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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