Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whitewashing John Marshall's Legacy


In 1799, the Federalist minority of the Virginia House of Delegates produced an extended defense of the Alien and Sedition Acts. This Minority Report responded to Madison's famous Virginia Resolutions and efforts by Virginia Republicans to tar the Adams Administration with having exceeded its powers under the federal Constitution. Originally attributed to John Marshall by biographer Albert Beveridge, recent biographies of Marshall have omitted the episode or rejected Beveridge's claim. The current editors of the Papers of John Marshall omitted the Minority Report from their multi-volume collection of Marshall's work and have successfully lobbied editors of similar collections to remove Marshall's name from the Report. What was once an assumed (if controversial) episode in Marshall's career has disappeared from otherwise exhaustive accounts of his life and work. As in Philip K. Dick's story, Minority Report, an alternate view of events has been unceremoniously erased from the official record.

Long story short, Marshall wrote in favor of the Sedition Act. In the opinion of Arms/Law, Marshall was a hack--wholly compatible with support of that Act.

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