I finally finished it this weekend after several false starts. There is no reason to be intimidated, though. It is a biography of a man instead of a law book. Each decision makes the reader realize, “so that’s why things are like that”. The book s Fan fiction set in Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton" universe. The main character defends Aaron Burr in court and serves alongside Lafayette! makin' redcoats redder with bloodstains. I bought this book 15 years ago because people were singing its praises. I finally finished it this weekend after several false starts. There is no reason to be intimidated, though. It is a biography of a man instead of a law book. Each decision makes the reader realize, “so that’s why things are like that”. The book spends several hundred pages describing his life before he became Chief Justice and that portrayed the legal and economic landscape of colonial Virginia, the revolution, the framing of the constitution, the XYZ affair and the bitter struggle between High Federalists and Radical Republicans. By the time he becomes chief justice, you feel personally connected enough to be cheering him on as he cajoles and compromises to make the court work. The only thing missing for me was the aftermath of his time as Chief Justice. The book ended abruptly with his funeral and I needed a little explanation of how the Supreme Court made the transition without the man who essentially shaped it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Li

    I bought the book about a year ago and was reminded of it at an event recently where Chief Justice Roberts, citing this book as the best biography of John Marshall, mentioned that if he could work with anyone, it would be Marshall. The book is rather conventional biography and chronicles Marshall's life rather well though I have four major complaints. 1) On pg 189, the author mistakenly refers to Hamilton as a governor of New York [he never was, this stuck out to me as odd, since Hamilton consis I bought the book about a year ago and was reminded of it at an event recently where Chief Justice Roberts, citing this book as the best biography of John Marshall, mentioned that if he could work with anyone, it would be Marshall. The book is rather conventional biography and chronicles Marshall's life rather well though I have four major complaints. 1) On pg 189, the author mistakenly refers to Hamilton as a governor of New York [he never was, this stuck out to me as odd, since Hamilton consistently had conflicts with the state government], 2) the discussion of Marshall's views on the Alien and Sedition act and first amendment failed to mention at all, the scholarly work on the Framer's understanding of the first amendment and how that is shaped by Blackstone's views on prior restraint [scholarly work indicates that many Framers thought the first amendment only prohibited prior restraint, not seditious libel, while this book seems to indicate that most people thought the Sedition act was violation of the first amendment] 3) the general use of the high Federalist, federalist and republican labels without regard to the nuances of the first "party" system, where there is at least a good argument that politicians did not think of themselves in permanent parties. The Federalists thought of themselves as the government, while the Republicans thought of themselves as a temporary faction that would dissolve after overturning the "tyranny" of the federalists. 4) the normality of having judges also be involved in politics, which the author seems to recognize and contradict himself by portraying it as an unusual practice. However, those complaints aside, the book is a good chronicle of Marshall's life. Marshall comes off as fascinating character, who was a political moderate (though this may be overwrought in the book), who had good personal relations regardless of cross politics (except with Jefferson his cousin, they apparently hated each other) and knew how to have a good time [often dining out and famous for his love of wine]. The book covers Marshall's time as a light infantyman in the revolution, to his legal practice, state legislator [and previous state experience that demonstrated that he was a convert to the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers from a young age], his role in Virginia's ratification convention, envoy to Paris, Congressman, secretary of state and finally Chief justice (while having the time to write a definitive 5 volume biography of Washington). It was interesting to me that Marshall had been nominated and senate confirmed for a few positions, but turned them down in order to focus on his private practice. It seems like a primary reason he was one of the envoys to the XYZ affair was to find private financing for his Fairfax land acquisition deal (but he so honorably handled the affair, that he was widely celebrated by the country and even political enemies such as Patrick Henry). Marshall apparently only ran for Congress (off of an anti-Alien/Sedition platform) after being beat browed into it by Washington. Being a law student, I of course was mostly interested in Marshall's time on the court. The biography stresses a few themes of Marshall's cases which are the generally strongly pro-Union stance taken, cases that helped anchor early capitalistic growth in America (particularly in not allowing state legislatures to impair contracts, and corporate charters as well as striking down a state granted steam boat monopoly), and the unamity that Marshall encouraged along with a keen moderatism that gave something to all sides (in Marbury for example, Marshall pleased republicans by finding that the court could not issue a writ of mandamus by striking down the congressional statute that gave the court authority to issue the writ, the first case to claim judicial review). The book stresses the very purposeful unamity that Marshall strived for in the decisions (helped by his congenial personality) to give clearer guidance to the bar and enhanced the reputation of the court (something Jefferson hated and thought allowed justices to be lazy and be manipulated by Marshall). The descriptions of the major cases are pretty standard, with a good background and summary of the holding. I was pretty interested in the role of the court in Burr's treason trial, which definitively rejected constructive treason in favor of a very strict textual reading of the constitution's treason clause (also an unflattering portrayal of Jefferson's eagerness to disregard due process and judicial independence to convict Burr). It is unbelievable to me how vulnerable the court was in the early stages, which Congress and Jefferson agitating to strip the judiciary of its independence, or state rights theorists who attacked the nationalist decisions that the Marshall court handed down. Overall a recommended reading, though I cannot confirm the legal analysis, not having taken constitutional law yet. The book was also filled with some pretty fascinating anecdotes. While courting his future wife Polly, Marshall has his marriage proposal turned down. Marshall simply got on his horse and rode away, until Polly sent after him with a lock of her hair. After their marriage Polly wore the lock of her hair in a locket until she died, at which point Marshall wore the locket until he died. In another story, Justice Story related to his friend that the court only drank wine when it was raining, but Marshall after asking Story to feel the weather outside the window always responded that the court's jurisdiction was so wide it must be raining somewhere! Marshall apparently was famous for being slothenly dressed, in one anecdote while he was shopping in the market, a man who recently moved into the neighborhood and did not recognize the Chief Justice paid the justice a tip to carry his turkey home for him.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Canfield

