In a piece for the Claremont Review of Books, JWI Senior Scholar Prof. Michael Uhlmann reviews Richard Brookhiser’s new biography, John Marshall: The Man who Made the Supreme Court, which provides a concise account of Chief Justice’s accomplishments. In his review, Professor Uhlmann points to John Marshall as an underappreciated titan, whose work and influence–from Marbury v. Madison to Gibbons v. Ogden–established much of our nation’s judicial practice. Uhlmann’s review renews the case for Justice Marshall’s place as one of the greatest early Americans and recommends Brookhiser’s biography as a detailed account that reveals “the human person behind the reputation.”
Some excerpts from the piece:
“Among those designated as “Founding Fathers,” perhaps the least appreciated (at least compared to his importance) is John Marshall, the nation’s fourth and most famous Chief Justice. Perhaps the reason is that discussion of his fame lies mainly within the province of legal specialists and, although what they say is for the most part praiseworthy, they often tend to concentrate on recondite legal issues at the expense of grander themes of the sort articulated by, say, The Federalist. Or perhaps the reason is that Marshall’s accomplishments are largely derivative in nature, because they rest upon a constitutional foundation erected by others—indeed they postdate its establishment by years, even decades.”
“ A writer must sail between the Scylla and Charybdis of over- and under-inclusion; Brookhiser, a skilled literary helmsman, manages to avoid both dangers. Only a pedant would fault his neatly abridged summaries of the cases under review, which manage to be generally accurate without sacrificing anything of critical importance. He never lets the reader forget how much Marshall’s self-discipline, creative imagination, and political prudence resolved controversies that might have flummoxed or defeated a lesser man. All in all, Brookhiser has given us an engaging assessment of what made a great man great, and why his virtues should be applauded. It makes one look forward to the author’s next venture.”
“These are extraordinary achievements that left an enduring mark on the development of American constitutional thought and institutions. That not everything worked out in quite the way Marshall wished was hardly his fault. As previously noted, his accomplishments were all the more remarkable because they were frequently undertaken in the teeth of entrenched and powerful opposition. The Great Chief Justice was not present to sign the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, but among those who were, few can lay better claim to achieving their noble purposes. We are indebted to Richard Brookhiser for reminding us.”
Read the whole review here.