Thursday, August 7, 2008

Johnson on John Marshall and His Supreme Court: From Adulation to Evaluation

Herbert A. Johnson, University of South Carolina, author of The Chief Justiceship of John Marshall 1801-1835 (1997), has posted an interesting paper on the historiography on Marshall, John Marshall and His Supreme Court: From Adulation to Evaluation, 1901-2001. The SSRN abstract is short and to the point:
Provides a historiographic summary of writings on Chief Justice John Marshall and his Supreme Court, beginning at the Centennial celebration in 1901 and ending with 2001.
The paper's opening paragraph fills in Johnson's project:
We have witnessed a striking change in the academic study of John Marshall since the Centennial of his Supreme Court appointment was celebrated in 1901. This has involved altered historiographical emphases and new research methods. To a degree the study of the Great Chief Justice has been driven more by intellectual currents contemporary to the authors than by the events and philosophies prevailing in Marshall’s own day. There is an all too human tendency to find in historical evidence what one is seeking, and to miss what an objective approach would demonstrate. That is particularly true of a subject like John Marshall who left few personal papers or documents for our study, and whose major public service was on the Supreme Court which has always been reticent in either personal or collective self-revelation. As this paper will show, it is only over the past fifty years--since the 1955 bicentennial celebration of Marshall’s birth-- that we have begun to examine with care the ill-founded generalizations that have been applied to the man and his Supreme Court chief justiceship.