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First and foremost, this should not be your first biography of John Marshall. Had I not just listened to an excellent one, I think I would have been lost quite a bit of the time. Newmyer assumes a passing knowledge of both Marshall and the law, and knowing a handful of Supreme Court cases doesn’t hurt.
That being said, Newmyer offers a fascinating analysis of Marshall’s decisions, situating them vis a vis intellectual, juridical and historical context, looking back to their sources and legal traditions and forward to their effects, ramifications and influences. He deftly teases apart Marshall’s legacy, maintaining their complexity while unwinding the strands into accessible, coherent themes and arguments.
Marshall’s tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stretched over six presidents: John Adams, who appointed him, Jefferson, who hated him, Madison and Monroe, who respected him while disagreeing with him, John Quincy Adams, who defended him and Andrew Jackson, who opposed him as much as possible. Newmyer explores how his jurisprudence adjusted to the changing politics of the age, while illuminating the consistent strands that connect all his decisions.
Well worth reading to fill out and expand your knowledge of John Marshall, antebellum American history, constitutional law and the Supreme Court.