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Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall By Joel Richard Paul

Review by Edward Malnar

What is just? If you fight to overthrow your government, abandon its legal system, and then are asked to replace it from scratch, what will justice look like? These questions plagued John Marshall as he almost single-handedly invented American jurisprudence.

Joel Richard Paul’s biography takes two styles. First, he narrates a well-researched account of Marshall’s broad and deep experience as a daring soldier, farmer, self-made lawyer, devoted husband, popular legislator, ambassador and Secretary of State – all before becoming Chief Justice. Paul then adopts an accessible seminar-style discussing how this vast wealth of experience grounded Marshall’s Supreme Court in practical wisdom. Even with a biographer’s bias, Paul helps us understand why Marshall’s Court ruled mostly unanimously for decades, even while making up their precedents as they went.

An inspiring figure of the rewards of unending, dedicated service, Marshall saw it all. Paul’s fascinating research provides a lucid overview of the controversies and challenges of creating a new country. And, perhaps, he can let us rest easy that there was no better expert to finish framing the Constitution that preserves the American Union.

Review courtesy of Northfield Public Library
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