John Marshall (September 24, 1755 - July 6, 1835)

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

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

Marshall was thrust into the office of Chief Justice in the wake of the presidential election of 1800. With the Federalists soundly defeated and about to lose both the executive and legislative branches to Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, President Adams and the lame duck Congress passed what came to be known as the Midnight Judges Act, which made sweeping changes to the federal judiciary, including a reduction in the number of Justices from six to five so as to deny Jefferson an appointment until two vacancies occurred. As the incumbent Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth was in poor health, Adams first offered the seat to ex-Chief Justice John Jay, who declined on the grounds that the Court lacked "energy, weight, and dignity." Jay's letter arrived on January 20, 1801, and as there was precious little time left, Adams nominated Marshall, who was with him at the time and able to accept immediately. The Senate at first delayed, hoping to Adams would make a different choice, but recanted "lest another not so qualified, and more disgusting to the Bench, should be substituted, and because it appeared that this gentleman was not privy to his own nomination". Marshall was confirmed by the Senate on January 27, 1801, and received his commission on January 31, 1801. While Marshall officially took office on February 4, at the request of the President he continued to serve as Secretary of State until Adams' term expired on March 4.¹

John Marshall Quotes

"The law does not expect a man to be prepared to defend every act of his life which may be suddenly and without notice alleged against him."
"The Constitution is not a panacea for every blot upon the public welfare, nor should this Court, ordained as a judicial body, be thought of as a general haven for reform movements."

"No political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the States, and of compounding the American people into one common mass."

"The power to tax is the power to destroy."

"To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well."

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