    Jean Edward Smith’s biography of John Marshall is an excellent portrait of the man who had a foundational role in shaping the Supreme Court. After reading Definer of a Nation, there is no doubt Marshall played a major role in raising the Court’s prestige and ensuring it took its rightful place alongside the legislative and executive branches. The book begins by delving into details of Marshall’s early years in Virginia, and it is clear at the outset that Jean Edward Smith did his due diligence on Jean Edward Smith’s biography of John Marshall is an excellent portrait of the man who had a foundational role in shaping the Supreme Court. After reading Definer of a Nation, there is no doubt Marshall played a major role in raising the Court’s prestige and ensuring it took its rightful place alongside the legislative and executive branches. The book begins by delving into details of Marshall’s early years in Virginia, and it is clear at the outset that Jean Edward Smith did his due diligence on even the lesser known portions of his subject’s life. Marshall’s service in the Revolutionary War is not just a period in his life written about and then forgotten; this experience provides an understanding of his lifelong philosophy of valuing the idea of nationhood and national unity over the dangers engendered by sectional squabbling. Marshall served at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown in the Virginia Line of Volunteers, and his father Thomas was also a commander in the Continental Army. Marshall was present with George Washington and his men during the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, an experience that certainly shaped him like it did so many others in the armed forces. His family life receives ample attention. Having eight literate sisters and the sibling-Susan-considered to be the most intellectually gifted of them all, ingrained in Marshall a respect for the mental prowess of females that many men of his era did not possess. Marshall was a cousin of future president Thomas Jefferson, with the latter raised in a more patrician Virginia environment. Marshall and his large family of fourteen siblings, though by no means born into a lower class family, had more of a taste for the grievances felt by those in western Virginia than someone from the Jefferson side of the family might have been exposed to. This is postulated as a reason, though not the sole one, why the two men might have had such a fundamental misunderstanding of one another during their public lives. It also did not help that Jefferson did not serve in combat in the Revolutionary War, nor were his actions as Virginia's governor during the British invasion of the South of the sort which would have earned Marshall’s (or any American for that matter) respect. The confused interim between the end of the war and the signing of the Constitution saw Marshall, a lawyer and member of the House of Delegates, taking an active role in promoting the creation of the U.S. Constitution. While many anti-Federalists, especially men like George Mason and Patrick Henry, looked askance at the Constitution and fought to maintain a government more along the lines of the Articles of Federation, Marshall worked alongside men like fellow Virginian James Monroe to secure Virginia’s assent to the federal document. This outcome was by no means assured, and Marshall’s efforts went a long way toward making it happen. His judicial career would be defined by a commitment to the idea of a federal government whose power would more often than not eclipse that of the various states. Marshall would not serve as the first Chief Justice on the Court; that honor would go to John Jay. In fact, he was still back in Richmond during the Washington administration, serving in the House of Delegates and as a Virginia’s acting state attorney general. He continued his career at the bar, earning the chance to argue a case before Supreme Court judges (who at that point still traveled on circuit to hear cases in Richmond). It was during these years that Marshall married his wife, Polly, to whom he would maintain a close relationship without his life. The author does a nice job of filling the reader in their relationship by taking a break from discussing the political and judicial to provide brief sketches of their close relationship with one another. 1797 was the year Marshall’s career moved from a state-based to a federal one. President John Adams asked him to sail to France with Charles Pinckney and Elbridge Gerry in order to negotiate with the government in Paris. Given his tendency to be viewed as sympathetic to the Federalists, Marshall was someone who certainly harbored little in the way of a perceived pro-French bias. Tensions had been high with the French thanks to policies they had adopted on the high seas during their war with Britain, and the mission was intended to break the ice. This mission culminates in the XYZ affair, a convoluted controversy which receives a lot of attention from Jean Edward Smith. Marshall and his fellow travelers are essentially asked for a bribe from the French foreign minister Charles Talleyrand, a state of play which the book indicates was a standard operating procedure of French foreign policy. Joined with the bribe is a demand that America essentially apologize for a statement made by President Adams which the French found offensive. Elbridge Gerry waffles back and forth on how much to capitulate, while Marshall and Pinckney repeatedly threaten to leave Paris if the demands are not backed down from. The delegates’ mission ends up with a further deterioration of the relationship with pre-Napoleonic France, as they leave and come home bearing the shocking news of an insult to America’s national honor in the form of Talleyrand’s demands. The late 1700s and onset of the nineteenth century saw Marshall elected as a Congressman from his Virginia district, and he maintained a close relationship with John Adams during the second president’s difficult time in office. Marshall was no fan of High Federalism-the sort of thinking which resulted in Federalist-endorsed laws that Marshall did not look kindly upon like the Alien and Sedition Acts-and instead adopted a more pragmatic version of Federalism. This allowed him to dislike the former acts while also disapproving of moves like the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which he felt dabbled in anarchy by promoting the