John Marshall was born in 1755 in Northern Virginia. His parents were both members of prominent Virginia families, The Marshalls and the Randolphs, and he grew up as the oldest of thirteen. His first claim to fame was as a soldier during the American Revolutionary War. He attained the rank of Lieutenant, and was present at during iconic moments such as the Battle of Brandywine and the Encampment at Valley Forge.
Towards the end of the war, Marshall was furloughed from the Continental Army and began attending the College of William and Mary. Studying law, he applied to the Virginia State Bar, and was welcomed as a lawyer. During this time, he rejoined the Continental Army and served out the remaining two years of combat in his commission.
The political career of Marshall began in 1782, when he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. The young Marshall showed a knack for understanding law and policy, and quickly added new roles to his repertoire. He became a member of the Council of State, and a Court Recorder for Richmond, Virginia. However, these roles were not enough for John Marshall and he attempted to begin his own law practice, to little avail. His persistence found a stroke of luck when his cousin, Edmund Randolph, was elected Governor of Virginia in 1786. Marshall purchased Randolph’s law practice from him, and with a wealth of clients to work with, began to flourish. The Washington Administration under the newly ratified Constitution tried to pull Marshall from his practice multiple times, first by appointing him as U.S. Attorney for Virginia. However, Marshall declined and continued to work in the private sector. Next in 1795, following the death of William Bradford, Washington attempted to name Marshall the 3rd United States Attorney General, but again Marshall refused.
Marshall’s political stock first rose during the Adams Administration. Marshall was appointed to the three-man envoy team that eventually became known for their role in what would become the XYZ Affair. Marshall returned from France to praise from members of both parties, and the fame of his law practice rose again. In 1798, Washington finally succeeded in convincing Marshall to get involved in politics, and the future Chief Justice challenged Virginia Congressman John Clopton. Despite being the underdog in the race, Marshall succeeded and was elected as a Congressman from the Virginia 13th. He would serve for one term, before John Adams nominated him to be the Secretary of War. This nomination was not popular with many of Washington’s elite, and so the nominated was rescinded and instead Adams nominated Marshall to be the next Secretary of State. This nomination was much more successful, and Marshall took over as the Secretary of State during the 1800 Presidential Campaign.
The 1800 Campaign ended up being the most contentious of the early United States, with both Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr receiving 73 electoral votes. Marshall as Secretary of State was the next in line to ascend to the Presidency if no resolution was found before the term of the next President began on March 4th 1801. While the battle for the Presidency was raging in the House of Representatives, Adams knowing he was not being re-elected instead decided to use his lame duck session to move the levers of government for his successor. The most important change he made, was to nominate Marshall to be the 4th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Senate held up the nomination for a short while, believing that there were political motives for his nomination, but eventually relented and Marshall was confirmed to be the next Chief Justice, serving in that role concurrent with his role as Secretary of State until the end of the Adams administration.
Marshall’s appointment to the court was revolutionary. Up until his stint, the Judicial Branch had been seen as lesser than the Executive and Legislative. Marshall changed that completely, introducing the idea of judicial review. He authored some of the most important decisions of the first half of the 19th century, and for the sake of this project introduced the idea of Justices’ wearing black robes during court hearings.
Marshall served for a then record of over 12,000 days on the Court. By the time of his death in 1835, the entire branch had completely remade itself in the image and likeness of Marshall. He made the Supreme Court the nation altering, non-partisan, force that it is still thought of as today, and while the introduction of black judicial robes may not seem like an earth shattering change, it’s representative of the impact Marshall alone had on the Supreme Court of the United States.