John Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court Justice / Jurist
Born: 24 September 1755
Birthplace: Fauquier County, Virginia
Died: 6 July 1835
Best Known As: Chief Justice of the United States, 1801-35
John Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, appointed in 1801 by President John Adams. In the 34 years that
Marshall presided over the Supreme Court, the federal powers of the judicial branch were defined and strengthened, most notably in
the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, in which Marshall asserted the power of the court to overturn legislation deemed unconstitutional.
Marshall grew up in Virginia and practiced law before getting involved in Federalist politics. Adams appointed him to be an envoy
to France during the XYZ Affair (1797), then tried to appoint him to the court. Marshall refused and instead served in the House
of Representatives (1799) before Adams named him secretary of state (1800) and then Chief Justice (1801). Politically, Marshall
was famously at odds with his distant cousin, Thomas Jefferson, especially during the trial of Aaron Burr (1807), when the strength
of the court was pitted against the strength of the executive branch. Burr, on trial for treason, was acquitted after Marshall
ruled that two witnesses were needed prove the charge. Marshall's long term on the bench occurred at a time when the newly-formed
nation was still taking shape, and he is considered one of the most influential jurists in U.S. history.
Marshall, who had been a captain in the Revolutionary War, authored a five-volume biography of George Washington,
his commander at Valley Forge.
(born Sept. 24, 1755, near Germantown, Va. — died July 6, 1835, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.) U.S. patriot, politician, and
jurist. In 1775 he joined a regiment of minutemen and served as a lieutenant under Gen. George Washington in the American
Revolution. After his discharge (1781), he served in the Virginia legislature and on Virginia's executive council (1782 – 95),
gaining a reputation as a leading Federalist. He supported ratification of the U.S. Constitution at the state's ratifying
convention. He was one of three commissioners sent to France in 1797 – 98 (see XYZ Affair); he later served as
secretary of state (1800 – 01) under Pres. John Adams. In 1801 Adams named Marshall chief justice of the Supreme Court of
the United States, a post he held until his death. He participated in more than 1,000 decisions, writing 519 himself. During his
tenure, the Supreme Court set forth the main structure of the government; its groundbreaking decisions included
Marbury v. Madison, which established judicial review; McCulloch v.
Maryland, which affirmed the constitutional doctrine of "implied powers"; the Dartmouth College case,
which protected businesses and corporations from much government regulation; and Gibbons v. Ogden,
which established that states cannot interfere with Congress's right to regulate commerce. Marshall is remembered as the principal
founder of the U.S. system of constitutional law.
(b. Germantown [now Midland], Va., 24 Sept. 1755; d. Philadelphia, Pa., 6 July 1835; interred New Burying Ground, Richmond, Va.),
chief justice, 1801-1835. By common acclaim, John Marshall is "the great Chief Justice," the single best representative of American
constitutional law. His greatness, as Oliver Wendell Holmes noted in 1901, consisted partly in his "being there" during the
formative period of the Court's history. But Marshall's conservative?national ideology fit the formative age perfectly, just as his
personality and legal genius exactly suited the duties of chief justice.
President John Adams appointed Marshall to the Court on 20 January 1801, to save the Constitution from the Jeffersonian Republicans.
The well?settled values Marshall brought to his duties were the product of the revolutionary age as refracted through family and
place. He was born and grew up in Fauquier County on the north?western frontier of Virginia, the eldest of fifteen children.
Frontier life imparted to Marshall an easygoing, democratic demeanor that was balanced by the conservative values of the privileged
class to which he belonged. Marshall's marriage to Betsy Ambler in 1783 further consolidated his membership in polite society and
gave him a useful entree into politics and law. They had ten children, six of whom lived to maturity.
The strong love of union that infused his jurisprudence was due mainly to his father's influence and his own experience in the
Revolutionary War. Young Marshall received only two years of formal education. Beyond that, his father taught him rudimentary math,
deepened his love of English literature, introduced him to black?stone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765) and most
importantly perhaps, kept him abreast of political developments in pre?Revolutionary Virginia. Father and son were among the first
to enlist. As an officer in the Culpepper Minutemen and later in the continental line, Marshall saw action at the battles of Great
Bridge, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth Courthouse. Wintering at Valley Forge instilled in him a lifelong hatred of state
provincialism and feckless national government. While serving as deputy judge advocate, he met several members of General George
Washington's staff who would later become champions of national union. Marshall's intense patriotism and admiration of Washington
can be gleaned from his Life of George Washington (1805-1807).
Marshall resumed his legal studies in 1780 by briefly attending the law lectures of George Wythe at William and Mary. With little
more formal training than that he began legal practice, first in Fauquier County and then in Richmond, where he settled with his
wife and family. Neither as lawyer nor as judge was he inclined to blackletter scholarship. He did possess, however, in rare
combination, those qualities essential to legal greatness: a capacious, retentive, and quick mind; sharp analytical skills; and a
logical prose style that bordered on eloquence. He rose rapidly to the top of the highly competitive Richmond bar, specializing in
noncriminal appellate cases. The staple of his practice was British debt cases, but he litigated a wide range of cases in law and
equity in state and federal courts. His only case before the Supreme Court, which he lost, was Ware v. Hylton
(1796), which, ironically, he argued on states' rights grounds.
To be a nationalist in Virginia was to be a Federalist and Marshall was both. Serving in Virginia's Council of State (1782-1784)
and in the House of Delegates (1782, 1784-1785, 1787-1788, 1795) convinced him as it had James Madison that state legislators were
parochial and incompetent. He made his debut as a nationalist in the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788, where he spoke
effectively in defense of federal judicial authority. As a prominent Federalist, he defended Washington's foreign policy and
Alexander Hamilton's domestic program. Proven ability, well?placed connections, and service to party brought him offers to serve
as U.S. attorney general, minister to France, and associate justice of the Supreme Court. He rejected these offers for financial
reasons, but he did agree to serve on the so?called XYZ mission to France, where he distinguished himself for his nationalism,
his diplomatic skills, and the effectiveness of his written dispatches to President John Adams. At Washington's behest, he agreed
to serve in Congress (1799-1800), where he became the leading spokesman for the moderate Federalism of President Adams. He served
briefly but effectively as secretary of state before assuming his duties as chief justice on 5 March 1801.
As chief justice he immediately set out to strengthen the Court by unifying it-a chore made easier by the threats posed by President
Thomas Jefferson and his party who controlled Congress. His most important innovation was to persuade his colleagues to abandon
seriatim opinions, thus making it possible for the Court to speak authoritatively in a single voice. Most often in important
constitutional questions that voice belonged to Marshall, who sensed intuitively that the function of the Court was to legitimate
and educate a people as yet unschooled in constitutional law. His great opinions were expansive constitutional state papers written
with grace, eloquence, and authority and rooted in the republican principles of a written and supreme Constitution emanating from
a sovereign people.
His first great effort as spokesman for the whole Court was Marbury v. Madison (1803), which was the opening battle
in the struggle for judicial review over acts of Congress. For a unanimous Court, Marshall ruled that section 13 of the Judiciary
Act of 1789 was void, so far as it extended original jurisdiction not authorized by Article III of the Constitution. Contrary to
what is often written about the opinion, Marshall did not explicitly claim that the Court was the sole or final interpreter of the
Constitution. In fact, not until DredScott v. Sandford (1857) did the Court strike down another act of
Congress. Marbury was not cited by the Supreme Court itself as the definitive statement on judicial review until the late
nineteenth century. Marshall did, however, successfully nullify an act of Congress and in the process grounded judicial authority
in the supremacy of a written constitution. By lecturing President Jefferson on the rule of law, he implicitly put forth the Court
as the special guardian of that sacred republican principle. Given the political vulnerability of the Court, it was a brilliant
victory and a timely one as well. But the real meaning of judicial review-as the power of the Court to expound the text of the
Constitution as law-became clear only in cases like McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) where Marshall upheld the federal
statute in question.
