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John Marshall

John Marshall in 1831 by Henry Inman

In office
January 31, 1801[1] – July 6, 1835
Nominated by John Adams
Preceded by Oliver Ellsworth
Succeeded by Roger B. Taney

In office
June 13, 1800 – March 13, 1801
President John Adams
Preceded by Timothy Pickering
Succeeded by James Madison

Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th district
In office
March 4, 1799 – June 7, 1800
Preceded by John Clopton
Succeeded by Littleton W. Tazewell

Born September 24, 1755(1755-09-24)
Germantown, Colony of Virginia
Died July 6, 1835 (aged 79)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Mary Willis Ambler
Profession Lawyer, Judge
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Service/branch Culpeper, Virginia Militia
Rank Captain
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was an American statesman and jurist who shaped American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court a center of power. Marshall was Chief Justice of the United States, serving from February 4, 1801, until his death in 1835. He served in the United States House of Representatives from March 4, 1799, to June 7, 1800, and, under President John Adams, was Secretary of State from June 6, 1800, to March 4, 1801. Marshall was from the Commonwealth of Virginia and a leader of the Federalist Party.

The longest serving Chief Justice in Supreme Court history (see, List of United States Chief Justices by time in office), Marshall dominated the Court for over three decades (a term outliving his own Federalist Party) and played a significant role in the development of the American legal system. Most notably, he established that the courts are entitled to exercise judicial review, the power to strike down laws that violate the Constitution. Thus, Marshall has been credited with cementing the position of the judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. Furthermore, Marshall made several important decisions relating to federalism, shaping the balance of power between the federal government and the states during the early years of the republic. In particular, he repeatedly confirmed the supremacy of federal law over state law and supported an expansive reading of the enumerated powers.


Early years

John Marshall was born in a log cabin near Germantown, a rural community on the Virginia frontier, in what is now Fauquier County near Midland, Virginia, on September 24, 1755 to Thomas Marshall and Mary Randolph Keith. The oldest of fifteen, John had eight sisters and six brothers. Also, several cousins were raised with the family. From a young age, he was noted for his good humor and black eyes, which were "strong and penetrating, beaming with intelligence and good nature".[2]

Thomas Marshall was employed by Lord Fairfax. Known as "the Proprietor", Fairfax provided Thomas Marshall with a substantial income as his lordship’s agent in Fauquier County. Marshall’s task was to survey the tract, assist in finding people to settle there, arrange the title transfers, and ultimately collect the modest quitrents.

In the early 1760s the Marshall family left Germantown and moved some thirty miles to Leeds Manor (so named by Lord Fairfax) on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge. On the banks of Goose Creek, Thomas Marshall built a simple wooden cabin there, much like the one abandoned in Germantown with two rooms on the first floor and a two-room loft above. Thomas Marshall was not yet well enough established so he leased it from Colonel Richard Henry Lee. The Marshalls called their new home "the Hollow," and the ten years they resided there were John Marshall's formative years. In 1773 the Marshall family moved once again. Thomas Marshall, by then a man of more substantial means, purchased a 1,700-acre estate adjacent to North Cobbler Mountain, approximately ten miles northwest of the Hollow. The new farm was located adjacent to the main stage road (now U.S. 17) between Salem (the modern day village of Marshall, Virginia) and Delaplane. When John was seventeen Thomas Marshall built "Oak Hill" there, a seven-room frame home with four rooms on the first floor and three above. Although modest in comparison to the estates of Washington, Madison, and Jefferson, Oak Hill nevertheless was a substantial home for the period. John Marshall became the owner of Oak Hill in 1785 when his father moved to Kentucky. Although John Marshall lived his later life in Richmond and Washington, he kept his Fauquier County property, making improvements and using it as a retreat until his death.

Marshall's early education was superintended by his father who gave him an early taste for history and poetry. Thomas Marshall's employer, Lord Fairfax, allowed access to his home at Greenway Court, which was an exceptional center of learning and culture. Marshall took advantage of the resources at Greenway Court and borrowed freely from the extensive collection of classical and contemporary literature. There were no schools in the region at the time so home schooling was pursued. Although books were a rarity for most in the territory, Thomas Marshall's library was exceptional. His collection of literature, some of which was borrowed from Lord Fairfax, was relatively substantial and included works by Livy, Horace, Pope, Dryden, Milton, and Shakespeare. All of the Marshall children were accomplished, literate, and self-educated under their parents' supervision. At the age of twelve John had transcribed Alexander Pope's Essay on Man and some of his Moral Essays.

