The Great Decision

  • by Cliff Sloan, David McKean
  • Narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez
  • 8 hrs and 0 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In 1800, the United States teetered on the brink of a second revolution. The presidential election between Adams and Jefferson was a bitterly contested tie, and the government neared collapse. The Supreme Court had no clear purpose or power - no one had even thought to build it a courtroom in the new capital city. When Adams sought to prolong his policies in defiance of the electorate by packing the courts, the fine words of the new Constitution could do nothing to stop him. It would take a man to make those words good, and America found him in John Marshall.The Great Decision tells the riveting story of Marshall and of the landmark court case, Marbury v. Madison, through which he empowered the Supreme Court and transformed the idea of the separation of powers into a working blueprint for our modern state.Rich in atmospheric detail, political intrigue, and fascinating characters, The Great Decision is an illuminating tale of America's formative years and of the evolution of our democracy.


What the Critics Say

"[T]heir book provides a colorful description of the tumultuous times in which the Court rendered its landmark judgment. And the book's implicit references and comparisons to our own politically divisive times will not be lost on the attentive reader." (The Washington Post)
"In this highly accessible book, the authors skillfully build suspense and tension around an outcome readers may already know." (Booklist)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

John Marshall & The Supremes

The first case I read for my Constitutional Law class in law school was Marbury v. Madison (1803) 5 U.S. 137, 1 Cranch 137. I was brand new to law school, and the case mystified me. I understood why Marbury v. Madison was crucial to establishing the Judiciary as a co-equal branch of government, along with the Executive and Legislative branches. Despite my love of American History, I lacked specific knowledge of the political history and judicial structure to understand how the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cliff Sloan and David McKean's "The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall and the Battle for the Supreme Court" (2009) gave me the context I was missing.

John Adams, the Federalist second president of the United States, lost a bid for re-election. The winner was a Democratic-Republican, but the electoral college votes were evenly split between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.

While Jefferson and Burr schemed and plotted, Congress worked to determine who would be the third president. In that confused period of time, Adams made hundreds of Federalist appointments. One of those was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall. Adams also appointed William Marbury as a Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia.

After Jefferson took office, Marbury's commission was never delivered and Marbury filed a writ of mandamus against James Madison, Jefferson's Secretary of State, asking that the Executive Branch be required to appoint him.

"The Great Decision" describes the physical and cultural condition of Washington, DC at the time and the strengths and weaknesses of the men involved. For example, Jefferson had so little regard for the judiciary as a whole and the Supreme Court specifically, he didn't bother to send a lawyer to represent the government. Jefferson also hated his second cousin, Marshall, which contributed to his disdain.

I was fascinated by the "The Great Decision", and it adds an important perspective to the adoption of the constitution as we know it today. That point is often lost among ubiquitous biographies of the founding fathers, although the Courts haven't forgotten it. According to Google Scholar, Marbury v. Madison has been cited by federal courts 24,589 times.

Peter Jay Fernandez narration was good, but don't listen to the last chapter (42 minutes) without a strong cup of coffee. It's the actual decision, and Marshall was establishing another Supreme Court precedent: making even the most exciting decision sound dull and repetitive.

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

Brings to life the early days of the USA

What did you love best about The Great Decision?

It is fascinating to learn more about the country's leading characters in the early days of this republic. An interesting story, well told, which expanded my understanding of this country, and its history.

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- Tim

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-30-2009
  • Publisher: Audible Studios