If McCulloch is the best example of Marshall's use of judicial review, Cohens v. Virginia (1821) was his most
elaborate defense of it. The case arose when Virginia challenged the appellate authority of the Supreme Court under section 25 of
the Judiciary Act of 1789, which gave the Court the right to review federal questions decided by state courts. Marshall's opinion
demonstrated by logic and recourse to fundamental principles that the supremacy of the Constitution and the appellate authority of
the Court are inseparable. By ruling that the Eleventh Amendment was no bar to appellate jurisdiction, he further limited that
amendment as a states' rights curb on judicial authority (see State Sovereignty and States' Rights). The importance of
Cohens is suggested by the fact that John C. Calhoun, who initially supported the decision, developed his theory of
nullification in direct refutation of Marshall's argument.25
Another theme running through Marshall's constitutional opinions was vested rights. As an extensive land speculator he learned
firsthand the Lockean principle that property and individual liberty were connected. Experience in state government taught him that
the greatest threat to both was state legislation. Fletcher v. Peck (1810) gave him a chance to address that problem.
The question was whether an act passed by the Georgia legislature in 1796 repealing a previous act selling state land to private
speculators violated Article I, section 10, which prohibited states from passing laws impairing the obligation of contracts (see
Contracts Clause). Georgia defended the repeal on the grounds that the original grant was induced by bribery and fraud-which it
was. But if states could repeal their own grants, innocent buyers could lose their property and massive insecurity would be
introduced into the land market. It was a judgment call for Marshall on constitutional as well as policy grounds, because available
evidence pointed to the fact that Article I, section 10 seemed intended by the framers to apply to private contracts but not
public contracts to which the state itself was a party. In voiding the Georgia rescinding act-the first time a state law had been
held in violation of the Constitution-Marshall opted for property rights and market stability. He also chose the Lockean spirit of
the age over the letter of the Constitution10
In Fletcher, Marshall made the Contracts Clause the constitutional shield of property rights against state action; in
Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) he closed the circle of protection. In 1816 New Hampshire altered the charter
of Dartmouth College, in effect making the private college into a state university. The question was whether the Contracts Clause
prevented it from doing so. Marshall ruled that state charters as well as state grants were contracts within the meaning of Article
I, section 10. The state could not alter the terms of charters unless, as Justice Joseph Story pointed out in his concurrence, it
had reserved the right to do so in the charter. The decision not only secured private education in America but also promoted the
growth of business corporations by providing a stable climate for investment. Corporations, which had been justified because of
their public function and which accordingly had been subject to state control, now became private entities protected by the
The chief justice was less successful in his effort to prohibit state bankruptcy legislation via the Contracts Clause. The unsettled
constitutional issue was whether the federal authority to pass uniform bankruptcy laws, granted in Article I, section 8,
automatically prohibited state action and whether state authority, if it existed, was valid only when applied to future contracts.
Marshall's opinion in Sturges v. Crowninshield (1819), which confronted the issue for the first time, struck down a
New York bankruptcy law that applied to contracts made before the law was passed, but it did not resolve the questions of
exclusivity and prospective contracts. When in Ogden v. Saunders (1827) the Court upheld a state bankruptcy law
governing prospective contracts, Marshall entered a passionate dissent, denying the prospective?retrospective distinction
altogether. Scholars have concluded that the justices were badly divided in Sturges and that Marshall had fashioned his
opinion to avoid an open split.8
Marshall's thinking about the relationship of law and capitalism was shaped by an age
where agriculture and commerce dominated, where large?scale manufacturing was in its infancy, and the business cycle yet unknown.
Yet his view of law and economics was progressive as his quest for the creation of a national market in McCulloch v. Maryland
(1819) and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) indicates. The former construed implied powers to uphold a congressional act
creating the Second Bank of the United States; the latter's broad construction of the federal commerce clause prohibited states
from passing laws interfering with interstate transportation and the free flow of goods across state lines (see Commerce Power).
Taken with Marshall's effort in Fletcher and Dartmouth to provide a stable environment for investment in land and
corporate stock, these opinions show the entrepreneurial cast of Marshall's jurisprudence. Jefferson and others accused him of
having transformed the Constitution, yet Marshall followed the spirit if not the literal intent of the framers.
The central and most controversial theme in Marshall's decisions concerned federalism and involved the Court in the effort to
brighten the line between state and nation that was so indistinctly drawn in the Constitution. All his leading constitutional
opinions, except Marbury, address this issue, either directly or indirectly, and all of them curb state power: in
Cohens he demolished state judicial claims of finality in constitutional cases; in Fletcher and Dartmouth,
state legislatures were kept from repudiating their own grants and charters; in McCulloch states were prohibited from
taxing federally chartered corporations; in Gibbons from interfering with interstate commerce. In the process of curbing
the states, Marshall created a vast reservoir of congressional power. Thus in McCulloch he read the "necessary and proper"
clause of Article I, section 8, so as to establish implied powers. By his expansive definition of the Commerce Clause in
Gibbons, he established the principle that Congress was supreme within its enumerated powers (though he drew back from the
proposition that the mere grant of a power to Congress excluded the states from acting). These opinions not only settled the
constitutional question at hand but repudiated the emerging political doctrine of state sovereignty. Here Marshall emphasized the
Federalist insistence that the people, not the states, were sovereign, that they established an enduring nation with all the
powers necessary to nationhood, and that the Supreme Court was mandated by the people themselves to preserve those powers.
Because Marshall's opinions have been cited so frequently in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as justifications of federal
power, it is tempting to conclude that he was the unrelenting consolidationist that southern states' rights critics accused him of
being. In evaluating Marshall's jurisprudence, it must be remembered that the federal regulatory state was a century away.
Congress did legislate on tariff, banking, public lands, and internal improvements, and Marshall's opinions authorized
congressional action in these areas. But there was almost no federal regulatory legislation in his day. Measured by the
governmental practice of his own age, Marshall's theoretical assertions of national authority came mainly as a response to states'
rights radicals who wanted to undo the concessions to national authority that they believed had been unwisely agreed to in 1787.
Marshall's constitutional opinions taken as a whole stand as a comprehensive exposition of the Constitution on a par with the
Federalist Papers, on which he drew heavily (see Federalist, The). Unlike those famous essays, however, Marshall's opinions
were the law of the land. They were persuasive because they drew effectively on Revolutionary history, on the political theory of
the founders, and on widely accepted sources of legal authority: natural law, the law of nations, and English common law. As befit
a Court that was making precedents rather than following them, they were written in stately language that was logical, eloquent,
Indeed, because Marshall's constitutional opinions appear so authoritative, it is easy to overestimate their actual impact. In
fact, they did not always control events or sometimes even the parties in the suit. Some of Marshall's contract decisions
(e.g., New Jersey v. Wilson, 1812) went unenforced. Those in the Georgia Indian cases were resisted outright, with the
support of the president. More threatening and disheartening to Marshall, however, was the fact that new appointments after 1823
brought states' rights ideology onto the bench itself. Beleaguered from outside by the rising tide of states' rights, challenged
from the inside, Marshall was forced to retreat from his doctrinal preferences. In Willson v. Blackbird Creek Marsh Co.