There being no formal school in Fauqueir County at the time, John was sent, at age fourteen, about one hundred miles from home, to the academy of Reverend Archibald Campbell in Washington parish. Among his classmates was James Monroe. John remained at the academy one year, after which he was brought home. Afterwards, Thomas Marshall arranged with Edinbugh for a minister to be sent who could double as a teacher for the local children. The Reverend James Thomson, a recently ordained deacon from Glasgow, Scotland, was sent . Thomson resided with the Marshall family and tutored the children in Latin in return for his room and board. When Thomson left at the end of the year, John had begun reading and transcribing Horace and Livy.

The Marshalls had long before decided that John was to be a lawyer. Blackstone's "Commentaries" had been published in America and Thomas Marshall bought a copy for his own use and for John to read and study. After John returned home from Campbell's academy he continued his studies with no other aid than his Dictionary. John's father superintended the English part of his education. Marshall wrote of his father, "... and to his care I am indebted for anything valuable which I may have acquired in my youth. He was my only intelligent companion; and was both a watchful parent and an affectionate friend."

John's last experience with formal education came in 1780 during a six week stay at the College of William & Mary, where he attended the law lectures of George Wythe. He was licensed to practice law later that year, setting up his own practice in Fauquier County.

Marshall served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and was friends with George Washington. He served first as a Lieutenant in the Culpeper Minute Men from 1775 to 1776, then as a Lieutenant in the Eleventh Virginia Continental Regiment from 1776 to 1780.[3] During his time in the army, he enjoyed running races with the other soldiers and was nicknamed "Silverheels" for the white heels his mother had sewn into his stockings.[4] After his time in the Army, he read law under the famous Chancellor George Wythe in Williamsburg, Virginia at the College of William and Mary,[5] was elected to Phi Beta Kappa[6] and was admitted to the Bar in 1780.[3] He was in private practice in Fauquier County, Virginia[3] before entering politics.

State political career

In 1782 Marshall won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, in which he served until 1789 and again from 1795–1796. The Virginia General Assembly elected him to serve on the Council of State later in the same year. In 1785, Marshall took up the additional office of Recorder of the Richmond City Hustings Court.[7]

In 1788, Marshall was selected as a delegate to the Virginia convention responsible for ratifying or rejecting the United States Constitution, which had been proposed by the Philadelphia Convention a year earlier. Together with James Madison and Edmund Randolph, Marshall led the fight for ratification. He was especially active in defense of Article III, which provides for the Federal judiciary.[8] His most prominent opponent at the ratification convention was Anti-Federalist leader Patrick Henry. Ultimately, the convention approved the Constitution by a vote of 89-79. Marshall identified with the new Federalist Party (which supported a strong national government and commercial interests), rather than Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party (which advocated states' rights and idealized the yeoman farmer and the French Revolution).

Biography of Washington

Marshall greatly admired George Washington, and wrote a highly influential biography. Between 1805 and 1807, he published a five-volume biography; his Life of Washington was based on records and papers provided him by the president's family. The first volume was reissued in 1824 separately as A History of the American Colonies. The work reflected Marshall's Federalist principles. His revised and condensed two-volume Life of Washington was published in 1832.[9] Vol 1. Vol 2. Historians have often praised its accuracy and well-reasoned judgments, while noting his frequent paraphrases of published sources such as William Gordon's 1801 history of the Revolution and the British Annual Register.[10] After completing the revision to his biography of Washington, Marshall prepared an abridgment. In 1833 he wrote, "I have at length completed an abridgment of the Life of Washington for the use of schools. I have endeavored to compress it as much as possible. . . . After striking out every thing which in my judgment could be properly excluded the volume will contain at least 400 pages."[11] Cary & Lea did publish the abridgment, but only in 1838, three years after Marshall died.

Other work, later life, legacy

Marshall loved his home, built in 1790, in Richmond, Virginia,[12] and spent as much time there as possible in quiet contentment.[13][14] While in Richmond he attended St. John's Church in Church Hill until 1814 when he led the movement to hire Robert Mills as architect of Monumental Church, which commemorated the death of 72 Virginians. The Marshall family occupied pew No. 23 at Monumental Church and entertained the Marquis de Lafayette there during his visit to Richmond in 1824. For approximately three months each year, however, he would be away in Washington for the Court's annual term; he would also be away for several weeks to serve on the circuit court in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In 1823, he became first president of the Richmond branch of the American Colonization Society, which was dedicated to resettling freed American slaves in Liberia, on the West coast of Africa.

In 1828, he presided over a convention to promote internal improvements in Virginia.

