Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Marshall, John
MARSHALL, JOHN (1755-1835), chief justice of the United States, was born in Fauquier county, Virginia, on September 24, 1755. As lieutenant and captain he served in the revolutionary army from 1775 to 1780. In 1781 he began the practice of the law, and two years later removed to Richmond. At various times from 1782 to 1798 he was elected a member of the Virginia legislature, in 1788 a member of the Virginia convention for the ratification of the constitution; in 1797 he was envoy-extraordinary to France, and in 1799 a member of Congress; in 1800 he became secretary of state; and on January 31, 1801, he was appointed to the chief justiceship, which position he held until his death on the 6th of July 1835. Marshall as a lawyer soon rose to the first rank at the Virginia bar, and acquired also a national reputation. In the Virginia convention of 1788 his influence was second only to that of Madison in securing the adoption of the constitution. But, unlike Madison, he continued, under the constitution, to support the administration of Washington and Federalist measures in general. It was as chief justice of the supreme court of the United States, however, that Marshall won lasting fame. His reports, filling about thirty volumes, form a work which time will only render more valued. In the expounding of public law, whether international or State law, his talents found their freest scope. In these departments of jurisprudence general principles rather than authority must be sought by the judge, and in their application Marshall has had no equal upon the American bench. It is the peculiar function of the supreme court of the United States to interpret the constitution and to guard it from the encroachments of both national and State legislation. To this duty Marshall brought his great and just powers of reasoning, as well as those broad views of government which, during the thirty-four years of his judicial career, gave to the constitution the liberal powers which were necessary to its durability. “The constitution,” says Judge Story, “since its adoption, owes more to him than to any other single mind for its true interpretation and vindication.” See biography by Henry Flanders in his Lives of the Chief Justices, vol. ii.