rights of states to nullify any federal laws they disliked. His penchant for opting for the achievable and pragmatic over excessive doses of ideology would be a theme the book continually hits on. Adams would nominate Marshall to be Secretary of State, and during this time Marshall (ironically for a Federalist) distanced American foreign policy from an overreliance on the British. The accusation that Federalists were too pro-British had dogged men from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, and Marshall wanted to see to it that America’s foreign policy was of a more even-handed variety during a time of explosive conflict between Britain and France. Marshall is then nominated to a seat on the Supreme Court toward the end of Adams’s one and only term. At the time the court had little prestige, and it met in an office in the same building as the House of Representatives. The timing of his nomination was fortunate, as Jefferson would take the oath of office less than a year later and would certainly never have put his cousin’s name forward for the open slot. It is at this halfway point that the book hits its stride. The author never lets the text become too bogged down in the nuances of various cases before the Court, but he does nice work in laying out the basics of them so even non-lawyers among readers can grasp them. The gist of Marshall’s time as Chief Justice is that he placed a huge value on having as many of the justices board under the same roof while in the new capital city of Washington, D.C. as he could. He is shown to be a master host and persuader, and the advantages of time spent face-to-face with one another goes a long way toward the consensus that was maintained by the justices during the decisions of so many diverse cases. Fellow justices like Joseph Story, Brockholst Livington, and Bushrod Washington are all written of as having good relationships with one another, writing unanimous opinions for a huge percentage of their decisions. Marshall’s quest for consensus and desire to avoid politicization of the Court came from his own philosophy about how the institution should operate, but this was also done in order to blunt frequent attacks from Republicans to undermine its legitimacy. The Supreme Court’s power began to strengthen with the establishment of judicial review in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison case, a hallmark decision which started with a seemingly mundane complaint over a midnight judge’s appointment and concluding with the Court possessing the authority to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. Any book on John Marshall, or the Supreme Court in general, would be nothing without a robust analysis of this case. This analysis is expertly provided by Smith. The deliberations on a slew of cases during Marshall’s 34 years on the Court are analyzed. In Little V. Barreme the Court established the president’s inherent authority to make decisions on military emergencies absent action from Congress. This strengthening of the executive branch saw its corollary in a case like McCulloch v. Maryland, whereby the Marshall’s decision established stronger Congressional oversight of interstate commerce and dealt a blow to opponents of a National Bank. Since the Supreme Court justices still traveled circuit in the 1800s, Marshall presided over the famous Aaron Burr treason trial. The back-and-forths of his closely followed case ending up dealing with questions of executive privilege along the lines of how much leeway a president has in furnishing communications, and the conclusion reached on the definition of treason is still looked to today in order to define that hard-to-define crime. The chapter on the Yazoo Land Case saw the court having to walk a fine line between deciding a case and not treading too much into politics. The argument over the selling of land of dubious title in Georgia was a land mine for Marshall, and in this case-Fletcher v. Peck-the decision sought to increase the confidence in title to deeds to land. Any corruption in the state legislature that might have occurred during the buying of land was not going to be something the Chief Justice involved the Supreme Court in; they instead stuck to securing property rights and deciding the question squarely in front of them. Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee did violence to the claims of states like Virginia that the Constitution was merely a compact between the various states. Under this compact theory, the states were sovereign and had leeway interpreting federal law. Marshall gave no quarter to this way of looking at things. Martin v Hunter’s Lessee dealt with the Virginia Court of Appeals defying the Supreme Court on a land title case, and Marshall was not going to let any such defiance stand. His tenure on the Court went a long way to extinguishing the states’ right proponents and instead stitching together a vision of a United States created by people, not breathed into being artificial entities known as states. The supremacy of the federal government and its Constitution over state laws was a concept Marshall never questioned. The diversity of precedents set by John Marshall can be seen in cases like the Dartmouth College case (which protected private contracts from interference even by state legislatures) and Sturgis v. Crowninshield (which dealt with bankruptcy law), decisions which which still carry weight over a century after they were handed down. Marshall even finds time to compose a fairly well-received multi volume biography of George Washington, something it seems amazing he was able to do in spite of an incredibly busy schedule. This is one of the many contributions he made to his country aside from the mammoth ones made from the Supreme Court bench. John Marshall: Definer of a Nation is a fantastic work of nonfiction. It encapsulates so many crucial years in U.S. history, letting readers view national changes through the eyes of the most influential Supreme Court justice in history. Spanning from the colonial years to the Jackson administration, this book lays out the growth of the country from backwoods states to a united nation-state. The role the Supreme Court played in shaping everything from contract to bankruptcy law to relations with Native American tribes is walked through with attentiveness to nuance, and for this the book is deserving of five stars. -Andrew Canfield Denver, Colorado

