WHAT KIND OF NATION: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States

James F. Simon, Author . Simon & Schuster $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-684-84870-9

Simon (a former Time editor, now a law professor at NYU) examines the decades of conflict between the states' rights views of Thomas Jefferson and the federalist beliefs of John Marshall. In 1801, at the end of Adams's presidency, Marshall accepted the Supreme Court chief justice's position and Jefferson became the nation's third president. That set the stage for years of competition between the two philosophies of government, especially the two visions of the judiciary, represented by the principal antagonists of Simon's history. Simon deftly explains how Jefferson and Marshall maintained a façade of civility in their public pronouncements while unleashing blistering mutual vituperation privately. Ultimately, as Simon demonstrates, Marshall prevailed. His technique was subtlety itself. In his opinion in Marbury v. Madison, Marshall gave an ostensible victory to Madison (Jefferson's vice president) but reached that result by asserting the authority of the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. That assertion had far-reaching implications for consolidating the federal government's power. Once the Supreme Court became the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, the court repeatedly exercised its authority to invalidate state laws and court decisions inconsistent with the federal Constitution. Simon usefully narrows his focus to a handful of key decisions by the Marshall court, showing how the justice's concept of what kind of nation the U.S. should be progressively swept aside Jefferson's belief that state and federal governments were equal sovereigns. Simon's book illuminates the origins of a national political debate that continues today. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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Hardcover - 621 pages - 978-0-7862-4547-5
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