John Marshall was born in a log cabin on the Virginia frontier, one of 15 children. His father was a friend of George Washington and his mother was related to the Jeffersons, Lees, and Randolphs. Despite these connections, Marshall lived a very simple life and received little formal education. He saw action at Great Bridge and served in the Continental Army at Brandywine and Monmouth, and wintering with Washington at Valley Forge.
Marshall studied law with the noted George Wythe and began his practice in western Virginia, but when he married, he moved his residence to Richmond, his home for the remainder of his life. He attended the ratification convention in Virginia and spoke in favor of the new constitution, locking horns with Patrick Henry and other opponents of a strong central government.
Marshall declined several positions in the Washington administration, but did accept a diplomatic assignment to France from John Adams in 1797 (see XYZ Affair). Marshall served a term in Congress, then was appointed secretary of state by Adams and in 1801, became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The contributions of Marshall as Chief Justice are hard to overestimate. His opinions established the bedrock of constitutional law for the young nation, drawing from the document an array of both specific and implied powers. It was through Marshall that Federalism continued to exist despite the demise of the Federalist political party.
The establishment of the judicial review of congressional legislation stemmed from Marbury v. Madison (1803). McCulloch v Maryland (1819) set the precedent for setting aside state legislation by invalidating state taxation of a federal agency. The Dartmouth College Case (1819) helped to protect the inviolability of contracts.
Gibbons v Ogden (1824) supported federal primacy in the regulation of commerce. After the successful development of a steam-powered vessel, Robert Fulton, along with his partner Robert Livingston, was given the exclusive right to run them on the Hudson River. This monopoly was challenged by Thomas Gibbons. Marshall determined that the constitutional power of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce extended to navigation of rivers.
His powers of persuasion were so great that his Federalist philosophy dominated the Court in an age of Democratic appointments. Despite Marshall’s contributions, he remained a partisan political figure, as evidenced in his dealings with his rival Thomas Jefferson in Marbury and the Aaron Burr trial, and later with Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee issue.
Marshall also is remembered for authoring a five-volume Life of George Washington (1804-07).
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by John Marshall.
Regarding Marbury v. Madison
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is...If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each...This is of the very essence of judicial duty.
Regarding United States Constitution
The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will.
Ruling in Cohens v. Virginia, 1821
Regarding Aaron Burr
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.
In the Trial of Burr, 1807
Regarding McCulloch v. Maryland
Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.
Quotes regarding John Marshall.
By John Randolph
No one admires more than I do the extraordinary powers of Marshall's mind; no one respects more his amiable deportment in private life. He is the most unpretending and unassuming of men. His abilities and his virtues render him an ornament not only to Virginia, but to our nature.
Randolph was one of Marshall's political opponents