John Marshall autobiography  1827
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The John Marshall autobiography consists of a 16-page autobiographical letter, written by John Marshall to Joseph Story, at the latter's urging, in 1827. Also included is an additional letter from Marshall to Story, expressing his approval of Story's biography of him, and an undated engraved portrait of Marshall.

The autobiography begins with a description of Marshall's happy childhood and the many sources of his education, both formal and informal. Marshall then moved to the topic of the Revolutionary War, first describing his service, and then the impact it had on him: "When I recollect the wild and enthusiastic democracy with which my political opinions of that day were tinctured, I am disposed to ascribe my devotion to the union, and to a government competent to its preservation, at least as much to casual circumstances as to judgment" (p. 4). Also covered in some detail is Marshall's legal practice, which he expressed a great reluctance to leave, and his role in the XYZ Affair, including the decision "to bring the controversy before the American People and convince them of the earnestness with which the American government sought a reconciliation with France" (p. 13).

Marshall also described the process of his selection for Chief Justice, which he portrayed as surprisingly casual: "[Adams] said thoughtfully 'Who shall I nominate now'? I replied that I could not tell….After a moment's hesitation he said 'I believe I must nominate you" (p. 15). Unfortunately, Marshall ended the letter without any discussion of his work on the Supreme Court.

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