The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XV. Publicists and Orators, 1800–1850

§ 5. His Importance

The appointment of Marshall to the chief justiceship (January, 1801) was of great significance, for in the course of a few years he showed the importance of the Federal judiciary and the great authority of his office. For thirty-four years he presided over the Court and gave out a series of decisions which fixed permanently the principles of constitutional construction. His task was in some respects more that of the statesman than the lawyer; he was called upon to consider public questions of far-reaching importance and to lay down principles which he must gather from the nature of the United States, which was itself, in its composite organization, an experiment, a new form of political order. He was the first judge in history on whom fell the duty of interpreting and expounding the fundamental basis of the state; for, though the Supreme Court had been in existence twelve years before Marshall took his seat on the bench, not much had been done to prepare the way or to throw light on the solution of perplexing problems which Marshall had to solve. Ordinary legal learning and, above all, learning in the domain of ordinary private law could not avail him much; indeed one may question whether, had his mind been stored with vast legal lore, he could have entered on his work without falling into traps of pedantry or finding himself clogged by precedent and technicality. He brought to his great undertaking considerable experience in public affairs, an interest and a viewpoint arising from practical participation in government, and no small amount of learning in international and municipal law and in what we should now call political science.