(1829), for example, Marshall drew back from the broad view of congressional power over interstate commerce set forth in
Gibbons. In Providence Bank v. Billings (1830), he retreated from the spirit if not the letter of
Dartmouth, ruling that the state's power to tax corporations cannot be restricted by implications from the charter but must
be specifically stated. There is considerable evidence, too, that he resisted implied charter rights in the Charles River Bridge
case (1837) when it was first argued in 1831.
Occasionally he was able to hold the line, as in his opinion in Craig v. Missouri (1830) where, in the old nationalist
spirit, he invalidated a Missouri law that indirectly legalized state paper money. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and
Worcester v. Georgia (1832) (see Cherokee Cases), he struck a blow against states' rights and Jacksonian democracy
and for the Indians. But here, as in some of his contract cases, the Court's opponents had the final word. Ironically, Marshall's
last constitutional opinion was Barron v. Baltimore (1833), which conceded control over civil liberties to the states
by ruling that the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government.
Where the chief justice stood on the slavery issue is not clear, since no legal challenge to the institution was presented him.
As an officer in the American Colonization Society, he was in favor of gradual emancipation. But his support of the proslavery
forces at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830, his own experience as a small slaveholder, and his willingness to
make pragmatic concessions to states' rights in the period after 1825 suggest that he would have been reluctant to unsettle the
institution by judicial decision. It remained a possibility, however, and one readily perceived by Marshall's southern critics,
that the broad power he gave Congress might do just that.
Marshall defined for all time the nature of the chief justiceship (see Chief Justice, Office of the), but his own role in the
office varied according to circumstances. His greatest dominance came in the period from 1801 to 1811. From 1811 to 1823, during
the Court's most stable and productive period, he increasingly shared power with strong?minded colleagues like Joseph Story and
William Johnson, sometimes compromising his doctrinal preferences to maintain unity. During his last decade on the Court, he
further moderated his style of leadership to fit the new age and the new justices who represented it. He never surrendered his
position as leader of the Court, however, even after the onset of illness in 1831. But neither, to his great distress, could he
quell the "revolutionary spirit" on the Court, and he died fearing that both it and the Constitution were gone. Modest man that he
was, it never occurred to him that he would become the symbol of the living Constitution and the personal embodiment of the Court
Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall, 4 vols. (1916-1919).
Robert K. Faulkner, The Jurisprudence of John Marshall (1968).
George L. Haskins and Herbert A. Johnson, History of the Supreme Court of the United States, vol. 2, Foundations of Power: John Marshall, 1801-15 (1981).
Charles F. Hobson, ed., The Papers of John Marshall, 6 vols. (1974-).
G. Edward White, John Marshall and the Genesis of the Tradition, in his The American Judicial Tradition (1976).
G. Edward White, History of the Supreme Court of the United States, vols. 3-4, The Marshall Court and Cultural Change, 1815-35 (1988)
As the fourth chief justice of the United States, John Marshall (1755-1835) was the principal architect in
consolidating and defining the powers of the Supreme Court. Perhaps more than any other man he set the prevailing tone of American
The eldest of Thomas and Mary Marshall's 15 children, John Marshall was born on Sept. 24, 1755, near Germantown, Va. Frontier and
family were the shaping forces of his youth. His mother came from the aristocratic Randolphs of "Turkey Island." His father - "the
foundation of all my own success in life," recalled John Marshall - was a man of humble origin who, through native ability and
strength of character, rose to relative prominence. Marshall's spare formal education consisted mainly of tutored lessons in the
classics and Latin. His father saw to it, however, that John was solidly grounded in English literature and history; he also
brought home practical lessons in politics from his service in the Virginia House of Burgesses during the years preceding the
Family unity, a tradition of learning, and a concern for affairs of the world shielded young Marshall from the barbarity of the
frontier. But the West also left its mark - in a gaiety of heart, an open democratic demeanor, and a manliness of character that
were no small part of Marshall's gift of leadership.
A dedicated patriot from the outset, Marshall saw action with the Culpepper Minutemen in 1775. As an officer in the Continental Line,
he took part in several important battles and endured the hardships of Valley Forge. His experience, fortified by his association with
George Washington and other nationalist leaders, left him with the passionate love of union and chronic distrust of state particularism
that later became the twin pillars of his constitutional law.
Before Capt. Marshall was mustered out of the Army in 1781, he had decided on law as a profession. He heard George Wythe's law
lectures at the College of William and Mary in 1780, and during that summer he was licensed to practice and that August was
admitted to the county bar. During this same period Marshall fell in love with Mary Ambler. They were married in January 1783
and took up residence in Richmond, Va.
Early Political Career
Marshall's natural eloquence, charismatic personality, and rare gift for logical analysis overcame the deficiencies in his legal
education. He rose quickly to the head of the Richmond bar. He also distinguished himself in state politics. He sat in the House of
Burgesses (1782-1784, 1787-1791, and 1795-1797), where he consistently supported nationalist measures. He served on the
important Committee on the Courts of Justice and when only 27 was elected by the legislature to the governor's Council of State.
Marshall's legislative experience confirmed his belief that the Articles of Confederation needed to be strengthened against the
irresponsible and selfish forces of state power. As a delegate to the Virginia convention for the ratification of the Federal
Constitution (1788), he put his nationalist ideas to use. Though somewhat overshadowed by established statesmen, he spoke
influentially for ratification. And on the hotly debated subject of the Federal judiciary, he led the nationalist offensive.
Federalist orthodoxy and demonstrated ability soon won Marshall national prominence. During the crisis over the Jay Treaty in 1795,
when party lines began to crystallize, Marshall supported Washington and Alexander Hamilton against the Jeffersonian Republicans.
As a lawyer in the Supreme Court case of Ware v. Hylton (1796), he adhered to Federalist principles by arguing the
supremacy of national law.
Marshall had turned down offers from President Washington to be attorney general and minister to France. In 1797 he agreed to serve
on the "XYZ mission" to France. Shortly after his return, President John Adams offered him an appointment to the Supreme Court, but
he declined. Elected to Congress in 1798, he soon became a leader of the Federalists in the House. Declining to serve as secretary
of war, he accepted appointment in 1800 as secretary of state. Eight months later Adams appointed him chief justice of the Supreme
Court, hoping to hold back the forces of states'-rights democracy, which in the form of the Jeffersonian Republicans had gained control
of the Federal government.
Marshall took his seat on the Court on March 5, 1801, and from that time until his death was absorbed in judicial duties. He did find time,
however, to write a five-volume biography of George Washington (1804-1807) and to serve in the Virginia constitutional convention
(1829-1830). But it was as chief justice that Marshall made his mark on American history. The pressing problem in 1801 was to unify
and strengthen the Court. Accordingly he persuaded his colleagues to abandon the practice of delivering separate opinions and to
permit him to write the opinion of the Court, which he did in the great majority of cases from 1801 to 1811. In addition, Marshall gave
the Court a needed victory. His opinion in Marbury v. Madison (1803) for the first time declared an act of Congress
unconstitutional, thus consolidating the Court's power of judicial review and providing future Courts with an elaborate defense of
In United States v. Peters (1809) Marshall struck another blow for judicial power, this time against the claims of a state,
by establishing the Court's right to be the final interpreter of Federal law. His opinion in Fletcher v. Peck held that the contract
clause of the Constitution prevented state legislatures from repealing grants of land to private-interest groups. This was the first in a
series of contract decisions that encouraged the growth of corporate capitalism. Few of Marshall's opinions touched civil rights; but in
the Aaron Burr treason case, he struck a powerful blow for political freedom by defining treason narrowly and requiring strict proof for
From the end of the War of 1812 through 1824 the Marshall Court was most creative. Marshall's position on the Court was less
dominant than it had been before because able, new justices appeared. But he was unquestionably the guiding spirit and personally
wrote opinions in the most important constitutional cases. Two such were McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) and Gibbons v.
