A hero in America's war against British tyranny, John Marshall with his heroics as Chief Justice turned the Supreme Court into a bulwark against presidential and congressional tyranny and saved American democracy.
In this startling biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals how Virginia-born John Marshall emerged from the Revolutionary War's bloodiest battlefields to become one of the nation's most important Founding Fathers: America's greatest Chief Justice. Marshall served his country as an officer, Congressman, diplomat, and Secretary of State before President John Adams named him the nation's fourth Chief Justice, the longest-serving in American history. Marshall transformed the Supreme Court from an irrelevant appeals court into a powerful branch of government -- and provoked the ire of thousands of Americans who, like millions today, accused him and the court of issuing decisions that were tantamount to new laws and Constitutional amendments.
And the Court's critics were right! Marshall admitted as much.
With nine decisions that shocked the nation, John Marshall and his court assumed powers to strike down laws it deemed unconstitutional. In doing so, Marshall's court acted without Constitutional authority, but its decisions saved American liberty by protecting individual rights and the rights of private business against tyranny by federal, state, and local government.
One of the most illustrious members of the Founding generation, John Marshall attended Virginia's ratifying convention, served in the state legislature and Congress, was a diplomat and Secretary of State, and ultimately became the nation's most influential Chief Justice. He was also among the best-liked men of his time. But what Unger (Mr. President), a biographer of John Quincy Adams, Noah Webster, and George Washington among others, delivers is more hagiography than biography. To boot, he takes sides in the political conflicts of the early nation. Unger has it in especially for Marshall's second cousin Thomas Jefferson. Among the "enemies of the federal government" of which he became president, Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, "abandoned the Revolution," built an "incongruously pretentious home," had a "mean-spirited gossip" of a daughter, may have made near "treasonous" decisions as governor, wielded "all but dictatorial powers" as president, "unleashed his political attack dogs," and "nurtured political divisions and chaos." While its facts are straight, the book's interpretation is extreme and offers nothing revelatory. Moreover, it lacks the authority of recent studies of Marshall by R. Kent Newmyer and Jean Edward Smith. Maps & illus.