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What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States Reprint Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684848716
ISBN-10: 0684848716
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Simon (a former Time editor, now a law professor at NYU) examines the decades of conflict between the states' rights views of Thomas Jefferson and the federalist beliefs of John Marshall. In 1801, at the end of Adams's presidency, Marshall accepted the Supreme Court chief justice's position and Jefferson became the nation's third president. That set the stage for years of competition between the two philosophies of government, especially the two visions of the judiciary, represented by the principal antagonists of Simon's history. Simon deftly explains how Jefferson and Marshall maintained a faeade of civility in their public pronouncements while unleashing blistering mutual vituperation privately. Ultimately, as Simon demonstrates, Marshall prevailed. His technique was subtlety itself. In his opinion in Marbury v. Madison, Marshall gave an ostensible victory to Madison (Jefferson's Secretary of State) but reached that result by asserting the authority of the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. That assertion had far-reaching implications for consolidating the federal government's power. Once the Supreme Court became the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, the court repeatedly exercised its authority to invalidate state laws and court decisions inconsistent with the federal Constitution. Simon usefully narrows his focus to a handful of key decisions by the Marshall court, showing how the justice's concept of what kind of nation the U.S. should be progressively swept aside Jefferson's belief that state and federal governments were equal sovereigns. Simon's book illuminates the origins of a national political debate that continues today.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

With John Adams ever so popular right now, why not take a look at what some of his contemporaries were doing to "create a United States"?
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (March 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684848716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684848716
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #731,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is written for a broad audience and aimed at exploring one of the oldest and most persistent problems in American history; the proper role of the Federal Government. Simon frames this book as a conflict between Jefferson, representing those who supported a weaker central government and emphasized the importance of individual states, and John Marshall, the great Chief Justice who led the Supreme Court to establish its critical role as arbiter of constitutional questions. The Marshall court's work strengthened the importance not only of the Supreme Court but of the Federal Government in general. This is not a new story, indeed, most of what Simon describes is the standard understanding of this period of our history. Simon is a good writer who describes the politics and legal issues quite well. His description and analysis of the behavior of the Marshall court is shrewd, emphasizing Marshall's careful attention to both politics and crucial legal issues. For example, it is clear that Marshall worked very hard to maintain unanimity among the justices, even for difficult decisions. Similarly, many of his important decisions were crafted to simultaneously achieve the goal of establishing his brand of moderate Federalism while avoiding inflammatory political consequences. Readers will finish this book with an increased appreciation for Marshall's considerable intellect and remarkable political skills. Beyond this, the book is disappointing in terms of explaining the wellsprings of these conflicts and important aspects of the debate. I think the emphasis on the rivalry between Jefferson and Marshall, which Simon probably chose as a framing device, actually tends to limit understanding of the nature of this conflict.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This is surely the winter of Thomas Jefferson's discontent. His political credo of limiting the power of the federal government is invoked to restrict the rights of individual citizens against giant commercial entities and his defense of executive privilege is used to limit public and Congressional investigation into administrative wrongdoing. To make matters worse, he is attacked by present-day historians as hypocritical, petty, and perhaps worst of all -- trivial.
In James F Simon's What Kind of Nation, Jefferson comes off as all three in his battles over constitutional interpretation with his cousin and nemesis John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. One of the blurbs on the jacket describe Simon as
"eminently fair". That would be accurate if the title of the book were "What Kind of Court". But taken as a study of the two men's contribution to the kind of nation the United States became, it is skewed. What Kind of Nation is the story of Marshall's contribution, but it is far from the full record of Jefferson's.
Simon, a law professor, is admirable in his clear, readable exposition of how Marshall expanded the powers of the US Supreme Court during his thirty-year stewardship. Nearly single-handedly Marshall established the court as co-equal with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government and superior to the individual states' courts. Both Marshall and Jefferson were political partisans who bent legal ideology to suit their own pragmatic objectives, but Marshall was unquestionably better at it. For example, Marshall was a loyal if unenthusiastic supporter of the Alien and Sedition Acts which Federalist judges used to make political dissent a crime.
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Format: Hardcover
On a recent vacation to Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello, my 14-year-old nephew commented that Thomas Jefferson didn't get along with Alexander Hamilton. The four adults accompanying him replied patronizingly that Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr certainly didn't get along, but didn't remember anything between Hamilton and Jefferson...
Of course, my nephew was absolutely correct. In an effort to rectify my obvious educational deficiency, I immediately embarked on a reading plan which led me to "What Kind of Nation", where I discovered that Thomas Jefferson also didn't along with John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
By the time I got to this book I had a pretty good feel for the politics of the period, having read "Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis, "Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington" by Richard Brookhiser, "Alexander Hamilton: American" by Richard Brookhiser and "James Madison" by Garry Wills. I believe this background helped me to maximize my enjoyment of "What Kind of Nation" because I was able to focus on Marshall's brilliance and perseverance in establishing the authority of the Supreme Court on an equal footing with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. Jefferson's antics were amusing, but old news. The way that Marshall dealt with Jefferson who was, after all, the President of the United States during the first 8 years of Marshall's 34 years as Chief Justice, is fascinating.
James Simon does a great job of telling the story without getting overly technical with the legal side of things. I think he strikes just the right balance, so that the lay reader (i.e., non-lawyer) can appreciate the significance of Marshall's extraordinary accomplishments.
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