Born in Fauquier County, Virginia on September 24, 1755, John Marshall became one of the most influential leaders of his time. As a young boy, Marshall was influenced and encouraged by his father's friend, George Washington. Marshall went on to serve in the Continental Army first as a lieutenant and then as captain. Enduring the hardships of the winter at Valley Forge, Marshall's admiration of Washington grew as did his resolve to help shape what was to become the new nation of the United States.
Marshall briefly studied law with George Wythe at the College of William and Mary before being admitted to the bar. It was during this time that he met Mary Willis Ambler Marshall who would become his beloved wife. Soon after, Marshall moved to Richmond where he served in the Virginia House of Delegates. It was not long until John Marshall was known for his fairness, his belief in a strong Federal government, and his acute intellect. These characteristics made him a leading member of the law community in Richmond and prompted John Adams to call on Marshall to serve his country.
In 1797, President John Adams convinced John Marshall to serve as an envoy in the XYZ Affair. Upon returning , Adams offered Marshall a seat on the Supreme Court. Marshall chose instead to serve in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1799. In 1800, Marshall was appointed to the post of Secretary of State and by 1801 President Adams appointed Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Marshall served as Chief Justice for thirty-four years. The influence of his decisions did much to strengthen the judicial branch of government. Many scholars hold that Marshall was the founder of Constitutional law and judicial precedent. His decision in Marbury vs. Madison in 1803 declared the power of the Supreme Court to invalidate an act of Congress if it that act was in conflict with the Constitution.
In two cases, McCulloch vs. the State of Maryland, and Gibbons vs. Ogden, the rulings of the Supreme Court gave the Judiciary power to set aside state legislative acts if they were in conflict with the federal Constitution. The Supreme Court, under the guidance of Marshall, also ruled that the judiciary could reverse a decision of the state court. These decisions are still reflected in the work of the Supreme Court today.
Marshall's strict reading of the Constitution brought him into conflict with the Republicans. Chief among his opponents was President Thomas Jefferson. Though the two men were cousins, Marshall and Jefferson were continually in conflict. Marshall believed that a strong Federal government was necessary to ensure that the government would meet the needs of all the people. Jefferson, on the other hand, believed that the power of government should remain in the hands of the states. Marshall and Jefferson also took opposing positions at the trial of Aaron Burr in 1806-1807.John Marshall died in 1835 in Philadelphia. His body was brought back to Richmond and laid next to that of his "dearest Polly" in Shockoe Valley Cemetery. His passing was mourned by the nation, but his legacy remains.