  15. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Leone Davidson

    This is a very good biography of Marshall, and covers both his personal and public life, but even more importantly, it is another view to how the United States and her government were formed. I love the history of the US, the revolution, and all of the subsequent machinations that led to the republic we now have, and this book was a great addition. Thoughtfully written and well researched, I can highly recommend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Wagner-Wright

    John Marshall shaped the U. S. Supreme Court into an equal and flexible arm of government. His reputation pales in comparison to his contemporaries Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. He never held national elected office. Yet Marshall’s influence as Chief Justice was critical to building our modern democracy. Marshall’s keen mind, social skills, and long life enabled him to build a cohesive Supreme Court that spoke with one voice. In Marbury v Madison Marshall established the principal of federal John Marshall shaped the U. S. Supreme Court into an equal and flexible arm of government. His reputation pales in comparison to his contemporaries Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. He never held national elected office. Yet Marshall’s influence as Chief Justice was critical to building our modern democracy. Marshall’s keen mind, social skills, and long life enabled him to build a cohesive Supreme Court that spoke with one voice. In Marbury v Madison Marshall established the principal of federal over state jurisdiction. In Sturgis v Crowninshield, Marshall broke with Jefferson over the issue of whether the new nation should be agrarian or commercial. In Cherokee National v Georgia defied Jackson over the rights of indigenous people. Jean Smith’s prize-winning biography portrays Marshall as a well-connected Virginia family man, a public servant, and a committed judge. She deftly demonstrates how Marshall’s experiences shaped his views, and how these views made themselves part of Supreme Court decisions. Smith’s research is nothing short of exhaustive. Her wirting style is deft – fully forthcoming without being unnecessarily tedious. John Marshall: Definer of a Nation is well worth a read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    After reading 50 pages of this book, I asked myself," what other books has this author written? I have to pick up another one of his books". After 100 pages, I find myself reading up on the biography of the author and after finding out that his daytime job is as Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, wishing that I was one of his students. Forget about Antonin Scalia and these modern day justices. They are midgets. Marshall was a giant who towered over them and was as impor After reading 50 pages of this book, I asked myself," what other books has this author written? I have to pick up another one of his books". After 100 pages, I find myself reading up on the biography of the author and after finding out that his daytime job is as Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, wishing that I was one of his students. Forget about Antonin Scalia and these modern day justices. They are midgets. Marshall was a giant who towered over them and was as important as any of the founding fathers. In reading this book, you learn all about John Marshall the man, but I also picked up quite a few points about the American Revolution period that some of those “rock-star” historians left out of their best selling books. If you like reading American history, or about the Supreme Court, then I highly recommend this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    When reading a biography, one should always keep in mind that the biographer likely has some affinity for the subject of the book. The author took the vast amount of time to research and write the book; so, I am always skeptical as I read a biography. This work on Marshall follows the same path as most biographical accounts. As a person who has studied the Founders at some length, I must admit that I knew the least about Marshall; yet, he is the founder with the longest and arguably most influen When reading a biography, one should always keep in mind that the biographer likely has some affinity for the subject of the book. The author took the vast amount of time to research and write the book; so, I am always skeptical as I read a biography. This work on Marshall follows the same path as most biographical accounts. As a person who has studied the Founders at some length, I must admit that I knew the least about Marshall; yet, he is the founder with the longest and arguably most influential role in the young republic. This biography provides a well-balanced perspective on Marshall. The chief justice is stripped of his robes, and a human emerges. It was a fascinating read and worth one's while.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    Probably more like 4.5 stars. Entirely engaging despite its immense size, this was an incredibly interesting biography. I loved how the author made sure to explain the relevant world events in conjunction with the events in Marshall's life. As always, the history of the early United States amazes me. John Marshall was an integral part of events and reading his biography gave me a lot of respect for him. Despite how long it took me to read this, I never felt bored and I could slip in and out of t Probably more like 4.5 stars. Entirely engaging despite its immense size, this was an incredibly interesting biography. I loved how the author made sure to explain the relevant world events in conjunction with the events in Marshall's life. As always, the history of the early United States amazes me. John Marshall was an integral part of events and reading his biography gave me a lot of respect for him. Despite how long it took me to read this, I never felt bored and I could slip in and out of the narrative without forgetting everything I'd read before. Excellent book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark Roth