In 1829, he was a delegate to the state constitutional convention, where he was again joined by fellow American statesman and loyal Virginians, James Madison and James Monroe, although all were quite old by that time. Marshall mainly spoke at this convention to promote the necessity of an independent judiciary.

On December 25, 1831, Mary, his beloved wife of some 49 years, died. Most who knew Marshall agreed that after Mary's death, he was never quite the same.

On returning from Washington in the spring of 1835, he suffered severe contusions resulting from an accident to the stage coach in which he was riding.[5] His health, which had not been good for several years, now rapidly declined, and in June he journeyed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for medical attendance. There he died on July 6, at the age of 79, having served as Chief Justice for over 34 years. He also was the last surviving member of John Adams's Cabinet and the second to last surviving Founding Father, the last being James Madison.

Two days before his death, he enjoined his friends to place only a plain slab over his and his wife's graves, and he wrote the simple inscription himself. His body, which was taken to Richmond, lies in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in a well kept grave.[15]

Son of Thomas and Mary Marshall
was born September 24, 1755
Intermarried with Mary Willis Ambler
the 3rd of January 1783
Departed this life
the 6th day of July 1835.[16]

Monuments and memorials

Marshall Memorial by William Wetmore Story

Marshall's home in Richmond, Virginia, has been preserved by APVA Preservation Virginia. It is considered to be an important landmark and museum, essential to an understanding of the Chief Justice's life and work.[14] The United States Bar Association commissioned sculptor William Wetmore Story to execute the statue of Marshall that now stands inside the Supreme Court on the ground floor.[5][17] Another casting of the statue is located at Constitution Ave. and 4th Street in Washington D.C. and a third on the grounds of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Story's father Joseph Story had served as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court with Marshall. The statue was originally dedicated in 1884.[17]

An engraved portrait of Marshall appears on U.S. paper money on the series 1890 and 1891 treasury notes. These rare notes are in great demand by note collectors today. Also, in 1914, an engraved portrait of Marshall was used as the central vignette on series 1914 $500 federal reserve notes. These notes are also quite scarce. Example of both notes are available for viewing on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco website.[18][19]

Having grown from a Reformed Church academy, Marshall College, named upon the death of Chief Justice John Marshall, officially opened in 1836 with a well-established reputation. After a merger with Franklin College in 1853, the school was renamed Franklin and Marshall College. The college went on to become one of the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges.

Four law schools and one University today bear his name: The Marshall-Wythe School of Law (now William and Mary Law School at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia; The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio; John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia; and, The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois. The University that bears his name is Marshall University in Huntington West Virginia. Marshall County, Illinois, Marshall County, Indiana, Marshall County, Kentucky and Marshall County, West Virginia are also named in his honor. A number of high schools around the nation have also been named for him.

John Marshall's birthplace in Fauquier County is a park, the John Marshall Birthplace Park, and a marker can be seen on Route 28 noting this place and event.

The village of Marshall, Virginia is named after John Marshall.

Marshall, Michigan was named by town founders Sidney and George Ketchum in honor of the Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall from Virginia—whom they greatly admired. Occurring five years before Marshall's death, it was the first of dozens of communities and counties named for him.[20] Marshalltown, Iowa was allegedly named for the Michigan city, but adopted its current name because there was already a Marshall, Iowa[21]

John Marshall was an active Freemason and served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Virginia.[22]

Prominent family connections



Primary sources


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: John Marshall". 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  2. ^ Quoted in Baker (1972), p. 4 and Stites (1981), p. 7.
  3. ^ a b c John Marshall at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  4. ^ Stites (1981), pp. 11-15.
  5. ^ a b c "Courthouse History, U.S. District Court, Washington, DC.". 
  6. ^ Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members, ‘’Phi Beta Kappa website’’, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  7. ^ ""Marshall, John." Federal Judicial Center.". 
  8. ^ "John Marshall" Encyclopædia Britannica, from Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2004 DVD. Copyright © 1994–2003 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. May 30, 2003
  9. ^ Marshall, John; Widger, David, Ed., Life of Washington (Document No. 28859 -- Release Date 2009-05-18) at Project Gutenberg.
  10. ^ William A. Foran, "John Marshall as a Historian," American Historical Review, Vol. 43, No. 1 (October, 1937), pp. 51-64 in JSTOR
  11. ^ Note to the Online Library of Liberty edition.
  12. ^ "John Marshall House, Richmond, Virginia.". 
  13. ^ "National Park Service, Marshall's Richmond home.". 
  14. ^ a b National Park Service, "The Great Chief Justice" at Home, Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
  15. ^ John Marshall at Find a Grave. See also, Christensen, George A. (2008) Here Lies the Supreme Court Revisited: Gravesites of the Justices. Supreme Court Historical Society. Journal of the Supreme Court, 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.
  16. ^ *John Marshall at Find a Grave
  17. ^ a b Exercises at the ceremony of unveiling the statue of John by Morrison Remick Waite, William Henry Rawle, Philadelphia Bar Association - 1884 - Biography & Autobiography - 92 pp., pages 1, 3, 5 9, 23-29.. 
  18. ^ "Pictures of large size Federal Reserve Notes featuring John Marshall, provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.". 
  19. ^ Pictures of US Treasury Notes featuring John Marshall, provided by theFederal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  20. ^ "City of Marshall, Michigan". 
  21. ^ "Answers, source of Marshalltown name.". 
  22. ^ Tignor, Thomas A. The Greatest and Best: Brother John Marshall at
  23. ^ "Online review, John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court.". 

