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duces them to extensive, public notice ; and those, which require the highest faculties of mind to master and expound them, are commonly so intricate, and remote from the ordinary pursuits of life, that the generality of readers do not bring to the examination of them the knowledge, necessary to comprehend them, or the curiosity, which imparts a relish and flavor to them. For the most part, therefore, the reputation of judges is confined to the narrow limits, which embrace the votaries of jurisprudence; and many of those exquisite judgments, which have cost days and nights of the most elaborate study, and, for power of thought, beauty of illustration, variety of learning, and elegant demonstration, are justly numbered among the highest reaches of the human mind, find no admiration beyond the ranks of lawyers, and live only in the dusty repositories of their oracles. The fame of the warrior is for ever embodied in the history of his country, and is colored with the warm lights, reflected back by the praise of many a distant age. The orator and the statesman live, not merely in the recollections of their powerful eloquence, or the deep impressions made by them on the character of the generation, in which they lived; but are brought forth for public approbation in political debates, in splendid volumes, in collegiate declamations, in the works of rhetoricians, in the school-books of boys, and in the elegant extracts of maturer life.
This is not the place to enter upon a minute survey of the official labors of Mr. Chief Justice Marshall. However instructive or interesting such a course might be to the profession, the considerations, already adverted to, sufficiently admonish us, that it would not be very welcome to the mass of other readers. But there is one class of cases, which ought not to be overlooked, because it comes home to the business and bosom of every citizen of this country, and is felt in every gradation of life, from the chief magistrate down to the inmate of the cottage. We allude to the grave discussions of constitutional law, which, during his time, have attracted so much of the talents of the bar in the Supreme Court, and sometimes agitated the whole nation. If all others of the Chief Justice's jurídical arguments had perished, his luminous judgments, on these occasions, would have given an enviable immortality to his
There is, in the discharge of this delicate and important duty, which is peculiar to our institutions, a moral grandeur and interest, which it is not easy to overestimate, either in a political or civil view. In no other country on earth are the acts of the legislature liable to be called in question, and even set aside, if they do not conform to the standard of the constitution. Even in England, where the principles of civil liberty are cherished with uncommon ardor, and private justice is administered with a pure and elevated independence, the Acts of Parliament are, by the very theory of the government, in a legal sense, ornnipotent. They cannot be gainsaid or overruled. They form the law of the land, which controls the prerogative, and even the descent, of the Crown itself, and may take away the life and property of the subject, without trial and without appeal. The only security is in the moderation of Parliament itself, and representative responsibility. The case is far otherwise in America. The state and national constitutions form the supreme law of the land ; and the judges are sworn to maintain these charters of liberty, or rather these special delegations of power by the people, (who, in our governments, are alone the depositaries of supreme authority and sovereignty,) in their original vigor and true intendment. It matters not, how popular a statute may be, or how commanding the majority, by which it has been enacted; it must stand the test of the constitution, or it falls. The humblest citizen may question its constitutionality; and its final fate must be settled upon grave argument and debate by the judges of the land.
Nor is this the mere theory of the constitution. It is a function, which has been often performed; and not a few acts of state, as well as of national legislation, have been brought to this severe scrutiny ; and, after the fullest consideration, some have been pronounced to be void, because they were unconstitutional. And these judgments have been acquiesced in, and obeyed, even when they were highly offensive to the pride and sovereignty of the state itself, or affected private and public interests to an incalculable extent. Such, in America, is the majesty of the law. Such is the homage of a free people to the institutions created by themselves.
This topic is so copious, and of such everlasting consequence to the wellbeing of this republic, that it furnishes matter for volumes; but we must escape from it with the brief hints already suggested, and resume our previous subject.
It is impossible even to look forward to the period, when, according to the course of human events, the grave must close upon the labors of this great man, without a profound melancholy. Such med, as he, are not the ornaments of every and any age ; they arise only at distant intervals, to enlighten and elevate the human race.
