The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law

Charles F. Hobson, Author
Charles F. Hobson, Author University Press of Kansas $35 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7006-0788-4
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-7006-1031-0
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This biography of John Marshall's life and thought revises the revisionism. Early biographies of Marshall (chief justice of the Untied States, 1801-1835) tended to be blindly respectful. Then came the four-volume biography by Albert J. Beveridge that appeared between 1916 and 1919. Beveridge popularized Marshall as an intelligent bumpkin, whose willful ignorance of legal precedent allowed him to practice creative jurisprudence. Hobson believes otherwise. The premise of this book is that Marshall had a masterful understanding of precedent. Hobson makes a convincing case, aided by his editorship, beginning in 1979, of Marshall's papers. (To date, eight volumes of those papers have been published.) Hobson gained additional insight into Marshall's times and thought by serving as editor of James Madison's papers. The way Madison's thought illuminates Marshall's thought, and vice versa, is fascinating. At one point, Hobson comments that the vision of a new nation inspiring Madison was the same vision inspiring Marshall as chief justice several decades later. That shared vision meant continuity in American jurisprudence until the presidency of Andrew Jackson, when a communal society began turning into an individualistic quasi-democracy. Hobson's research is impressive and his writing clear. This is not the book to read for an understanding of Marshall's life outside the courtroom. It is the book to read if the goal is understanding the life of Marshall's mind. (Sept.)
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