    This book covers the life of John Marshall, America's first great Chief Justice. It documents the entire span of his life, starting from his family background and early years, continuing on to his service in the Revolutionary War, his few brief political positions before being appointed Chief Justice, and his long tenure on the Supreme Court. Before reading this book, I was aware that Marshall had provided many defining opinions for the Court that have helped shape our nation. However, the book a This book covers the life of John Marshall, America's first great Chief Justice. It documents the entire span of his life, starting from his family background and early years, continuing on to his service in the Revolutionary War, his few brief political positions before being appointed Chief Justice, and his long tenure on the Supreme Court. Before reading this book, I was aware that Marshall had provided many defining opinions for the Court that have helped shape our nation. However, the book also reminded me of several things about Marshall that I had forgotten and informed me about a number of details I never knew. For example, I had not truly realized until reading this book how long of a life and career Marshall had. As a junior member of the Revolutionary generation, Marshall served in the Revolutionary War under George Washington, and he entered public service during John Adams' presidency. His tenure continued until most of the founders' generation had passed away or retired and the country's leadership had passed into the hands of the next generation, composed of men like Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. Marshall's service as a junior officer in the Revolutionary War was a formative experience for him. Experiences like the terrible winter conditions at Valley Forge due to the lack of provisions and the refusal of his home state of Virginia to authorize a new recruitment of soldiers for the Continental Army (which is what ended his participation in the war) taught him the perils of disunion. Marshall later was a formidable voice in favor of ratifying the Constitution at Virginia's state convention, and years later, he would be a formidable voice supporting the union from the bench on the Supreme Court. Although I'm sure I had learned this in high school, I had completely forgotten that Marshall was one of the three commissioners to France during the infamous "XYZ affair" during John Adams' presidency. Although he probably only accepted this appointment because he had personal financial reasons to make a trip to Europe anyway (he had previously intended to remain focused on his private law career), his steadfast behavior in refusing to offer a bribe to French Foreign Minister Talleyrand did much credit to both himself and to the U.S. When news of the affair became known in the U.S., Marshall became widely known and respected in the public eye. After returning home, Marshall intended to go back to his law practice. However, a personal appeal from former president George Washington, whom Marshall greatly respected, convinced him to run for Congress as a Federalist at a time when most of Virginia leaned Republican. The great respect that the public held for Marshall meant that he was one of the few Federalists that could win an election from Virginia, which is exactly what happened. However, before his single term in Congress was complete, President Adams shuffled his cabinet appointments and asked Marshall to take over as Secretary of State. Marshall served for less than a year as Secretary of State before Adams was defeated by Jefferson in the election of 1800. One of Adams' last acts in office was to appoint Marshall as Chief Justice. Marshall was actually the nation's third Chief Justice, but neither of his predecessors had served for very long or left much of an imprint upon the institution of the Supreme Court; in fact, there was so little for the Court to do during those early years that Chief Justice John Jay spent much of his tenure acting as ambassador to England. It was Marshall that truly established the Supreme Court as another fully equal branch of the Federal Government through decisions like Marbury v. Madison, which established the principle of judicial review (in other words, the power of the Supreme Court to declare state or federal laws unconstitutional). Marshall also established the precedent for announcing an "opinion of the Court", rather than having each justice deliver their own opinion; he worked hard to bring the justices to consensus whenever possible, which helped establish the idea that the Court speaks with one voice, thus raising the prestige of the Court. And through numerous decisions over the years, Marshall was a strong supporter of the power of the Federal Government over states' rights arguments. I was particularly struck by one pattern in Marshall's decisions, which is that he often tried to keep the Court out of partisan conflicts by steering a middle ground in highly contentious cases. He would often do this by setting precedent based on firm principles but finding a pragmatic application of that principle that more closely matched what the details of the case required. One great example of this was the aforementioned case of Marbury v. Madison, which threatened to provoke a constitutional crisis in an era when the Court was seen as a partisan Federalist instrument; Marshall used it as an opportunity to establish the important principle of judicial review (which supported Federalist doctrine) but then used that principle to rule that he could not grant the writ that Marbury (a Federalist) was requesting. It was an extremely effective way to both avoid the crisis and establish the Court as a non-partisan branch of government. This book was extremely well written, informative, and engaging. It paints a complete picture of a very interesting man during a very interesting time in American history. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this time period.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    The book was interesting and I'm glad I read it but for being so long it was also really dry. The Author forced views on us about the legacy of certain Supreme Court decisions instead of inferring them and it seemed mostly as a play by play of Supreme Court decisions instead of a biography. But I do know more about John Marshall and learned more in general about our courts, which is what I set out to do, so this book gets a three out of five. The book was interesting and I'm glad I read it but for being so long it was also really dry. The Author forced views on us about the legacy of certain Supreme Court decisions instead of inferring them and it seemed mostly as a play by play of Supreme Court decisions instead of a biography. But I do know more about John Marshall and learned more in general about our courts, which is what I set out to do, so this book gets a three out of five.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Hagen-Arndt

