John Marshall, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court for 34 years, died July 6, 1835. He was 79.
Marshall was born September 24, 1755 in Germantown, Virginia. His father, Thomas, imparted much of his early education. He studied law on his own and became a legal clerk for Dunmore County.
During the Revolutionary War, Marshall was a captain in the Continental Army. After the war, he passed the Virginia bar exam.
He married Mary Willis Ambler in 1782. They had 10 children, six of whom lived to adulthood. Mrs. Marshall died in 1831.
Marshall was elected to the Virginia legislature in 1782 and served in that body until 1791. While a legislator, he helped secure ratification of the new federal constitution in Virginia.
Meantime, he established a successful law practice in Richmond. Possessing a fine intellect, he was often sought out for his advice on national issues by important people of the time, including George Washington, John Adams and Patrick Henry.
Washington offered him the position of attorney general, but he turned it down. He also declined a diplomatic post to France. At the request of John Adams, he did go to France during the winter of 1797-98 to work out internal problems in the new republic.
Turning down an offer by Adams to be Secretary of War, Marshall did accept the Secretary of State position, and about half a year later, on January 31, 1801, accepted the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the job he most prized.
Under Marshall, the demeanor and respect for the court increased dramatically. Up to 1801, decisions by the Supreme Court were not looked upon as authoritative. The third branch of government had little check and balance jurisdiction.
But Marshall implemented the policy of judicial review that gave the court the right to set aside any law that contradicted national law. And Marshall established the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land. No state or local constitution could contain language contrary to the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court became the interpreter of the Constitution. Justices for the first time issued majority and minority decisions with the majority having the final say on the constitutionality of a law. A 5-4 decision by the nine justices constituted a majority.
Marshall’s wife Mary died in 1831. After sustaining serious injuries in a stagecoach accident in 1835, Marshall was forced to go to Philadelphia in June to get medical attention. He died there on July 6, 1835. He is buried next to his wife in Richmond, Virginia’s Shockhoe Hill Cemetery.