John Marshall (24 September 1775 - 6 July 1835), Chief Justice of the United States and principal founder of American constitutional law, was born at Germantown (now Midland) in Fauquier County, Virginia. A member of the Culpepper Minutemen early in the American Revolutionary War, he entered the Third Virginia Continental Regiment on 30 July 1776 and served ably in a number of important campaigns, rising to Captain. He became a lawyer after the war, serving his state as a leader in the Assembly and in the new Federalist Party. He attracted attention from national leaders, and was offered several diplomatic posts, but preferred to remain in Virginia. In 1797, however, he accepted an appointment on a three-man commission to negotiate with France. After French leaders demanded personal bribes in return for engaging in the negotiations, Marshall answered for his colleagues in a brilliant memorial which rejected this extortion and upheld the honor and dignity of the new country.
Elected to Congress in 1799, Marshall became Secretary of State on 6 June 1800. Here he strongly opposed violations of American rights on the high seas and adopted a policy which necessitated a strong Navy to give force to our diplomatic protests.
Appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on 20 January 1801, Marshall continued to serve as Secretary of State until the end of Adams' administration 4 March 1801. In the United States Supreme Court, Marshall made his greatest contributions to the development of American government. In a series of historic decisions, he established the judiciary as an independent and influential branch of the government equal to Congress and the Presidency. Perhaps the most significant of these cases was that of Marbury v. Madison, in which the principle of judicial review was simply stated by Marshall: "A legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law." Then, as the young nation was endangered by regional and local interests which often threatened to tear it to shreds, Marshall again and again interpreted the Constitution broadly so that the Federal Government had the power to become a respected and creative force guiding and encouraging the nation's growth. For practical purposes, the Constitution in its most important aspects today is the Constitution as John Marshall interpreted it. As Chief Justice he embodied the majesty of the Judicial Branch of the government as fully as the President stood for the power of the Executive Branch. He died 6 July 1835, having served as Chief Justice for nearly 35 years.
Marshall wrote several important Supreme Court opinions, including:
See also: John Marshall (archaeologist)