Ogden (1824). In the first case, Marshall upheld the congressional act chartering the Second Bank of the United States, thereby
securing a national currency and credit structure for interstate capitalism. Also, by authorizing Congress to go beyond enumerated
powers through a broad interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause, he created a body of implied national powers.
Marshall's Gibbons opinion gave Congress supreme and comprehensive authority within the enumerated powers of Article I,
Section 8, of the Constitution. The definition of commerce in the Gibbons case was sufficiently broad to bring the revolutionary
developments in transportation and communication of the 20th century within the scope of congressional authority. These two cases
created a reservoir of national power and guaranteed a flexible Constitution that could meet the nation's changing needs. That the
Court should be the final interpreter of that flexible Constitution was the message of Marshall's compelling opinion in Cohens v.
Marshall's Concept of the Nation
Nationalist though he was, Marshall did not intend to destroy the states or establish the nation as an end in itself. He envisaged the
national good as the sum of the productive individuals who constituted it, each pursuing his self-interest. Accordingly Marshall's
opinions worked to release the creative energies of private enterprise and create a national arena for their operation. In
Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) Marshall ruled that a corporation charter was a contract within the meaning of the
Constitution which the states could not impair. As a result, private educational institutions, along with hundreds of business
corporations chartered by the states, were secured against state interference. The unleashed forces of commerce, Marshall believed,
would transcend selfish provincialism and create a powerful, self-sufficient nation.
Aroused states'-rights pressures in the 1820s forced the Marshall Court to curtail its nationalism. In addition, new appointments to the
Court allowed division and dissent to burst into the open. The chief justice did not surrender national principles - as evidenced in
Brown v. Maryland (1827) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832) - and he continued to lead the Court, but the age of judicial
creativity was temporarily over. With the election of President Andrew Jackson in 1828, Marshall became increasingly
Meanwhile the death of Marshall's wife left him disconsolate. And his own health began to fail, though he remained intellectually alert
and continued performing his duties until his death on July 6, 1835.
Marshall died believing that the Constitution and the republic for which he had labored were gone, but history proved him wrong.
The nation continued along the course of nationalism and capitalism that he had done so much to establish; the Court and the law
continued to follow the lines he projected. His reputation as the "great chief justice" seems secure.
Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall (4 vols., 1916-1919; rev. ed., 2 vols., 1947), despite its nationalist bias, remains the standard biography.
Edward S. Corwin, John Marshall and the Constitution: A Chronicle of the Supreme Court (1919), concentrates on his judicial career.
James Bradley Thayer and others, John Marshall (1967), is a collection of classic essays.
William M. Jones, ed., Chief Justice John Marshall: A Reappraisal (1956), is another collection of distinguished essays.
The most exhaustive analysis of Marshall's judicial philosophy is Robert K. Faulkner, The Jurisprudence of John Marshall (1968).
The relationship between the two giants of American constitutional development is examined in Samuel J. Konefsky, John Marshall and Alexander Hamilton: Architects of the American Constitution (1964).
Standard constitutional histories, such as Charles Warren, The Supreme Court in United States History (3 vols., 1923; rev. ed., 2 vols., 1926), and Charles G. Haines, The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government and Politics, 1789-1835 (1944), also contain material on Marshall's career.
For further material the reader should consult James A. Servies, A Bibliography of John Marshall (1956),
and numerous essays on him in historical and legal periodicals.
Born: Sept. 24, 1755, Germantown, Va. Education: taught at home by his father and two clergymen; self-educated in law; attended one course on law, College of William and Mary, 1780 Previous government service: Virginia House of Delegates, 1782-85, 1787-90, 1795-96; Executive Council of State, Virginia, 1782-84; recorder, Richmond City Hustings Court, Virginia, 1785-88; U.S. minister to France, 1797-98; Virginia Ratifying Convention, 1788; U.S. representative from Virginia, 1799-1800; U.S. secretary of state, 1800-1801 Appointed by President John Adams Jan. 20, 1801; replaced Oliver Ells-worth, who resigned Supreme Court term: confirmed by the Senate Jan. 27, 1801, by a voice vote; served until July 6, 1835 Died: July 6, 1835, Philadelphia, Pa.
John Marshall was the fourth chief justice of the United States. From his time to ours, he has been called the Great Chief Justice.
Born and raised in the backcountry of Virginia, Marshall was educated mostly at home, with his father as the main teacher.
His formal education in the law consisted of one course of lectures by George Wythe, a leading Virginia political leader and
legal authority at the College of William and Mary. Marshall, however, had a keen mind that he filled with knowledge through
a lifetime of reading, thinking, and interacting with political leaders in the public affairs of Virginia and the United States.
Participation in the American Revolution shaped John Marshall's lifetime loyalty to the United States. He later expressed this
loyalty decisively during his tenure on the Supreme Court through opinions that reinforced the power and authority of the
federal government over the states. He served in the Continental Army for nearly six years, fought in the battles of Great Bridge,
Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth and spent the grueling winter with George Washington's forces at Valley Forge.
He left the Continental Army in 1781 with the rank of captain. Marshall exhibited intense patriotism and had great admiration
for George Washington, which he expressed later in his five-volume biography Life of George Washington, published
President John Adams appointed Marshall to be chief justice in 1801 as one of his final actions before leaving office. Adams's
first choice for the job was John Jay, who had been the first chief justice. Jay, however, declined because in his view, widely
shared at the time, the Supreme Court was too weak and unimportant; he said that he would not be head of "a system so
defective." So John Marshall took the job that Jay refused and transformed it into the most powerful and prominent judicial
position in the world.
Marshall brought unity and order to the Court by practically ending "seriatim" opinions (the writing of opinions by various justices).
Before Chief Justice Marshall, the Court did not issue a single majority opinion. He, however, influenced the Court's majority to
speak with one voice, through an opinion for the Court on each case before it. Of course, members of the Court occasionally wrote
concurring or dissenting opinions, as they do today.
Often the Court's voice was John Marshall's. During his 34 years on the Court, the longest tenure of any chief justice, Marshall
wrote 519 of the 1,100 opinions issued during that period, and he dissented only eight times.
Chief Justice Marshall's greatest opinions were masterworks of legal reasoning and graceful writing. They stand today as an
authoritative commentary on the core principles of the U.S. Constitution.
Marshall's first great decision came in Marbury v. Madison (1803), in which he ruled that Section 13 of the Judiciary Act
of 1789 was void because it violated Article 3 of the Constitution. In this opinion, Marshall made a compelling argument for
judicial review, the Court's power to decide whether an act of Congress violates the Constitution. If it does, Marshall wrote,
then the legislative act contrary to the Constitution is unconstitutional, or illegal, and could not be enforced. Marshall wrote,
"It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is . So if a law be in opposition to the
constitution the constitution and not such ordinary Act, must govern the case to which they both apply."
In a series of great decisions, Marshall also established, beyond legal challenge, the Court's power of judicial review over
acts of state government. In Fletcher v. Peck (1810), Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), McCulloch v.
