The Man Who Made the Supreme Court

A review of John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court (Basic Books, 2018) by Richard Brookhiser

John Marshall presents a curious problem for Southern history. How can a man, born and bred in the same State, who breathed the same air and shared the same blood with Thomas Jefferson, have been such an ardent nationalist? The same question could be asked of Washington, and to a lesser extent, Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln. The answer in Marshall’s case is perhaps best explained by his opposition to Jefferson’s Republican faction. Marshall feared both a French-inspired revolution on American soil and the fragmentation of the Union, and to Marshall “nationalism” provided the only tangible remedy for Jacobin terrorism and Jeffersonian democracy. The center had to hold in order to maintain the legacy of the American War for Independence.

Yet, none of those men were original thinkers. That is to say, they were not Alexander Hamilton. Clay and his political acolyte Lincoln rarely had a novel thought and were little more than political opportunists intent on salvaging their own careers.  The “Union” meant whatever was best for Clay and Lincoln. Washington was the “indispensable man,” the glue that held the federal republic together through his persona and reputation, if not his impeccable cavalier rearing, but he was not interested in the finer points of government or in political and economic philosophy.

John Marshall: The Man…
Richard Brookhiser
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Marshall does not compare to any of them. He was a political partisan but more of a statesman than either Clay or Lincoln. He styled himself a Washington Federalist without Washington’s refinement and…

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