A Chief Justice's Progress: John Marshall from Revolutionary Virginia to the Supreme Court

A Chief Justice's Progress: John Marshall from Revolutionary Virginia to the Supreme Court

A Chief Justice's Progress: John Marshall from Revolutionary Virginia to the Supreme Court

A Chief Justice's Progress: John Marshall from Revolutionary Virginia to the Supreme Court

Synopsis

Widely regarded as America's most important Chief Justice, John Marshall influenced our constitutional, political, and economic development as much as any American. He handed down landmark decisions on judicial review, federal-state relations, contracts, corporations, and commercial regulation during a thirty-four year tenure that encompassed five presidencies, a second war of independence, the demise of the first American party system, and the advent of Jacksonianism and market capitalism. This is the first interpretive study of Marshall's early life that emphasizes the formative influences on him before he joined the Court. By that time his character and attitudes were fully formed through his childhood in the Virginia gentry, his service in the state militia and Continental Army, and his work as a prominent lawyer, a Federalist, and a diplomat.

Excerpt

John Marshall spent much of his public time and energy in the late 1780s and early 1790s trying to preserve the accomplishments and ideals of the Revolution in which he had fought. He believed, with good reason, that the increasingly unsettled political conditions of the mid-1780s threatened republican values and institutions, and he joined the nationalists' campaign to reform the Confederation. Serving as an important champion of the Framers' Constitution in a state that was essential to its adoption and success, at the Virginia ratifying convention Marshall advocated a stronger central government, with expanded fiscal, military, and judicial authority, as the best means of enabling the new nation to secure its independence and define itself politically and economically. He later played a prominent part in the ensuing ideological and proto-partisan conflicts over Alexander Hamilton's financial program, which was highly unpopular in Virginia. Marshall spurned national office for personal reasons, but he became a leader of the state's dwindling cadre of Washington administration supporters at a time when the former Antifederalists' growing domination of Virginia politics was forcing Federalists in the Commonwealth to break with the new government or pay a high political price.

By early 1787, the men whom Marshall later called the "enlightened friends of republican government" and "the wise and thinking part of the community," and whom historians commonly refer to as "nationalists," perceived that the republic was in peril because of the Confederation's inadequate powers and the state legislatures' abuses of authority. From these nationalists' vantage point -- the contrary views of some modern historians, notably Merrill Jensen and his students, aside -- the nation was in sorry shape. the postwar depression dragged on in many places, and Virginia's economy, which had recovered temporarily . . .

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