John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court
By Richard Brookhiser
"John Marshall is the greatest judge in American history." So Richard Brookhiser begins his latest Founding Father biography, John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court.
In making this lofty claim on behalf of the Supreme Court's longest-serving chief justice, Brookhiser also sets before himself a challenge: to craft a biography that proves the point. If that challenge includes creating a humanizing portrait of the man and bringing life to some of the most important cases in our country's history, then Brookhiser covers his part of the bargain.
Brookhiser develops Marshall's humanity by first sketching in Marshall's close relationship with his father; it was John's father who set John on a career in the law, homeschooling young John in Blackstone's Commentaries on the Law of England. Father and son subsequently enlist together to serve the new country in the Revolutionary War, when John was only 20. The younger Marshall then serves under General George Washington, whom Marshall would much later eulogize as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
It was Washington's belief in a strong federal government--the foundation for the Federalists and their papers--that led Marshall to adopt that same position in his political career and in his judicial opinions. That position often brought Marshall into conflict with his cousin, President Thomas Jefferson, the leading anti-federalist of their time.
After the Revolution, Marshall served as a member of Virginia's House of Delegates charged with ratifying the Constitution, and went on to serve in Congress. It was his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by President John Adams that put him in place to develop the branch of government considered the weakest branch before Marshall took on leadership of the Court. Marshall raised the stature of the Court through a series of opinions that recognized 1) its role as the last word in constitutional application among the three branches (Marbury v. Madison); 2) the Constitution's supremacy in regards to state laws that conflict with our founding document (McCullough v. Maryland); and 3) the importance of the...