See also


External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Clopton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th congressional district

March 4, 1799 – June 7, 1800
Succeeded by
Littleton W. Tazewell
Political offices
Preceded by
Timothy Pickering
United States Secretary of State
Served under: John Adams

June 6, 1800 – March 4, 1801
Succeeded by
James Madison
Legal offices
Preceded by
Oliver Ellsworth
Chief Justice of the United States
February 4, 1801 – July 6, 1835
Succeeded by
Roger B. Taney


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will.

John Marshall (September 24, 1755July 6, 1835) was an American statesman and jurist who greatly influenced American constitutional law. Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, serving from February 4, 1801 until his death. He had previously served as a member of the United States House of Representatives and as Secretary of State, to John Adams.



  • It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is...If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each...This is of the very essence of judicial duty.
    • Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch, 1317 (1803).
  • The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will.
    • Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheaton (19 U.S.) 264, 389 (1821).
  • The law does not expect a man to be prepared to defend every act of his life which may be suddenly and without notice alleged against him.
  • The acme of judicial distinction means the ability to look a lawyer straight in the eyes for two hours and not hear a damned word he says.
    • Reportedly said to a young John Bannister Gibson, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, when Gibson remarked that Marshall had reached the acme of judicial distinction; in David Goldsmith Loth, Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Growth of the Republic (1949), p. 275. See also Albert J. Beveridge, "Life of John Marshall" (1919).

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheaton) 316 (1819).

  • We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.
    • 4 Wheaton 316, 407.
  • This provision is made in a constitution, intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.
    • 4 Wheaton 316, 415.
  • Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.
    • 4 Wheaton 316, 421.
  • The power to tax involves the power to destroy.
    • 4 Wheaton 316, 431.

Quotes about John Marshall

  • No one admires more than I do the extraordinary powers of Marshall's mind; no one respects more his amiable deportment in private life. He is the most unpretending and unassuming of men. His abilities and his virtues render him an ornament not only to Virginia, but to our nature.
    • John Randolph, who was a political adversary. From Vol. I., pp. 487–8 of William Cabell Bruce, John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773–1833, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1922.

External links

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Simple English

John Marshall

In office
February 4, 1801 – July 6, 1835
Nominated by John Adams
Preceded by Oliver Ellsworth
Succeeded by Roger B. Taney

In office
June 13, 1800 – February 4, 1801
President John Adams
Preceded by Timothy Pickering
Succeeded by James Madison

In office
March 4, 1799 – June 7, 1800

Born September 24, 1755(1755-09-24)
Germantown, Virginia
Died July 6, 1835 (aged 79)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Political party Federalist
Spouse Mary Willis Ambler
Profession Lawyer, Judge
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Service/branch Culpeper, Virginia Militia
Rank Captain
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was an American statesman and jurist who shaped American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court more powerful. Marshall was Chief Justice of the United States, working from February 4, 1801, until his death in 1835. He worked in the United States House of Representatives from March 4, 1799, to June 7, 1800, and, under President John Adams, was Secretary of State from June 6, 1800, to March 4, 1801. Marshall was from the Commonwealth of Virginia and a leader of the Federalist Party.

The longest working Chief Justice in Supreme Court history, Marshall ruled the Court for thirty years and was an important part of making the American legal system. His most important addition was judicial review, the power to stop laws that violate the Constitution. Marshall has been called the one that made the judicial branch special and powerful. Marshall also balanaced the power between the federal and state government. He made sure the federal law was more powerful than state law and agreed with an expansive reading of the enumerated powers.

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