John Marshall

John Marshall
Chief Justice

Position: Chief Justice

John Marshall was born on September 24, 1755, in Germantown, Virginia. He was the first of fifteen children. Marshall died on July 6, 1835, at the age of seventy-nine.

Following his military service in the Revolutionary War, in 1780, he attended a course of law lectures conducted by George Wythe at the College of William and Mary. He continued the private study of law until his admission to practice in the same year

Law Practice:
He quickly established a successful career defending individuals against their pre-War British creditors. Although offered appointment to the United States Supreme Court in 1798, Marshall preferred to remain in private practice.

Government Service:
Marshall was a participant in the Revolutionary War as a member of the 3rd Virginia Regiment. Marshall was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782, 1787, and 1795. He also participated in the state ratifying constitution convention and spoke on behalf of the new constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. In 1797, he accepted appointment as one of three envoys sent on a diplomatic mission to France. Marshall contemplated several offers to serve in the Washington and Adams administrations. He declined service as attorney general for Washington; he declined positions on the Supreme Court and as secretary of war under Adams. With Washington's direction, Marshall ran successfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1799 but his tenure there was brief. In 1800, Adams offered Marshall the position of secretary of state, which Marshall accepted. Even though a Chief Justice, Marshall continued to serve as Secretary of State throughout President Adams' term and, at President Thomas Jefferson's request, he remained in that office briefly following Jefferson's inauguration.

Judicial Offices:
When Oliver Ellsworth resigned as chief justice in 1800, Adams turned to the first chief justice, John Jay, who declined. Federalists urged Adams to promote associate justice William Paterson to the spot. However, President Adams nominated Marshall Chief Justice of the United States, and the Senate confirmed the appointment on January 27, 1801. He was commissioned on January 31, 1801 and he was sworn in on February 4, 1801. Marshall left office on July 6, 1835, which was the day he died.

Marshall served for a record of over 34 years; he participated in more than 1000 decisions and authored over 500 opinions. Marshall was instrumental in establishing the court's authority in the national government. During his tenure, the court began issuing single majority opinions, enabling it to speak with a more definitive, unified voice. Rulings during this era bolstered federal power over states. Marshall wrote the 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, which established judicial review of laws passed by Congress. He helped establish the Supreme Court as the final authority on the meaning of the Constitution.

More Biographical Information:

  • "The Great Chief Justice" at Home From the National Park Service.
  • John Marshall From the U.S. Senate: Marble Busts of the First Five U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justices.
  • John Marshall From the Oyez Project (Northwestern University).
  • Judges of the United States Courts From the Federal Judicial Center.
  • Marshall, John From Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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