John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court
Gerber, Scott D., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court. By R. KENT NEWMYER. Southern Biography Series, BERTRAM WYATT-BROWN, editor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001. xx, 512 pp. $39.95 cloth.
R. KENT NEWMYER'S 1985 biography Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic was published to critical acclaim. His new biography about Chief Justice John Marshall, Story's longtime colleague on the nation's highest court, likely will be awarded similar praise. The book is interesting, thoughtful, and well written. However, in my judgment, students of early American constitutional history would have benefited more if Newmyer had devoted his time and considerable skill to a different subject. Put directly, do we really need another biography of John Marshall? Newmyer himself seems to acknowledge that we don't. He opens the book by admitting that he might not have written his biography of Marshall had he known that "an avalanche of fine scholarship [about Marshall] was coming down the mountain" (p. xiii).
To make the point in more personal terms, this is the third Marshall biography I have been asked to review in the past couple of years, the others being Charles F. Hobson's The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law (1996) and Jean Edward Smith's John Marshall: Definer of a Nation (1996). 1 gave both books favorable reviews, and I repeat that opinion here with respect to Newmyer's fine biography. However, I must confess that I learned nothing new from reading Newmyer's tome. The same familiar ground is covered: Marshall's pre-Court years, his confrontations with Thomas Jefferson, his jurisprudence, his nationalistic constitutional law decisions, and the frustrations of his latter years on the Court. …