John Marshall: The Great Chief JusticeJohn Marshall was born in Fauquier County, Virginia on September 4, 1755.He was the first son of Thomas Marshall and Mary Randolph Keith. His role inAmerican history is undoubtedly a very important one.As a boy, Marshall waseducated by his father. He learned to read and write, along with some lessonsin history and poetry.
At the age of fourteen, he was sent away to school, anda year later he returned home to be tutored by a Scottish pastor who lived withthe Marshall family.As a young college student, John Marshall was particularly impressed bythe lectures of professor George Wythe. Wythe was a lawyer, judge, and asigner of the constitution. Other students of professor Wythe were ThomasJefferson, John Breckinridge, and Henry Clay.Marshall became a lawyer at the age of twenty five.
As Brian McGintysays about Marshall in the article, “His first cases were not important, but hehandled them well and made a favorable impression on his neighbors; so favorablethat they sent him to Richmond in 1782 as a member of the Virginia House ofDelegates.” He became a prominent lawyer and was on his way to a successfulfuture.Mr. Marshall worked under the administration of John Adams starting in1798. He was offered the position of attorney general under George Washington’sadministration, but declined because he wanted to stay with his family andpractice law in his home town of Richmond, Virginia.
He was one of threedelegates sent to France by John Adams in 1798. His reasoning for taking thejob in France was partly because it was only a temporary mission and alsobecause he wanted to be of service to his country, aiding in peaceful relationswith France. When he found out that France expected to be paid, he was outragedand believed they were soliciting bribery. Although the mission to France was afailure, he returned to the US a hero.Marshall was appointed to the position of secretary of state by JohnAdams in 1800.
He was put in charge of foreign affairs and was often left incharge of the government when Adams was gone.Then, later that year, he wasappointed to be chief justice of the US by Adams before Thomas Jefferson tookover the presidency.Thomas Jefferson soon took office and John Marshall was now chiefjustice. Although the two were distant cousins, they held very differentpositions and belonged to opposing political parties. Jefferson believed thatthe constitution should be interpreted strictly to keep the government’s powerrelatively low. In the article, Mr.
McGinty sums up Marshall’s views of whatgovernment should be: “Marshall believed in a strong central government, in theConstitution as the key to the laws of the land, and in courts as the supremecustodians of those lawsviews that would influence his shaping of the SupremeCourt.” Marshall believed that the Constitution should not be interpreted asstrict, allowing the government to become more powerful.Possibly the most important case of its time was Marbury vs. Madison in1803. In this case, John Marshall’s ruling set an extremely important precident.His ruling declared that a law was unconstitutional, therefore setting aprecident giving the Supreme Court the power to declare laws unconstitutional.Because of this ruling alone, John Marshall is a very prominent figure inAmerican history and American law, but his acheivements do not end at that.During John Marshall’s life, and particularly during his reign as chief justice,the power of the judicial branch became equally powerful to the other branchesof the US government.Biographies