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John Marshall

Portrait of Justice John Marshall
Justice Marshall
by Charles de Saint-Memin

Growing Up

John Marshall was born in Germantown, Virginia on September 24, 1755. He grew up in a small log cabin and was the oldest child from a large family that included 14 brothers and sisters. His father, Thomas Marshall, had become wealthy by the time John was a teenager and the family moved to a larger estate.

Because there were no schools near where the Marshalls lived, John received most of his education from his father. He did attend an academy for one year and was tutored by the local priest as a teenager.

Revolutionary War

The Revolutionary War between the American colonies and the British broke out in 1775 when John was 20 years old. He joined the Culpeper Minute Men as a Lieutenant. John's father was friends with George Washington and John became inspired by Washington's leadership. John soon joined the Continental Army where he fought in several battles including the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of Germantown. He also served under Washington during the difficult winter at Valley Forge.

Early Career

After the Revolutionary War, John attended the College of William and Mary where he studied law. He passed the bar and became a lawyer in 1780 opening his own law practice in Fauquier County, Virginia.

Entering Politics

John soon became interested in politics. In 1782, John was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. He then attended the Virginia state convention that ratified the Constitution. John strongly supported replacing the Articles of the Confederation with the new Constitution and led the fight to get the new Constitution ratified.

In 1799, Marshall was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He only served a year before he was appointed Secretary of State by President John Adams.

Chief Justice

In 1801, the position of Chief Justice opened up in the Supreme Court and John Adams appointed Marshall. Marshall would serve in the position for the next 34 years. He would transform the Supreme Court in many ways turning it into a strong and equal third branch of the U.S. government.

One of the first changes Marshall made was to have the Supreme Court give a single unified opinion. Before Marshall, each judge gave their own separate opinion on cases. John changed this to where the court would only give a single opinion. This cleared up any questions as to the final ruling of the court.

Under Marshall's leadership, the court made several landmark decisions. Two of the most important were Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland.

Marbury v. Madison

Perhaps the most important ruling in the history of the Supreme Court was Marbury v. Madison. In this ruling, Marshall set up the process of judicial review. This allowed the Supreme Court to declare laws made by Congress as unconstitutional. This gave the Supreme Court a powerful "check" to the power of Congress and made it an equal third branch of the government.

McCulloch v. Maryland

Another important ruling of Marshall's was in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland. In this case Marshall ruled that the Constitution gave the federal government some implied powers. Meaning that not all the powers of the federal government were directly stated in the Constitution. He also ruled that the states could not stop the federal government from exercising its Constitutional power.

Death and Legacy

Marshall served on the Supreme Court up until his death in 1835. He is widely considered the most important and influential Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. His rulings changed the way the Supreme Court worked and established it as an equal third branch of the government.

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