Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times

The remarkable story of John Marshall who, as chief justice, statesman, and diplomat, played a pivotal role in the founding of the United States.



No member of America's Founding Generation had a greater impact on the Constitution and the Supreme Court than John Marshall, and no one did more to preserve the delicate unity of the fledgling United States. From the nation's founding in 1776 and for the next forty years, Marshall was at the center of every political battle. As Chief Justice of the United States - the longest-serving in history - he established the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of the federal Constitution and courts. As the leading Federalist in Virginia, he rivaled his cousin Thomas Jefferson in influence. As a diplomat and secretary of state, he defended American sovereignty against France and Britain, counseled President John Adams, and supervised the construction of the city of Washington. D.C.

This is the astonishing true story of how a rough-cut frontiersman - born in Virginia in 1755 and with little formal education - invented himself as one of the nation's preeminent lawyers and politicians who then reinvented the Constitution to forge a stronger nation. Without Precedent is the engrossing account of the life and times of this exceptional man, who with cunning, imagination, and grace shaped America's future as he held together the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the country itself.

Reviews & Praise

“Who was John Marshall, really? Thousands meet him anew each year solely through his published opinions. But finally, Joel Richard Paul gives us this captivating, indispensable account, painting a fascinating picture of the frontiersman, soldier, illusionist, strategist, diplomat and international lawyer who became not just the man behind Marbury, but so much more.” —Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School



Unlikely Allies

How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution


UNLIKELY ALLIES is the untold true story of the secret diplomacy that won the American Revolution. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin decides to send Silas Deane—a shopkeeper who has never left Connecticut in his life and can’t speak a word of French—on a secret mission to persuade the French king to arm the Americans. Franklin thinks Deane is such an improbable secret agent that the British spies will never suspect him. Hounded by spies, betrayed by his own colleagues, and besieged by privateers, Deane succeeds with the help of Beaumarchais, a French playwright, and the Chevalier d’Eon, the French ambassador to London. The sexually ambiguous d’Eon, a military hero, French spy, and cross-dresser provides the catalyst that persuades Louis XVI to aid the Americans. Full of political intrigue, betrayal, and espionage, UNLIKELY ALLIES is a bold reinterpretation of the struggle for Independence that exposes the complexity of human motivation and the accidental path of history.

Reviews & Praise

“One of the best books of 2009”
The Washington Post

“Like it or not, the American Revolution is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you thought no author could possibly say more on the subject, along comes a book that proves you wrong.

Oftener than not, these books repackage the lives of founding fathers or present the dramatic wartime career of some forgotten white chap relegated to the sidelines by Adams, Jefferson, and Washington. Joel Richard Paul, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, aims higher and achieves something new in Unlikely Allies. …

… Unlikely Allies possesses the menacing atmospherics of an Allen Furst novel, and the intellectual verve for which Furst’s spy thrillers are justly admired. And Paul’s blessedly short chapters and razor-sharp prose make the book an ideal read for a distracted century. That is no small achievement, especially for an author who must balance, as Paul does so brilliantly, character development and historical analysis.

…Paul’s three intertwined lives tell us much about the power of personality, the complexity of human emotions, and as he put it best, “the accidental path of history.”
Chicago Tribune

“…wildly entertaining history …  “Unlikely Allies” is a nonfiction account, but it reads like a Monty Python movie… The wonder is, our great country came out of such undignified scheming.”
Washington Post

“The American Revolution was more than Minutemen and declarations. “Unlikely Allies” tells the jaw-dropping story of three remarkable but flawed players in our nation’s founding.

… this is solid, groundbreaking history, well researched and with a narrative arc that guides you through the labyrinths of Louis XV’s court, colonial insurrections and British intransigence.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Paul’s fast-paced, engaging narrative fills a gap in the historiography of the American Revolution and is essential reading for students of revolutionary diplomacy as well as general devotees of the age.”
Library Journal

“A rip-roaring account of the American Revolution, told from a fresh, and undeniably offbeat, perspective.”

“A tantalizing review of early American foreign policy.”
Kirkus Review

“Here comes rebel Joel Richard Paul, a professor of international and constitutional law, wieldingUnlikely Allies, a shadier version of the forging of the French-American alliance without which the United States might not exist.”

“Paul gleefully unfurl his story like a suspense thriller, dropping hints, angling cliffhangers,…Unlikely Allies is quick and fun, offering up a fresh take on a period which needs a little shaking up.”
Sacramento Book Review, Mar 10, 2010

“Unlikely Allies is an astonishing look at the sometimes seedy side of our country’s founding-a side in which a good man doing an impossible job would be painted with the brush of “traitor,” losing his fortune, his family, his sacred honor and at last his life in service to the land he loved. Paul tells the story with the skill of a novelist, crafting a compelling tale with engaging characters, intriguing twists and a surprise ending, without having to make anything up. Now that is history!”

“An engaging and entertaining account of three of the most colorful characters involved in the American Revolution. It is hard to believe that their story is true, but it is.”
—Gordon Wood, Pulitzer Prize winner, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, and Professor Emeritus, Brown University.

“Ever tire of worshipful accounts of the Founding Fathers’ wisdom and fortitude? Then try this wonderful book about how an American businessman and two Frenchmen, a dramatist and a cross-dressing spy, came to their aid. A rollicking romp as well as a serious history, it reminds us of the role of duplicity, hypocrisy and corruption, and of human frailty and chance, in safeguarding the American Revolution.”
—William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize winner, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, and Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science, Amherst College

Unlikely Allies is an amazing story compellingly told. I kept turning the pages in eagerness to find out what would happen next. Conspiracies abounded, and hardly anyone was what he or she seemed. If the eighteenth century in Europe was an era of Enlightenment, it was also an Age of Deception. Yet, thanks to Joel Paul’s sympathetic portrayal, Silas Deane emerges as an unsung hero of the American Revolution.”
—Robert Gross, Bancroft Prize winner, The Minutemen and their World and James L. and Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History, University of Connecticut

“Rollicking and surprising, this is history as it really happened—as it was made by all-too-human actors. Unlikely Allies is a lively read and an important counterpoint to Founder hagiography.”
—Evan Thomas, bestselling author, Sea of Thunder: Four Naval Commanders and the Last Sea War, and Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek.

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