Maryland (1819), and Cohens v. Virginia (1821), Marshall wrote for the Court that acts of state government in
violation of federal statutes or the federal Constitution were unconstitutional or void.
The Marshall Court's decisions also defended the sanctity of contracts and private property rights against would-be violators
in the cases of Fletcher v. Peck and Dartmouth College v. Woodward. In Gibbons v. Ogden (1824),
Marshall broadly interpreted Congress's power to regulate commerce (Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution) and prohibited
states from passing laws to interfere with the flow of goods and transportation across state lines.
Chief Justice Marshall's greatest opinions protected private property rights as a foundation of individual liberty. They also
rejected claims of state sovereignty in favor of a federal Constitution based on the sovereignty of the people of the United States.
Finally, Marshall clearly and convincingly argued for the Constitution as a permanent supreme law that the Supreme Court
was established to interpret and defend. "Ours is a Constitution," Marshall wrote in 1819 (McCulloch v. Maryland),
"intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."
Only through broad construction of the federal government's powers could the Constitution of 1787 be "adapted" to meet
changing times. And only through strict limits on excessive use of the government's powers could the Constitution endure
as a guardian of individual rights. The special duty of the Supreme Court, according to Marshall, was to make the difficult
judgments, based on the Constitution, about when to impose limits or to permit broad exercise of the federal government's powers.
In 1833, near the end of John Marshall's career, his associate on the Supreme Court, Justice Joseph Story, wrote
a "Dedication to John Marshall" that included these words of high praise: "Your expositions of constitutional law constitute
a monument of fame far beyond the ordinary memorials of political or military glory. They are destined to enlighten,
instruct and convince future generations; and can scarcely perish but with the memory of the Constitution itself." And so
it has been, from Marshall's time until our own, that his judgments and commentaries on the Constitution have instructed and inspired Americans.
See also Cohens v. Virginia; Dartmouth College v. Woodward; Fletcher v. Peck; Judicial review; Marbury v. Madison;
McCulloch v. Maryland
Leonard Baker, John Marshall: A Life in Law (New York: Macmillan, 1974).
Charles F. Hobson, The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000).
Herbert A. Johnson, The Chief Justiceship of John Marshall, 1801-1835 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998).
Frances H. Rudko, John Marshall, Statesman, and Chief Justice (West-port, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991).
Francis N. Stites, John Marshall: Defender of the Constitution (Boston: Little, Brown, 1981).
G. Edward White, The Marshall Court and Cultural Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)
(1755-1835), chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall, who had almost no formal schooling and studied
law for only six weeks, nevertheless remains the only judge in American history whose distinction as a statesman
derived almost entirely from his judicial career. Combat experience during the Revolution helped him develop a
continental viewpoint. After admission to the bar in 1780, he entered the Virginia assembly and rose rapidly in
state politics. He had good looks, a charismatic personality, and a debater's gifts. A Federalist in politics, he
championed the Constitution in his state's ratification convention. Following a diplomatic mission to France,
he won election to Congress, where he supported President John Adams. Adams appointed him secretary of
state and in 1801 chief justice, a position he held until death.
John Jay, the first chief justice, who had resigned, described the Court as lacking "weight" and "respect."
After Marshall no one could make that complaint. In 1801 he and his colleagues had to meet in a tiny room in
the basement of the Capitol because the planners of Washington, D.C., had forgotten to provide space for the
Supreme Court. Marshall made the Court a prestigious, coordinate branch of the government. In 1824 Senator
Martin Van Buren, a political enemy, conceded that the Court attracted "idolatry" and its chief was admired
"as the ablest Judge now sitting upon any judicial bench in the world."
During Marshall's thirty-four years as chief justice, he gave content to the Constitution's comissions, clarified
its ambiguities, and added breathtaking sweep to the powers it conferred. He set the Court on a course for
"ages to come" that would make the U.S. government supreme in the federal system and the Court the
Constitution's expositor. He acted as if he were the enduring Framer whose constituency was the nation; he
knew the true meaning of the Constitution and he meant it to prevail; he made his position a judicial
pulpit to foster the Union of his dreams and to compete, if possible, with the political branches in shaping
public opinion and national policy.
Marshall's judicial energies were as indefatigable as his vision was broad. Although he cast but a single vote
and was eventually surrounded by colleagues appointed by a party he deplored, he dominated the Court as
no one has since. He scrapped seriatim opinions in favor of a single "opinion of the Court" and during his
long tenure wrote nearly half the Court's opinions in all fields of law and two-thirds of those involving
constitutional questions. He exercised judicial review, firmly over state statutes and state courts,
prudently over acts of Congress. Marbury v. Madison (1803) remains the fundamental case.
Marshall read principles of vested rights into the contract clause and expanded the Court's jurisdiction.
Notwithstanding judicial rhetoric conjuring up the bugles of Valley Forge, his judicial nationalism, which was
real enough and helped emancipate American commerce in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), sometimes
constituted a guise to block regulatory state legislation that limited property rights. He linked the Constitution
with national supremacy, capitalism, and judicial review.
Leonard Baker, John Marshall: A Life in Law (1974);
Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall, 4 vols. (1916-1919). Author: Leonard W. Levy
Marshall, John, 1755-1835, American jurist, 4th Chief Justice of the United States (1801-35), b. Virginia.
The eldest of 15 children, John Marshall was born in a log cabin on the Virginia frontier (today in Fauquier co., Va.) and spent
his childhood and youth in primitive surroundings. His father rose to prominence in local and state politics. Through his mother
he was related to the Lees and the Randolphs and to Thomas Jefferson, later his great antagonist.
Marshall first left home for any length of time to serve as an officer in the American Revolution. He returned in 1779 after
attending for a few months lectures on law given by George Wythe at the College of William and Mary (his only formal
education). Admitted to the bar in 1780, he practiced law in the West and was elected (1782) a delegate to the Virginia
assembly. He married and settled in Richmond, his home until his death.
His brilliant skill in argument made him one of the most esteemed of the many great lawyers of Virginia. A defender of the new
U.S. Constitution at the Virginia ratifying convention, Marshall later staunchly supported the Federalist administration, and
after refusing Washington's offer to make him U.S. Attorney General or minister to France, he finally accepted appointment
as one of the commissioners to France in the diplomatic dispute that ended in the XYZ Affair.
Marshall's effectiveness there made him a popular figure, and he was elected to Congress as a Federalist in 1799. One of
the tiny group that continued to support President John Adams, he was prevailed upon to become Secretary of State (1800-
1801). Before he left the cabinet he was appointed Chief Justice and confirmed by the Senate despite some opposition.
Great Chief Justice>
In his long service on the bench, Marshall raised the Supreme Court from an anomalous position in the federal scheme to
power and majesty, and he molded the Constitution by the breadth and wisdom of his interpretation; he eminently deserves
the appellation the Great Chief Justice. He dominated the court equally by his personality and his ability, and his
achievements were made in spite of strong disagreements with Jefferson and later Presidents.
A loyal Federalist, Marshall saw in the Constitution the instrument of national unity and federal power and the guarantee
of the security of private property. He made incontrovertible the previously uncertain right of the Supreme Court to review
federal and state laws and to pronounce final judgment on their constitutionality. He viewed the Constitution on the one
hand as a precise document setting forth specific powers and on the other hand as a living instrument that should be
broadly interpreted so as to give the federal government the means to act effectively within its limited sphere (see
McCulloch v. Maryland).
