John Marshall

JOHN MARSHALL, Chief Justice of the United States, was born in Fauquier county, Virginia, on the 24th of September 1755. He was the son of Colonel Thomas Marshall, a planter of a moderate fortune, who afterwards served with distinction in the American army, during the war of the Revolution; and he was the eldest of 15 children. Colonel Marshall had removed with his family to a place called The Hollow ' in the mountains east of the Blue Ridge, and, from the want of schools in that neighborhood, became of necessity the first instructor of his son. Being a man of vigorous intellect, though of a comparatively limited education, he succeeded in efficiently training the opening faculties of the latter, and imbuing him with a taste for literature. At the age of 14, young Marshall was placed under the charge of a Mr. Campbell, a respectable clergyman, at the distance of 100 miles from home, and remained with him a year and he then pursued his classical studies for another year, under the direction of a Scottish gentleman who resided in his father's family, and had lately become the pastor of the parish to which he belonged. This was all the formal instruction which he received at this period of his life, as he was never at any college. On the breaking out of the revolutionary war, Mr. Marshall embraced with ardor the cause of his country, and was engaged in the action at the Great Bridge, where Lord Dunmore was defeated by the provincial militia. He was appointed a lieutenant in the continental army in July 1776, and promoted to the rank of a captain in May 1777. He was present at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth, and continued to serve with distinction until the time of enlistment of the troops with which he served had expired, when he returned to Virginia. An interval of 9 or 10 months was now occupied by him in prosecuting the study of the law, which he had already previously entered upon. Having been admitted to the bar, he again joined the army in October 1780, and served under the orders of Baron Steuben, in the defense of Virginia from the invasion of a British force commanded by General Arnold. But before the renewed invasion of the State in the following year, there being more officers than was required by the Virginia line, he resigned his commission and, on the reopening of the courts of law after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis, he commenced the practice of his profession, in which he rose rapidly to distinction. In the course of the year 1782, Marshall was chosen first a member of the Legislature, and then of the Executive Council. On his resignation of the last-mentioned office in 1784, he was, though residing at the time in Richmond, elected a member of the Legislature from his native county of Fauquierand in 1787, he represented the county of Henrico in the same body. ' We next find him, as one of the delegates to the convention of Virginia which met in June 1788 for the ratification of the constitution of the United States, ably defending against its adversaries the provisions of this instrument, - especially those relating to the powers of taxation, over the militia, and of the judiciary, granted by it to the general government. He was elected a member of the Legislature from the city of Richmond in 1789, 1790 and 1791. He declined a reelection in 1792, and from this period until 1795, was occupied uninterruptedly in the practice of his profession. His friends were, however, unwilling in a season of great political excitement, - it was just after the conclusion of 'Jay's treaty,' - that he should remain abstracted from any participation in public affairs; and they, accordingly, elected him once more to the Legislature; where, if he did not succeed in preventing the adoption of resolutions approving of the votes of the senators from Virginia, against the ratification of the treaty, on the ground of its inexpediency, - to him at least it was in a great measure owing that they did not touch the constitutional objection, and that they disclaimed all intention to censure the motives of the President of the United States (General Washington) in ratifying it. The extraordinary ability displayed at this time by Mr. Marshall obtained for him a conspicuous position in every part of the country, and he came to be regarded as a proper person to fill the highest political offices. Accordingly, he was offered successively the appointments of attorney-general of the United States, and minister to France, (on the recall of Mr. Monroe, in 1796,) both of which he declined. He continued in the Legislature of Virginia, where, however, he participated in the discussions only on important questions of general policy, his attention being for the most part given to his professional business, which had now become very extensive and lucrative. On his refusal to accept of the embassy to France, General Pinckney was appointed in his stead. But the French government (the Directory) having refused to receive the latter, Mr. Adams, who was then the president, deemed it proper to make a last effort to preserve peace with France, by sending a special mission to that country. For this purpose, Mr. Marshall, in conjunction with General Pinckney and Mr. Gerry, was selected; and in the then existing critical posture of our foreign relations, he did not feel himself at liberty, as before, to decline the appointment tendered to him. The mission was unsuccessful, the American envoys not having been even received as such. Their letters, addressed to Talleyrand, the French minister of foreign affairs, are attributed to the pen of Mr. Marshall, and have been applauded as admirable specimens of diplomacy. In the summer of 1798, Mr. Marshall returned to the United States; in 1799, at the urgent request of General Washington, he became a candidate and was elected to Congress; and in 1800, he was appointed secretary of war, and then secretary of state.