John Marshall

John Marshall : The Man Who Made the Supreme Court

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In 1801, a 45-year-old Revolutionary War veteran and politician, slovenly, genial, brilliant, and persuasive, became the fourth chief justice of the United States, a post he would hold for a record thirty-four years. Before John Marshall joined the Court, the judicial branch was viewed as the poor sister of the federal government, lacking in dignity and clout. After his passing, the Supreme Court of the United States would never be ignored again. John Marshall is award-winning and bestselling author Richard Brookhiser's definitive biography of America's longest-serving Chief Justice.

Marshall (1755-1835) was born in Northern Virginia and served as a captain during the Revolutionary War and then as a delegate to the Virginia state convention. He was a friend and admirer of George Washington, and a cousin and enemy of Thomas Jefferson. His appointment to the Supreme Court came almost by chance-Adams saw him as the last viable option, after previous appointees declined the nomination. Yet he took to the court immediately, turning his sharp mind toward strengthening America's fragile legal order.

Americans had inherited from their colonial past a deep distrust of judges as creatures of arbitrary royal power; in reaction, newly independent states made them pawns of legislative whim. The result was legal caprice, sometimes amounting to chaos. Marshall wanted a strong federal judiciary, led by the Supreme Court, to define laws, protect rights, and balance the power of the legislative and executive branches. However, America's legal system, he believed, was threatened by specific individuals-namely Thomas Jefferson and the early Republican Party-who were intent on undermining the Constitution and respect for law in order to empower themselves.

As a Federalist and a follower of Washington and Hamilton, he also wanted a strong national government, favorable to business. In his three decades on the court, Marshall accomplished just that. As Brookhiser vividly relates, in a string of often-colorful cases involving businessmen, educators, inventors, scoundrels, Native Americans, and slaves, Marshall clipped the power of the states vis-a-vis the federal government, established the Supreme Court's power to correct or rebuke Congress or the president, and bolstered commerce and contracts. John Marshall's modus operandi was charm and wit, frequently uniting his fellow justices around unanimous decisions in even the most controversial cases. For better and for worse, he made the Supreme Court a central part of American life.

John Marshall is the definitive biography of America's greatest judge and most important early Chief Justice.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 156 x 238 x 36mm | 580g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0465096220
  • 9780465096220
  • 479,784

Review quote

"In Brookhiser's short and captivating biography, Marshall emerges as the institution's first great partisan operative.... The career of the great chief justice continues to this day to calibrate our expectations for the court."--New Republic "As Brookhiser shows in this brisk biography, Marshall's success was partly due to the power of his legal reasoning and partly to his brilliant management of the men who served with him on the Supreme Court...Marshall would doubtless be pleased that it is his ideas that dominate this biography, not his quarrels, debts, ambitions, or amours."--Foreign Affairs "Full of wisdom."--Florida Bar Journal "Entertaining and instructive...Brookhiser brings to vivid life the gaudy facts and seamy characters behind such great cases as Dartmouth College and McCulloch."--Washington Post "Informative without being dull, thesis-driven without being argumentative...Another good entry in the good series of works on the Founders that Brookhiser has been giving us all these years."--Washington Free Beacon "Mr. Brookhiser explains [Marshall's] decisions, and the disputes that gave rise to them, with the clarity and verve that we have come to expect from his lapidary historical portraits...[A] fine book."--Wall Street Journal "As Richard Brookhiser's fine new biography makes clear, the polarization of the age of Marshall matched (or even surpassed) our current battles over the composition of the Supreme Court...[A] balanced account."--New York Times Book Review "Marshall's...sphinx-like quality has proved tempting to biographers, and Brookhiser's volume is the third to appear since the beginning of 2016. It is also the first that is genuinely satisfying.... Elegant and readable."-- National Review "Brookhiser's John Marshall is an erudite and elegant tour through not only the great chief justice's life, but the beginnings of the United States and the nation's Supreme Court. With colorful portraits of members of the founding generation, and clear and insightful descriptions of the legal cases that that shaped the American legal system, this book is a welcome contribution to the scholarship on the Early American Republic."--Annette Gordon-Reed, coauthor of "Most Blessed of the Patriarchs" "Richard Brookhiser is a master of the interpretive biography, and his incisive portrait of John Marshall couldn't be more timely. The Supreme Court stands at the middle of the American political arena, and Marshall is the man who put it there."--H.W. Brands, author of Heirs of the Founders "Richard Brookhiser brings his deep knowledge of the American founding, his appreciation for history's crisscrossing patterns, and his signature minimalist style to America's greatest chief justice. His book is also timely. For John Marshall's seminal conviction was that we were a single people, and that government was not 'them' but 'us.'"--Joseph J. Ellis, author of American Dialogue: The Founders and Us "A concise, informative, and at times entertaining biography of our nation's fourth chief justice."--Kirkus Reviews
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About Richard Brookhiser

Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and the author of twelve books, including Founder's Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln; Alexander Hamilton; American; and Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. He lives in New York City.
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106 ratings
3.82 out of 5 stars
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4 40% (42)
3 32% (34)
2 5% (5)
1 0% (0)
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