Berks Barrister Summer 2019 - 20

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Book Review
John Marshall:
The Man Who
Made the
Supreme Court
By RICHARD BROOKHISER
Reviewed by Donald F. Smith, Jr., Esquire

B

ut why? A new biography of Marshall answers the
question clearly and succinctly, in only 277 pages. Its
author, Richard Brookhiser, is an historian and senior
editor of the National Review. Although not a lawyer, he is an
excellent storyteller. Brookhiser admits to being "forced in this
biography to see and describe legalisms afresh." In doing so, he
succeeds where others have failed.
Several years ago, while browsing in my favorite used book
store, Willis Monie, located in Cooperstown, New York, I
came across The Life of John Marshall. A biography by Albert J.
Beveridge, it consists of 2,249 pages, published between 1916
and 1919 in four volumes. Of course, I had to buy the set-how
could an attorney interested in Supreme Court history ever pass
up such a find? Big mistake. Dry. Too technical. I did not finish
volume one, much less all four. The set now resides on a shelf in
the Bar Association's Batdorf Room.
Without missing the points which make Marshall the
"greatest ever," Brookhiser succeeds in his considerably shorter
and more readable version. Beginning with his early life, the
future Chief was viewed as possessing "primitive simplicity
and plainness rarely to be seen." In 1776, Marshall and his
father enlisted in the Continental Army and participated in
20 | Berks Barrister

several battles during the Revolutionary War. He was part of
the Valley Forge winter encampment and witnessed the misery
of the soldiers due to the lack of clothing and food. Marshall
would later, in his biography of George Washington, blame the
sufferings of the army on a weak national government, finding
"radical defects in the system itself."
In his later years on the High Court, he wrote to a colleague
that "it was in the army 'where I was confirmed in the habit of
America as my country.'" He did not think of his native Virginia
as his country, as did Thomas Jefferson, Marshall's cousin and
political antagonist.
Following the war, Marshall developed a successful law
practice and became involved in local politics, as a Federalist,
serving on Richmond's city council and then in Virginia's House
of Delegates. When a new Constitution was drafted replacing
the Articles of Confederation, in an attempt to cure those
"radical defects," Marshall played an active role in Virginia's vote
for its ratification. He had "even, uncharacteristically, bought
new clothes" to wear at the Ratifying Convention.
As a diversion from the stress of practice, Marshall loved
playing games. He was part of the formation of the Quoits
Club for the playing of quoits, an old British game similar



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