Marshall was born in North Manchester, Indiana and studied law at Wabash College. He was admitted to the bar and began his career as a lawyer in Columbia City, Indiana. He served as Governor of Indiana from 1909 - 1913.
He was elected, as a Democrat, Vice President of the United States on the ticket with Woodrow Wilson in 1912, was reelected in 1916 and served until 1921. When Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, Marshall was advised to assume the presidency. He refused; there was no provision in the Constitution at that time for the removal of an incapacitated, as opposed to a dead, President, and he feared that such a move would divide the country.
Marshall is best known for introducing this phrase into the American lexicon: "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar." in a Senate debate in 1917.