His opinion in the Dartmouth College Case was the most famous of those that dealt with the constitutional requirement of the
inviolability of contract, another favorite theme with Marshall. His interpretation of the interstate commerce clause of the
Constitution, most notably in Gibbons v. Ogden, made it a powerful extension of federal power at the expense of the states.
In general Marshall opposed states' rights doctrines, and there were many criticisms advanced against him and against
the increasing prestige of the Supreme Court.
The sometimes undignified quarrel with Jefferson (which had one of its earliest expressions in Marbury v. Madison)
reached a high point in the trial (1807) of Aaron Burr for treason. Marshall presided as circuit judge and interpreted the
clause in the Constitution requiring proof of an "overt act" for conviction of treason so that Burr escaped conviction
because he had engaged only in a conspiracy. Marshall's difficulties with President Jackson reached their peak when
Marshall declared against Georgia in the matter of expelling the Cherokee, a decision that the state flouted.
Influence and Style
Marshall in his arguments drew much from his colleagues, especially his devoted adherent, Justice Joseph Story, and
he was stimulated and inspired by the lawyers pleading before the court, among them some of the most brilliant legal
minds America has seen, including Daniel Webster, Luther Martin, William Pinkney, William Wirt, and Jeremiah Mason.
Marshall in his manners combined the unceremonious heartiness of the frontier with the leisurely grace of the Virginia
aristocracy. So great was his winning charm and so absolute his integrity that he gained the admiration of his enemies
and the unbounded affection of his friends.
His style combined conciseness and precision. He wrote each opinion
as a series of logical deductions from self-evident propositions, and it was almost never his practice to cite legal authority.
It is in these opinions that his literary skill is shown rather than in his major nonlegal work, The Life of George
Washington (5 vol., 1804-7). Marshall's constitutional opinions are collected in editions by J. M. Dillon (1903) and
J. P. Cotton (1905). An autobiographic sketch was published in 1937.
See biographies by
A. J. Beveridge (4 vol. 1916-19), L. Baker (1981), and F. N. Stites (1981); R. K. Newmyer, John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court (2001);
J. F. Simon, What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States (2002).
Life of Washington. Marshall, chief justice of the Supreme Court, publishes this biography in five
volumes from 1804 to 1807. Its Federalist view of Washington's presidency receives mixed reviews.
Although the work contains many insights garnered from primary resources provided by Washington's family,
Marshall would always regret rushing the production with little revision.
A public official of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Marshall served as chief justice of the Supreme Court
from 1801 to 1835. His interpretations of the Constitution in cases such as Marbury versus Madison served to
strengthen the power of the Court and the power of the federal government generally.
John Marshall presided over the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835. Appointed by President John Adams,
Marshall assumed leadership during a pivotal era. The early nineteenth century saw tremendous political battles over
the future of the United States and its Constitution, often with the Court at the center of controversy. By the force of
personality, argument, and shrewdness, Marshall steered it through this rocky yet formative period. He weathered
harsh criticism as the Court set important precedents that increased its power and defined its role in government.
Historians credit him with establishing what has been called the American judicial tradition, in which the Supreme
Court acts as an independent branch of government endowed with final authority over constitutional interpretation.
Marshall was born September 24, 1755, near Germantown (now Midland), Virginia. He was the son of Thomas Marshall,
a wealthy landowner, justice of the peace, and sheriff. Like his father he fought in the Revolutionary War and married
into a prominent family. His father's tutoring significantly enhanced his mere two years of formal education, which
were augmented in 1780 by a brief attendance at lectures in law at the College of William and Mary.
Marshall was also influenced by George Washington. Because of his service to General Washington in the war,
Marshall became a strong Federalist. He later wrote about his mentor in his book Life of George Washington
Marriage ties made Marshall a relative of a leading Virginia political family. This helped secure his place in society,
paving the way for an early legal and political career in the 1780s. He specialized in appellate cases and quickly
distinguished himself in the Virginia state bar. He also served in Virginia's council of state from 1782 to 1784,
and in its house of delegates four times between 1782 and 1795. But it was as a partisan of the Federalists—
the opponents of the states' rights-minded Republicans—that he came to wide acclaim. The struggle between
the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans was the most important political contest of the day. Marshall
served as a devoted publicist and organizer for the Federalist cause in Virginia, and this work earned him various
offers to serve as U.S. attorney general and as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. It also earned him the
animosity of his distant cousin, Republican Thomas Jefferson, who soon became U.S. president and was his
lifelong political adversary.
In 1798 Marshall agreed to serve Federalist president John Adams as one of
three U.S. ministers to France during one of the Napoleonic Wars between France and Great Britain. In a scandal
known as the XYZ Affair, the French foreign ministry attempted to solicit a bribe from the U.S. emissaries, and
Marshall became a national hero for refusing. He quickly emerged as the leading spokesman for Federalism in
Washington, D.C., as a member of Congress from 1799 to 1800 and briefly as secretary of state under Adams in
1800. Then Adams lost the 1800 presidential election to Jefferson, and the Republicans won control of Congress.
In a desperate attempt to preserve the Federalists' power, Adams spent the remaining days of his administration
making judicial appointments. Sixteen new positions for judges on federal circuit courts and dozens for justices
of the peace in the District of Columbia were handed out during the final days of Adams's administration. These
last-minute appointees came to be known as midnightjudges. One of these seats went to Marshall, who was
appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court.
On March 4, 1801, Marshall assumed his duties as the
head of the Court. Jefferson and the Republicans were furious over Adams's court stacking, and they swiftly
quashed the appointments—except that, inexplicably, they did not challenge Marshall's. Marshall kept
the Court out of the fray. He feared that in a conflict between the judiciary and the executivebranch, the Court
Marshall again faced political conflict when in 1803 the Court ruled on a case brought by William Marbury,
whose appointment as a D.C. justice of thepeace had been one of those barred by the Republicans. Marshall's
opinion for the unanimous Court in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 2 L. Ed. 60, dismissed
Marbury's suit on the ground that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to rule on it. But at the same time,
the Court restated the position that it had the power to rule on questions of constitutionality. By striking down
a section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73), Marshall's opinion marked the first time that the Court
overturned an act of Congress. Not for more than fifty years would it exercise this power again. Marshall
asserted the right of the Supreme Court to engage in judicial review of the law, writing, "It is emphatically
the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." Marbury was the crucial
first step in the evolution of the Supreme Court's authority as it exists today.
Marshall emphasized the need to limit state power by asserting the primacy of the federal government
over the states. In 1819, as Marshall reached the height of his influence, he cited the Contracts Clause
of the U.S. Constitution (art.1, §10) as a basis for protecting corporate charters from state interference
(Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. [4 Wheat.] 518, 4 L. Ed. 629).
That year he also struck a blow to states' rights in McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316,
4 L. Ed. 579, where he noted that the Constitution is not a "splendid bauble" that states can abridge as they
see fit. In 1821 he advanced the theory of judicial review, rejecting a challenge by the state of Virginia to the
appellate authority of the Supreme Court (Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. [6 Wheat.] 264, 5 L. Ed. 257).
In his written opinions, Marshall typically relied on the power of logic and his own forceful eloquence,
rather than citing law. This approach was noted by Associate Justice Joseph Story: "When I examine a
question, I go from headland to headland, from case to case. Marshall has a compass, puts out to sea,
and goes directly to the result."
