Last summer I decided to start a project to read at least one biography about each of our presidents. If you would like to read about the books I have read so far just click on the Presidential Reading Project category in the right hand column. I enjoy learning about history through the lives of the people who lived it. I've enjoyed reading about the first fifty years of the United States so much that even though Marshall was not a president I decided to read John Marshall – Definer of a Nation by Jean Edward Smith. Marshall was chief justice of the U.S. supreme court from 1801 until he died in 1835.
In many ways Marshall created the supreme court. As much as any of our early presidents he played a key role in defining the meaning of the constitution. In this biography Smith describes Marshall as a gregarious and affable man liked by almost everyone who knew him.
In addition to his 35 years on the Supreme Court Marshall also fought in the revolutionary war and was with Washington during the awful winter at Valley Forge. In the 1790's he represented the U.S. as a diplomatic envoy to Paris. This was not long after the French revolution and U.S. relations with France were not good. In what became known as the XYZ affair the French Foreign Minister, Talleyrand tried to extract a bribe from the American delegation. Marshall, Pinckney and Gerry refused.
Reading and learning about Marshall has been fun. Smith's book is very readable. The intricacies of constitutional law as addressed by the supreme court could be a boring subject but Smith's descriptions of Marshall, and the supreme court cases he was involved in are fascinating. I highly recommend this book.