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. During the short period that he was in Congress, it is needless to say that he ranked among the ablest of that body, and on all constitutional questions above every other member. When he discussed them,' remarks Mr. Binney, in his Eulogy of Mr. Marshall, 'he exhausted them; nothing more remained to be said, and the impression of his argument effaced that of every one else.' The speech which he delivered on the surrender of the person of Jonathan Robbins, on the requisition of the British minister in this country, under a clause of the treaty with Great Britain, upon a charge of murder committed on board a British frigate, - which speech is believed to be the only one that he ever revised, - is thus characterized by the same gentleman: It has all the merits, and nearly all the weight, of a judicial sentence. It is throughout inspired by the purest reason, and the most copious and accurate learning. It separates the executive from the judicial power by a line so distinct, and a discrimination so wise, that all can perceive and approve it. It demonstrated that the surrender was an act of political power which belonged to the executive; and by excluding all such power from the grant of the constitution to the judiciary, it prepared a pillow of repose for that department, where the success of the opposite argument would have planted thorns.' It may be mentioned that, during his term of service in Congress, he voted for the repeal of the obnoxious section of the act commonly known by the name of the Sedition Law,' and evinced his superiority to mere considerations of party, by thus voting in opposition to all the members with whose political opinions his own generally corresponded. On the 31st of January 1800, Mr. Marshall became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, an office which he filled with the highest honor to himself, and with the greatest advantage to his country, for upwards of 36 years. The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States,' we again quote the words of Mr. Binney, have raised the renown of the country, not less than they have confirmed the constitution. In all parts of the world, its judgments are spoken of with respect. Its adjudications of prize law are a code for all future time. Upon commercial law it has brought us nearly to one system, befitting the probity and interest of a great commercial nation. Over its whole path, learning and intelligence and integrity have shed their combined lustre.' Judge Marshall was a member of the convention which met in the year 1829, for revising the constitution of Virginia. He spoke with much power on both of the great questions which divided and agitated the parties composing that body, namely, the basis of representation and the tenure of judicial office and while he contributed, by the sound sense and moderation of his views in reference to the former, to produce a compromise between the extreme opinions entertained concerning it, he was in no ordinary degree instrumental in causing the tenure of good behavior, for the judges of the Superior Courts, to be adopted in the proposed constitution, guarded by a clause against the construction which had in one instance prevailed, that the repeal of the law establishing the court, and by a mere majority, should dissolve the tenure, and discharge the judge upon the world.' Having been for some months in feeble health, he visited Philadelphia that he might have the benefit of the most skillful medical aid, and died in that city, on the 6th of July 1835. Judge Marshall published his Life of Washington' in 1805, in 5 volumes. It was greatly improved and compressed into 2 volumes, in a second edition which appeared in 1832. The first volume of the original work was published. in a separate form in 1824, under the title of The History of the American Colonies.'