Marshall was not without opponents. Foremost among them was Jefferson. In 1810 Jefferson wrote to
President James Madison that "[t]he Chief Justice's leadership was marked by "cunning and sophistry"
and displayed "rancourous hatred" of the democratic principles of the Republicans. Jefferson led the
Republican attack on Marshall with the accusation that he twisted the law to suit his own biases.
Although Marshall weathered the attacks, his authority, and the Court's, was ultimately affected. Not all
his decisions were enforced; some were openly resisted by the president. New appointments to the Court
brought states' rights advocates onto the bench, and Marshall began to compromise as a leader and to
make concessions to ideological opponents.
MARSHALL, John, (uncle of Thomas Francis Marshall and cousin of Humphrey Marshall [1760-1841]),
a Representative from Virginia; born in Germantown, Fauquier County, Virginia,
September 24, 1755; received instruction from a tutor and attended the classical academy of the
Messrs. Campbell in Westmoreland County, Virginia; at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War joined a
company of State militia that subsequently became part of the Eleventh Regiment of Virginia Troops;
studied law at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia; was admitted to the bar on August
28, 1780; resigned his Army commission in 1781 and engaged in the practice of law in Fauquier
County; delegate in the Virginia house of delegates in 1780; settled in Richmond and practiced law;
member of the executive council 1782-1795; again a member of the house of burgesses 1782-1788;
delegate to the State constitutional convention for the ratification of the Federal Constitution that met in
Richmond June 2, 1788; one of the special commissioners to France in 1797 and 1798 to demand
redress and reparation for hostile actions of that country; resumed the practice of law in Virginia;
declined the appointment of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States tendered by
President Adams September 26, 1798; elected as a Federalist to the Sixth Congress and served from
March 4, 1799, to June 7, 1800, when he resigned; was appointed Secretary of War by President
Adams May 7, 1800, but the appointment was not considered, and on May 12, 1800, was appointed
Secretary of State; entered upon his new duties June 6, 1800, and although appointed Chief Justice of
the United States January 20, 1801, and notwithstanding he took the oath of office as Chief Justice
February 4, 1801, continued to serve in the Cabinet until March 4, 1801; member of the Virginia
convention of 1829; continued as Chief Justice until his death in Philadelphia, Pa., July 6, 1835;
interment in the Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, Va.
Baker, Leonard. John Marshall: A Life in Law. New York: Collier Books; 1974. Reprint, London : Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1981.
Beveridge, Albert J. John Marshall. Introduction by Henry Steele Commager. 1916-1919. Reprint, New York: Chelsea House, 1980.
---. The Life of John Marshall. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916-1919. Reprint, Atlanta, Ga.: Cherokee Pub. Co., 1990.
Brown, Richard Carl. John Marshall. Morristown, N.J.: Silver Burdett Co., .
Corwin, Edward Samuel. John Marshall and the Constitution: A Chronicle of the Supreme Court. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1919. Reprint, Toronto: Glasgow, Brook; New York: U.S. Publishers Association, 1977.
Craigmyle, Thomas Shaw, Baron. John Marshall in Diplomacy and in Law. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1933. Reprint, with an introduction by Nicholas Murray Butler. Buffalo, N.Y.: W.S. Hein & Co., 1995.
Cuneo, John R. John Marshall, Judicial Statesman. New York: McGraw-Hill, .
Faulkner, Robert K. The Jurisprudence of John Marshall. 1968. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.
Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick. John Marshall: The Great Chief Justice. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1995.
Gunther, Gerald, comp. John Marshall's Defense of McCulloch v. Maryland. Edited and with an introduction. by Gerald Gunther. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1969.
Haskins, George Lee. Foundations of Power: John Marshall, 1801-15. Part one by George Lee Haskins; part two by Herbert A. Johnson. New York : Macmillan Pub. Co., 1981.
Hobson, Charles F. The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.
Johnson, Herbert Alan. The Chief Justiceship of John Marshall, 1801-1835. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
Jones, William Melville, ed. Chief Justice John Marshall; A Reappraisal. Ithaca, N.Y.: Published for College of William and Mary [by] Cornell University Press, . Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1971.
Kallen, Stuart A. John Marshall . Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub., 2001.
Loth, David Goldsmith. Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Growth of the Republic. New York: W. W. Norton, . Reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, [1970?].
Magruder, Allan B. (Allan Bowie). John Marshall. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, .
Marshall, John. An Autobiograpical Sketch. Edited by John Stokes Adams. 1937. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1973.
---. The Constitutional Decisions of John Marshall. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905. Reprint, Edited, with an introductory essay by Joseph P. Cotton, Jr. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2000.
---. George Washington. 1832. Reprint, New York: Chelsea House, 1981.
---. A history of the colonies planted by the English on the continent of North America, from their settlement to the commencement of that war which terminated in their independence. Philadelphia: A. Small, 1824.
---. John Marshall, "A Friend of the Constitution": In defense and elaboration of McCulloch v. Maryland. Introduction: Unearthing John Marshall's major out-of-court constitutional commentary. By Gerald Gunther. [Stanford, Calif.: N.p., 1969].
---. John Marshall, Complete Constitutional Decisions. Edited with annotations historical, critical, and legal by John M. Dillon. Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1903. Reprint, Buffalo, N.Y.: W.S. Hein, 2003.
---. The Life of George Washington. Philadelphia: Printed and published by C. P. Wayne, 1805-07. Reprint, Edited by Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000.
---. Major Opinions and Other Writings. Edited with an introduction and commentary by John P. Roche, with Stanley B. Bernstein. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, .
---. Opinions of the late Chief Justice of the United States (John Marshall) concerning freemasonry. [Boston?: N.p., 1840].
---. The Papers of John Marshall. Edited by Herbert T. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and Nancy G. Harris. 7 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.
---. The Political and Economic Doctrines of John Marshall, Who for Thirty-four years was Chief Justice of the United States. And also his letters, speeches, and hitherto unpublished and uncollected writings, by John Edward Oster. New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1914. Reprint, New York: B. Franklin, .
---. Speech of the Hon. John Marshall, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, on the Resolutions of the Hon. Edward Livingston, relative to Thomas Nash, alias Jonathan Robbins. Philadelphia: Printed at the office of "The True American," 1800.
---. The Writings of John Marshall, Late Chief Justice of the United States, Upon the Federal Constitution. Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1839. Reprint, Littleton, Colo.: F.B. Rothman, 1987.
Martini, Teri. John Marshall. Illustrated by Alex Stein. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, .
Newmyer, R. Kent. The Supreme Court under Marshall and Taney. New York: Crowell, 1968. Reprint, Arlington Heights, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, .
Richards, Gale L. "A Criticism of the Public Speaking of John Marshall Prior to 1801." Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1951.
Robarge, David Scott. A Chief Justice's Progress: John Marshall from Revolutionary Virginia to the Supreme Court. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Rudko, Frances Howell. John Marshall and International Law: Statesman and Chief Justice. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
Shevory, Thomas C. John Marshall's Law: Interpretation, Ideology, and Interest. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th district
March 4, 1799 - June 7, 1800
Littleton W. Tazewell
September 24, 1755(1755-09-24)
Germantown, Colony of Virginia
July 6, 1835 (aged 79)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Mary Willis Ambler
Culpeper, Virginia Militia
American Revolutionary War
John Marshall (September 24, 1755 - July 6, 1835) was an American jurist and statesman who shaped American constitutional
law and made the Supreme Court a center of power. Marshall was Chief Justice of the United States, serving from January 31, 1801, until
his death in 1835. He served in the United States House of Representatives from March 4, 1799, to June 7, 1800, and was Secretary
of State under President John Adams 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, 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 American judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. Furthermore,
the Marshall Court 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.