    This is the kind of book that I love. It introduces an incredible man, one called "The Great Justice," who as the first Chief Justice has had unparalleled influence upon court interpretations that have followed. This is not dry, dull or difficult reading. It's hard to put down and one of those books that you never want to end. This is the kind of book that I love. It introduces an incredible man, one called "The Great Justice," who as the first Chief Justice has had unparalleled influence upon court interpretations that have followed. This is not dry, dull or difficult reading. It's hard to put down and one of those books that you never want to end.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robert K

    John Marshall Book Review: Read December 2017—January 15, 2019—I was ensconced in this book. It was a long read only because I allowed the 736 pages to intimidate me, but, I never gave up because every chapter taught me something new or reinforced a principle I needed to remember & reapply. In my mind, One of the five greatest Americans...To wit: 1) John Marshall studied in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia under the legendary teacher of many of this nation’s founders, George Wythe. 2 John Marsha John Marshall Book Review: Read December 2017—January 15, 2019—I was ensconced in this book. It was a long read only because I allowed the 736 pages to intimidate me, but, I never gave up because every chapter taught me something new or reinforced a principle I needed to remember & reapply. In my mind, One of the five greatest Americans...To wit: 1) John Marshall studied in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia under the legendary teacher of many of this nation’s founders, George Wythe. 2 John Marshall answered the call of his country to fight in the Revolutionary War. He endured Valley Forge with Washington & watched Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown. 3. He served as emissary to France to get the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the Revolutionary War Ended. 4. Having gained Washington’s trust, He later wrote one of the seminal biographies of the Father of this country. 5. He sacrificed often; left a flourishing law practice to serve two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. 6. He answered President John Adams call in 1789 to be Secretary of State & finally Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Served for 36 years. 7. He loved his wife & fathered many children many of whom died in childhood. 8. During his tenure on the Court, Marshshall succeeded in establishing the Judiciary as a legitimate co-equal branch of the American government along with Executive & Legislative branches. He did this by learning how to work together with dozens of disparate personalities gaining a high percentage of unanimous decisions. 9. Among the decisions he rendered (Marbury vs Madison—1803) were the following: Judicial Review “It is emphatically the province & duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. The Constitution was law. If two laws rose in conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each. If a law & the Constitution are in conflict & of both apply to a particular case, the Court must determine which of the conflicting rules governs the case. This is the essence of judicial duty. If the courts are obliged the interpret the Constitution, & the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature—the Constitution, & not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.” 10. (McCullough vs Maryland -1719) Implied powers of Congress. At issue was whether The Congress could create the Bank of the United States & whether Maryland could tax it. Writing for a unanimous Court, Marshall held that Congress did have the (implied) powers to create such a bank & that states did not have (implied) powers to thwart or impede the operation of what Congress created. (The Bank in this case). 11. (Cohens vs Virginia—1821) The Supreme Court has powers over each state court & states or compacts of states can not combine to thwart the Constitution or national will or greater good of the people. President Lincoln clearly adopted Marshall’s thinking on this year’s later even though Marshall’s successor, Roger B Taney, did not 12. (Gibbons vs. Ogden—1824) Defined Commerce & rules of navigation. Established that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution did not allow one state to impede obstruct commerce of other states. Did more to promote capitalism & American supremacy in market economies, than any other event in history, thus binding the businessmen of the country together in support of free enterprise system which created the world’s greatest standard of living...lifting human beings out of poverty everywhere...incalculable benefits to mankind. 13. Nullification—In one of his last great acts before his death in 1835, he was pleasantly surprised that Andrew Jackson supported his views & legal findings that South Carolina, (nor any state) could nullify Acts of Congress that State didn’t like. Also satisfying to Marshall was James Madison’s statement validating his views that nullification was un Constitutional. Madison, as the primary author & Father of the Constitution, gave Marshall & Jackson’s views on nullification great credibility. 14. Gained the respect of notables by acting & behaving with dignity till his death. 15. The Liberty bell in Philadelphia cracked while ringing to announce Marshall’s death.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Quinndara

