Jurisprudence as an Expression of Character

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Title

Law & Liberty

Publication Date




Books about John Marshall do different things. Some concern Marshall’s political and constitutional thought, as well as his complex commitments to classical liberalism and republican principles. Perhaps the chief work of this type is Robert K. Faulkner’s classic and still unsurpassed The Jurisprudence of John Marshall (1968). Then there are more institutionally oriented studies. These draw larger lessons from Marshall’s life and times about the development, role, and influence of the Supreme Court in the early republic. Charles Hobson’s powerful The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law (1996) and R. Kent Newmyer’s John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court (2001) are notable contributions of this kind. So, in its way, is Edward Corwin’s idiosyncratic John Marshall and the Constitution (1919). (Who cannot appreciate, at least a little, a book with such extravagances as, “The Hildebrand of American constitutionalism is John Marshall”?)

Finally, there are the more biographical and personal works, the exemplar of which remains Albert Beveridge’s gargantuan, Pulitzer Prize-winning Life of John Marshall, published in 1916 (volumes 1 and 2) and 1919 (volumes 3 and 4), which has provided subsequent generations of academics ample fodder for Marshall mythmaking of a politically distinctive sort. Jean Edward Smith’s not-quite-so-meaty John Marshall: Definer of a Nation (1998) is a more recent, straightforwardly biographical study. Marshall books in this category certainly do not avoid legal and jurisprudential issues. But they also attend to Marshall the statesman, the politician, the lawyer, the friend, the confidant, and the family man. They are interested in how Marshall the man might illuminate Marshall the judge.

Richard Brookhiser’s John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court is a new entry in this last genre. Unlike its predecessors, Brookhiser’s book is an elegantly succinct, readable, and accessible account of Marshall’s life. It explores Marshall’s virtues and personal qualities, as well as some of his shortcomings, to show their contribution to his impact on the Supreme Court. It does so while largely avoiding Marshall the father, the husband, the Christian, and so on, focusing instead on those salient character traits that can be gleaned from his public service.