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06/12/2022

John McGinnis on Gerard Magliocca on Bushrod Washington
Michael Ramsey

At Law & Liberty, John McGinnis: The Workhorse of the Early Court.  From the introduction: 

... In Washington’s Heir: The Life of Bushrod Washington, Professor Gerard Magliocca adds importantly to our understanding of the early Court by making a compelling and well-researched case that Bushrod Washington was the soundest of the early justices. In this quality, of course, he resembled his Uncle George. Many of the Framers were more brilliant than he, but none had surer judgment. As Thomas Jefferson recognized, the first President never acted “until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed.” His nephew, as described by Story, had the same characteristics: his “mind was solid rather than brilliant; sagacious and searching rather than quick or eager; slow but not torpid, steady, but not unyielding.”

Of course, the results of this soundness were not comparable to his Uncle, but that is a standard no one in American history can match. As Akhil Reed Amar has brilliantly argued in The Words that Made Us: Constitutional Conversations, 1760-1840, George was the person most responsible not only for winning the war that made America a nation but also for creating the Constitution that founded it. Nevertheless, from the evidence of this book, Bushrod was the most faithful conservator of that foundation among the early justices. He was devoted to understanding the text as enacted, and he resisted, as some of his more brilliant colleagues did not, the temptation to use the Constitution to create the optimal social policy according to his own lights.

And in conclusion:

Magliocca has himself provided superb academic service in bringing to life a figure who is largely forgotten but for his famous surname and showing his contemporary relevance to some of our own important legal debates.