    John Marshall was born in Germantown, Virginia on September 24, 1755. He grew up in a small log cabin and was the oldest child from a large family that included 14 brothers and sisters. Because there were no schools near where the Marshals lived, John received most of his education from his father who read classical works aloud which they then would discuss. In that way, John Marshal was introduced to the important ideas of the times and got a solid grounding in principles. He was especially tak John Marshall was born in Germantown, Virginia on September 24, 1755. He grew up in a small log cabin and was the oldest child from a large family that included 14 brothers and sisters. Because there were no schools near where the Marshals lived, John received most of his education from his father who read classical works aloud which they then would discuss. In that way, John Marshal was introduced to the important ideas of the times and got a solid grounding in principles. He was especially taken by the works of Alexander Pope and often copied the text and form of Pope’s writing to develop his own skills. In 1755 he served in the Revolutionary War under General Washington and was inspired by his leadership. Later in life, he wrote a 5 volume history of Colonial America and George Washington. He became a lawyer in 1780 and practiced law in Virginia. In 1782 he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. He then attended the Virginia state convection and led the fight to ratify the constitution. From 1782 to 1795, he held various political offices, including the position of secretary of state in 1800 where he served in Paris for several months tying to get Talleyrand, France’s foreign minister, to work out a peace treaty between France and America. In 1801, he became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, serving until his death, on July 6, 1835, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Supreme court could not have been served by a better man. John Marshal loved the constitution and spent his years as Chief Justice defending the constitution by interpreting, defining, explaining, and declaring, often in lengthy holdings, which laws are constitutional and which are not. The authority of the Supreme Court was often questioned and frequently under attack by important people such as, Thomas Jefferson, who champed at the authority of a judicial body which could override his power, and by state’s rights advocates who did not want their laws found unconstitutional (which sometimes happened under the Marshal court). This book details the constitutional cases which came before the court and the controversy which surrounded each issue. The author details how carefully, and with lengthy discussions among the different justices, the Marshal court articulated each decision. At times, the holdings (decisions) were several pages long with Marshall writing the largest percent. His holdings, written with great consideration to all parties, eventually won the court great respect. Its standing also improved under the Madison and Monroe’s presidencies: Madison because he helped write the constitution and understood the importance of a judicial body which could uphold the constitutionality of laws; and Monroe, because he was Marshal’s friend who also keenly knew the value of the constitution. That the Supreme Court became the significant institution it is today, is Marshal’s due. Marbury v. Madison, one of the first cases to come before the court, was one of the most important decisions in U.S. judicial history, because it legitimized the ability of the Supreme Court to judge the constitutionality of acts of the president or Congress. Marshal is a man to look up to and emulate. In his 70's and still Chief Justice, one admirer said of him, “Marshal’s mind is like the ocean, others are like ponds.” This book is for anyone interested in the court’s early years and how the influence and personality of John Marshal helped shape it into what it is today.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paul Gibson

    Although you might not be as familiar with his name, John Marshall was arguably as important during the time of Thomas Jefferson's administration as Jefferson himself. And, like Jefferson, his legacy is still with us today. Marshall was employed by the first two US presidents and he served as chief justice through five more presidents during his tenure on the US Supreme Court. A few of my favorite quotes from the book’s author: 1) “Yet for all their differences, each represented a vital current Although you might not be as familiar with his name, John Marshall was arguably as important during the time of Thomas Jefferson's administration as Jefferson himself. And, like Jefferson, his legacy is still with us today. Marshall was employed by the first two US presidents and he served as chief justice through five more presidents during his tenure on the US Supreme Court. A few of my favorite quotes from the book’s author: 1) “Yet for all their differences, each represented a vital current in the American mainstream. Jefferson believed passionately in majority rule. Marshall, just as earnestly, feared majority tyranny. Jefferson was attached to liberty and equality. Marshall stood for the rule of law and a government of checks and balances. Jefferson tilted to the left, Marshall to the right, but between them they encompassed the vast center of the political spectrum. Regardless of their mutual distrust, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the man destined to become the guardian of the Constitution were each essential to the emerging American consensus.” 2) This quote isn't about Marshall but about: "[Elbridge] Gerry's contrariness grew out of his ferocious attachment to the republican ideal. It was a classical abstraction that he took literally, and his devotion to it often rendered him incapable of distinguishing between small points and major issues. [H]e viewed politics as an unceasing struggle between liberty and power. The inevitable disharmony between his ideal of republican virtue and the world he confronted left Gerry eternally suspicious. It was, according to his otherwise respectful son-in-law, ‘the weakest trait of his mind'. . . . After his tenure in Paris, he served as governor of Massachusetts, where his partisan efforts to redistrict the state for the Republicans' advantage added the term ‘gerrymander’ to the nation's vocabulary.” 3) And much like today when those of Republican leanings disagree with the court: “. . . Despite twenty-three years of Republican presidents - and five Republican appointees [several being Jefferson’s own appointees] to the bench – the sage of Monticello [Jefferson] continued to fume against the Supreme Court [as being biased] . . .” But Jefferson's friend and ally, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, disagreed, he supported the Supreme Court “. . . suggesting that Congress was a far greater problem than the court.” Also under the category of “history repeats itself”, when one of the Supreme Court justice’s died, those supporting Andrew Jackson rallied to keep the current president from appointing a new justice until the new President was sworn-in so Jackson could pick. It might be said that the first shot of the civil war was in 1836 when Andrew Jackson nominated Marshall’s successor, Roger Taney.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Geo Forman

