John Marshall: Definer of a Nation
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When, in 1801, John Marshall became Chief Justice of the United States, the Supreme Court was little more than a clause in the Constitution and a gaggle of conflicting opinions. For the next thirty-five years, Marshall was to mold the Court into a major force. Under his leadership, it learned to speak with one voice, becoming a powerful and respected third branch of government. It enunciated the principle of judicial review, established itself as the arbiter of constitutional authority, and affirmed the Constitution as an instrument of the people, not of the states. As a result, the implied powers of the federal government took on definition, the workings of the national government gained authority, and the economic system was made viable through a sophisticated understanding of the commerce clause. In truth, if George Washington founded the nation, John Marshall defined it. But who was this son of yeoman Virginia stock, this soldier who endured the terrible suffering at Valley Forge, this lawyer who was a moving force behind Virginia's ratification of the Constitution, this diplomat who outwitted Talleyrand and thereby raised the profile of a raw young country in the capitals of Europe? Confidant of presidents, friend to the founding fathers, statesman, envoy, and legislator: who was this man who gave up a flourishing legal practice to take on the thankless task of shaping the Court and went on to make it into the institution we see today? Working from primary sources, Jean Edward Smith draws an elegant portrait of this remarkable man. Lawyer, jurist, scholar; soldier, comrade, friend; and, most especially, lover of fine Madeira, good food, and animated table talk: the Marshall who emerges from this book is as 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.