They are beings of a superior order, belonging only to centuries, and designed by the beneficence of Providence to work deeply and powerfully upon human affairs. As the American nation advances in its general population and wealth, the constitution is arriving at more and more critical periods of the trial of its principles. The warmest patriots begin to hesitate in their confidence, whether a system of government so free, and so beneficent, so just to popular rights, and so true toward national interests, can and will be enduring. The boldest and most sanguine admirers of republics are pausing, as upon the eve of new events, and new inquiries. They perceive, that it is more than possible, that prosperity may corrupt or enervate us, as it has done all former republics ; that there are elements of change and perturbations, which have not hitherto been subjected to rigid calculation, which may endanger, nay, which may perhaps overthrow, the system of movements, so beautifully put together, and bring on a common ruin, as fearful and as desolating, as any which the old world has exhibited. In the contemplation of such a state of things, who would not lament the extinction of such a mind, as that of the Chief Justice ? Who would not earnestly 'implore the continuance of that influence, which has hitherto, through all the mutations of party, borne him along with the public favor, as, at once, the wisest of guides, and the truest of friends ? When can we expect to be permitted to behold again so much moderation united with so much firmness, so much sagacity with so much modesty, so much learning with so much experience, so much solid wisdom with so much purity, so inuch of every thing, to love and admire, with nothing, absolutely nothing, to regret? What, indeed, strikes us, as the most remarkable in his whole character, even more than his splendid talents, is the entire consistency of his public life and principles. There is nothing in either, which calls for apology or concealment. Ambition has never seduced him from his principles, nor popular clamor deterred him from the strict performance of duty. Amid the extravagances of party spirit, he has stood with a calm and steady inflexibility ; neither bending to the pressure of adversity, nor bounding with the elasticity of success. He has lived, as such a man should live, (and yet, how few deserve the commendation !) by and with his principles. Whatever changes of opinion have occurred, in the course of his long life, have been gradual and slow; the results of genius acting upon larger materials, and of judgment matured by the lessons of experience. If we were tempted to say, in one word, what it was, in which he chiefly excelled other men, we should say, in wisdom ; in the union of that
virtue, which has ripened under the hardy discipline of principles, with that knowledge, which has constantly sisted and refined its old treasures, and as constantly gathered new. The constitution, since its adoption, owes more to liim than to any other single mind, for its true interpretation and vindication. Whether it lives or perishes, bis exposition of its principles will be an enduring monument to his fame, as long as solid reasoning, profound analysis, and sober views of government, shall invite the leisure, or command the attention of statesmen and jurists.
But, interesting as it is, to contemplate such a man in his public character and official functions, there are those, who dwell with far more delight upon his private and domestic qualities. There are few great men, to whom one is brought near, however dazzling may be their talents or actions, who are not thereby painfully diminished in the estimate of those, who approach them. The mist of distance sometimes gives a looming size to their character ; but more often conceals its defects. To be amiable, as well as great ; to be kind, gentle, simple, modest, and social, and at the same time to possess the rarest endowments of mind, and the warmest affections ; is a unjon of qualities, which the fancy may fondly portray, but the sober realities of life rarely establish. Yet it may be affirmed by those, who have had the privilege of intimacy with Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, that he rises, rather than falls, with the nearest surveys ; and that in the domestic circle he is exactly what a wife, a child, a brother, and a friend would most desire. In that magical circle, admiration of his talents is forgotten, in the indulgence of those affections and sensibilities, which are awakened only to be gratified. More might be said with truth, if we were not admonished, that he is yet living, and his delicacy might be wounded by any attempt to fill up the outline of his more private life.
Besides bis judicial labors, the Chief Justice has contributed a valuable addition to the historical and biographical literature of the country. He is the author of the Life of Washington, and of the History of the American Colonies, originally prefixed to the former work ; but, in the second edition, with great propriety, detached from it. Each of these works has been so long and so favorably known to the public, that it is wholly unnecessary to enter upon a critical examination of them in this place. They have all the leading features, which ought to distinguish historical compositions ; fidelity, accuracy, impartiality, dignity of narrative, and simplicity and purity of style. The Life of Washington is, indeed, entitled to a very
high rank; as it was prepared from a diligent perusal of the original papers of that great man, which were submitted to the liberal use of his biographer. Probably no person could have brought to so difficult a task more various and apt qualifications. The Chief Justice had served through a great part of the revolutionary war, and was familiar with most of the scenes of Washington's exploits. He had also long enjoyed his personal confidence, and felt the strongest admiration of his talents and virtues. He was also an early actor in the great political controversies, which, after the revolutionary war, agitated the whole country, and ended in the establishment of the national constitution. He was a decided supporter of the administration of Washington, and a leader among his able advocates. The priuciples and the measures of that administration had bis unqualified approbation ; and he has, at all times since, maintained them in his public life, with a sobriety and uniformity, which mark him out, as the fittest example of the excellence of that school of patriots and statesmen. If to these circumstances are added bis own peculiar cast of mind, bis deep sagacity, his laborious diligence, bis native candor, and lofty sense of duty, it could scarcely be doubted, that his Life of Washington would be invaluable, for the truth of its facts, and the accuracy and completeness of its narrative.
And such has hitherto been, and such ought for ever to continue to be, its reputation. It does not affect to deal with mere private and personal anecdotes, to amuse the idle, or the curious. Its object is, to expound the character and public services of Washington, and to give a faithful outline of his principles and measures. To a statesman, in an especial manner, the concluding volume is of the highest importance. He may there find traced out, with a masterly hand, and with a sedulous impartiality, the origin and progress of the parties, which, since the adoption of the constitution, have divided the United States. He will there be enabled to treasure up the fundamentals of constitutional law; and to purify himself from those generalities, which are so apt to render politics, as a science, impracticable, and government, as a system, unsteady and visionary. Every departure from the great principles and policy, laid down by Washington, will be found to weaken the bonds of union, to jeopard the interests, and to shake the solid foundations of the liberties of the republic. *
While this was passing through the press, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall died at Philadelphia, on the sixth day of July, 1835.