JOHN MARSHALL: The man who made the Court supreme by Bill Severn

JOHN MARSHALL: The man who made the Court supreme

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The cliche notwithstanding (there are many), Mr. Severn does succeed in showing how Marshall gave ""the bare bones of the Constitution flesh and blood""--or at least the sinews to sustain a strong central government as the Federalists had conceived it. In the context of a quite comprehensive account of Marshall's activities and attitudes from his frontier childhood and Revolutionary War service (which highlighted the perils of fragmentation) onward through his successful legal career, political jousts and long reign on the Court, his landmark decisions assume an overall coherence; their immediate results--establishing the right of the Court to review Federal and state laws and determine their constitutionality; guaranteeing the sanctity of private property--are noted, and their aftereffects (like the incentive to corporate growth). His long fight with Jefferson, who had almost exactly opposite views, climaxes here in the prickly Burr conspiracy trial and although the two sharp antagonists deserve better than Severn's pusillanimous ""Both did what they felt best for the nation,"" the affair is confronted fully; so is Marshall's imbroglio with Jackson over Georgia's expelling of the Cherokee Indians. Marshall tends to seem formidable, so the glimpses of his irregular attire, his conviviality and occasional prankishness are welcome. Not the supreme biography perhaps, but a considerable aid to understanding and certainly more discriminating than the Steinberg.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1969
Publisher: McKay