    I have often heard how vital Washington was to the survival of our young country; a more ambitious or selfish man could have succumbed to temptation of power that was thrust upon him. After reading this book, I think John Marshall may share that stature when it comes to establishing guidelines to the separation of powers. A lesser man may have arrived at different decisions that could have resulted in breaking apart the country. A well written work explaining the reason behind the stature of John I have often heard how vital Washington was to the survival of our young country; a more ambitious or selfish man could have succumbed to temptation of power that was thrust upon him. After reading this book, I think John Marshall may share that stature when it comes to establishing guidelines to the separation of powers. A lesser man may have arrived at different decisions that could have resulted in breaking apart the country. A well written work explaining the reason behind the stature of John Marshall, not our first Chief Justice but our most influential and important for our young country

  27. 5 out of 5

    Donna Herrick

    You may have heard of John Marshal as the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court who handed down the Marbury v. Madison decision that asserted the right of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by congress. But Marshall was an officer in the Continental Army, a key member of the Virginia House of Delegates when the Constitution was ratified, faced off with Talleyrand as an ambassador to France, served as Secretary of State and 35 years as Chief Justice of the Supreme C You may have heard of John Marshal as the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court who handed down the Marbury v. Madison decision that asserted the right of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by congress. But Marshall was an officer in the Continental Army, a key member of the Virginia House of Delegates when the Constitution was ratified, faced off with Talleyrand as an ambassador to France, served as Secretary of State and 35 years as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In this book you will learn just how fractious the states were, how Marshall's leadership of the Supreme Court kept the nation together, and how the Supreme Court's decisions in those early years have shaped the nation. Our nation is once again at a cross-roads where we are fighting over whose rights have precedence. Will the Supreme Court find a way to keep the nation together or will their decisions lead to dissolution? This biography shows the art of Supreme Court decisions that seek to give justice and to guide the nation to more cohesiveness.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Luca Bares

    This is a really fantastic biography of John Marshall. Throughout his life there is rarely a dull moment, and this book brings clarity to the constitution and Marshalls interpretation of it marvelously. My only regret is that the copy I purchased is missing the pages related to one of Marshalls most important decisions, Marbury v. Madison. I'm so disappointed I couldn't read this chapter I'm going to check out a complete version of this book from a library so I can read that decision. This is a really fantastic biography of John Marshall. Throughout his life there is rarely a dull moment, and this book brings clarity to the constitution and Marshalls interpretation of it marvelously. My only regret is that the copy I purchased is missing the pages related to one of Marshalls most important decisions, Marbury v. Madison. I'm so disappointed I couldn't read this chapter I'm going to check out a complete version of this book from a library so I can read that decision.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dennis McClure

    I gave it five stars because I believe it deserved five stars. It is a complete and authoritative biography of a fascinating individual whose career helped create the United States of America. That said, it's not an easy read. It's a book that informs you and is good for you. It's not going to keep you up all night wondering what comes next. I gave it five stars because I believe it deserved five stars. It is a complete and authoritative biography of a fascinating individual whose career helped create the United States of America. That said, it's not an easy read. It's a book that informs you and is good for you. It's not going to keep you up all night wondering what comes next.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David Rickert

    I'll let the historians decide how accurate this book is or if it wanders into hagiography. I enjoyed every page of it. A fascinating look into the early days of the U.S. and the battles that ensued over the powers of the federal government vs. states' rights. Truly one of the American greats. I'll let the historians decide how accurate this book is or if it wanders into hagiography. I enjoyed every page of it. A fascinating look into the early days of the U.S. and the battles that ensued over the powers of the federal government vs. states' rights. Truly one of the American greats.

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