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".
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 and collect the modest rents.
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 estblished, 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, it 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 An 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, 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. William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws
of England 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
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. 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. 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 was elected to Phi Beta
Kappa and was admitted to the Bar in 1780. He was in private practice in Fauquier County, Virginia 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 to 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.
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. 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. 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. 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." Cary & Lea did publish the abridgment, but only in 1838, three years after Marshall died.
In 1801, during the last weeks of his term as president, Adams appointed several federal judges (the "Midnight Judges"),
including Marshall as Chief Justice of the United States on January 20, 1801. One week later, the Senate confirmed his nomination
unanimously, and Marshall received his commission on February 4.
The three previous chief justices (John Jay, John Rutledge, and Oliver Ellsworth) had left little permanent mark beyond
setting up the forms of office. The Supreme Court, like the state supreme courts, was a minor organ of government. In his 34-year
tenure, Marshall made it a third co-equal branch, which it remains today. With his associate justices, especially Joseph Story,
William Johnson, and Bushrod Washington, Marshall's Court defined the constitutional standards of the new nation. The great
work of the Marshall Court was done in a handful of great cases, especially Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland, Cohens
v. Virginia and Gibbons v. Ogden.
His influential rulings reshaped American government, revealing the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of the Constitution-a
document with respect to which the Court has the power to overrule the Congress, the president, the states, and all lower courts.
He fought to protect the rights of individuals and corporations against intrusive state governments. Marshall, along with
Daniel Webster (who argued some of the cases), was the leading Federalist of the day, pursuing Federalist approaches to build
a stronger federal government over the opposition of Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, who wanted stronger
state governments. Marshall's most important rulings include Cohens v. Virginia, Fletcher v. Peck, Gibbons v.
Ogden, Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, and
Worcester v. Georgia.
Some of his decisions were unpopular; Andrew Jackson went so far as to completely ignore the ruling of Worcester v.
Georgia, for example. Nevertheless, Marshall set a great precedent in American politics by being able to balance out the
branches of government, and the states and the federal power, providing the rule of law that still prevails.
One of Marshall's most lasting contributions to the Supreme Court was in how opinions are delivered. Before Marshall,
opinions were delivered seriatim, meaning each justice delivered a separate opinion. That model is still used by the Supreme
Court of the United Kingdom. However, Marshall convinced his colleagues to adopt a single opinion for the court, allowing it to
present a clear rule. During his 34 years as Chief Justice he judged over 1,100 cases; he wrote the majority opinion in 519.
Marshall was in the dissenting minority only eight times throughout his tenure at the court because of his control over the
associate justices. As one observer at the time noted, Marshall had the knack of "putting his own ideas into the minds of others,
unconsciously to them".
Marshall had charm, humor, a quick intelligence, and the ability to bring men together. Above all, he had patriotism,
sincerity and presence that commanded attention. His opinions were workmanlike, not eloquent in style or subtle; and his
learning in the law was not deep. What distinguished him was the force of his intellect, steadfast purpose, and a confident
vision of the future greatness he wanted his nation to achieve; these qualities are seen in his historic decisions and gave
him the sobriquet, The Great Chief Justice.
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803, ruled for the government (that is, Madison), by deciding a minor law passed by
Congress was unconstitutional. Ironically what was unconstitutional was Congress' granting a certain power to the Supreme
Court itself. The case allowed Marshall to proclaim the doctrine of judicial review, which reserves to the Supreme Court final
authority to judge whether or not actions of the president or of the Congress are within the powers granted to them by the
Constitution. The Constitution itself is the supreme law, and when the Court believes that a specific law or action is in
violation of it, the Court must uphold the Constitution and set aside that other law or action.
The Constitution does not explicitly give judicial review to the Court, and Jefferson was very angry with Marshall's position,
for he wanted the president to decide whether his acts were constitutional or not. Historians mostly agree that the Founding
Fathers Constitution did plan for the Supreme Court to have some sort of judicial review; what Marshall did was make
operational their goals. Judicial review was not new and Marshall himself mentioned it in the Virginia ratifying convention of
1788. Marshall's opinion expressed and fixed in the American tradition and legal system a more basic theory-government
under law. That is, judicial review means a government in which no person (not even the president) and no institution (not
even Congress), nor even a majority of voters, may freely work their will in violation of the written Constitution. Marshall
himself never declared another act of Congress or of a president unconstitutional.
McCulloch v. Maryland
McCulloch v. Maryland, (1819) was Marshall's greatest single judicial performance. While it was consistent with Marbury
v. Madison, it cuts the other way and prevents states from passing laws that violate the national Constitution. The heart of
this opinion is the famous statement, "We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding." Marshall laid
down the basic theory of implied powers under a written Constitution; a written, but a living, Constitution, intended, as he
said "to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs ... ." Marshall
envisaged a federal government which, although governed by timeless principles, possessed the plenary powers "on
which the welfare of a nation essentially depends." It would be free in its choice of means, not tied to a literal
interpretation of the Constitution, and open to change and growth.
Cohens v. Virginia
Cohens v. Virginia (1821) displayed Marshall's nationalism as he enforced the supremacy of federal law over conflicting
state law and overturned the Virginia supreme court. The decision means the federal judiciary can act directly on private
parties and state officials, and has the power to declare and impose on the states the Constitution and federal laws.
Gibbons v. Ogden
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) overturned a monopoly granted by the New York state legislature to certain steamships
operating between New York and New Jersey. In empowering Congress to regulate interstate commerce, the Constitution
automatically deprived the states of the power to obstruct interstate commerce in order to serve their own interests. The
long-term impact was ending many state-granted monopolies and promoting free enterprise.
Other work, later life, legacy
Marshall loved his home, built in 1790, in Richmond, Virginia, and spent as much time there as possible in quiet
contentment. 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. 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
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.
Monuments and memorials
Marshall Memorial (1883, William Wetmore Story) in John Marshall Park, Washington, D.C.
John Marshall was honored on a Postal Issue of 1894
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. 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. 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.
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.
On September 24, 1955, the United States Postal Service issued the 40’ Liberty Issue postage stamp honoring Marshall with a 40 cent stamp.
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. Marshalltown, Iowa was allegedly named for the Michigan city, but
adopted its current name because there was already a Marshall, Iowa
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.
White, G. Edward. "Reassessing John Marshall," William and Mary Quarterly 2001 58(3): 673-693 in JSTOR
Brockenbrough, John W., ed. Reports of Cases Decided by the Honourable John Marshall, late Chief Justice of the United States in the Circuit Court of the United States District of Virginia and North Carolina From 1802 to 1833 Inclusive in Two Volumes, (Philadelphia, 1837) Volume 1 and Volume 2 These are Marshall's decisions in the District Court, not the Supreme Court decisions. For United States Supreme Court decisions see below under Cotton and Dillon.
Cotton, Joseph Peter, Jr., ed., The Constitutional Decisions of John Marshall in two volumes(1905) Vol. 1, Vol. 2 (New York and London).
Hobson, Charles F., John Marshall: Writings, Library of America, New York, 2010 (This volume collects 196 documents written between 1779 and 1835, including Marshall's most important judicial opinions, his influential rulings during the Aaron Burr treason trial, speeches, newspaper essays, and revealing letters to friends, fellow judges, and his beloved wife, Polly.) ISBN 978-1-59853-064-3Table of Contents