Jean Edward Smith, Biographer of the Underrated, Dies at 86


President Bill Clinton once said that “Jean Edward Smith’s biography of John Marshall showed me how as chief justice in Marbury v. Madison he built the case for the American nation, and that’s one of the most important things in American history.”

Jean Edward Smith was born on Oct. 13, 1932, in Washington. His father, Jean M. Smith, was a barber at the Capitol on the House side. His mother, Eddyth (Carter) Smith, was a secretary in the Justice Department.

He attended McKinley Technology High School, graduating in 1950 and going on to Princeton, where he majored in political science and English. He was in R.O.T.C. at Princeton, and after graduating in 1954 he served in the Army for seven years.

Stationed in Germany, he met his future wife there, Christine Zinsel. She was in law school and he was a young lieutenant on his way to becoming a captain. They were married in 1959.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Smith is survived by a daughter, Sonja Bauer; a son, Charles; and four grandchildren.

Returning from Germany in 1961, he went on to receive his doctorate in public law and government from Columbia, in 1964. His first book, “The Defense of Berlin” (1963), which recounted the events leading to the building of the Berlin Wall, was published before he began his doctoral studies. In an unusual move, Columbia accepted it as his dissertation. Johns Hopkins University Press plans to republish it later this year.

Dr. Smith began his teaching career at Dartmouth, leaving in 1965 for the University of Toronto, which offered him tenure. He taught there for 35 years and became a Canadian citizen, holding dual citizenship. Over the years he had been a visiting professor at Columbia, Princeton and Georgetown. He joined the Marshall faculty after retiring from Toronto in 1999 and wrote many of his more notable books in West Virginia.

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