John Marshall – Longest-Serving Chief Justice

U.S. #263 is a key high-value stamp from the 1894 Bureau Issue.

John Marshall began his 34-year career as chief justice of the Supreme Court on February 4, 1801.

The eldest of fifteen children, John Marshall was born in a log cabin near Germantown, Virginia. Marshall joined the Continental Army in 1776, and spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge with General George Washington’s forces. He was promoted to captain in 1778. Although he had little formal education, Marshall studied law at the College of William and Mary and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1780. He quickly established a career defending individuals against their pre-Revolutionary War British debtors.

U.S. #313 was often used to by local post offices to pay fees to the Post Office Department. You can read the whole story by clicking on the image.

Marshall served several terms of office in Virginia’s House of Delegates. As a delegate to the constitutional convention, Marshall spoke forcefully in favor of a new constitution to replace the weak Articles of Confederation. After declining several positions in the Washington and Adams administrations, Marshall served briefly in the US House of Representatives and as President Adam’s secretary of State. Marshall was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1800. The Senate confirmed his appointment on January 27, 1801, and he was sworn in on January 31, officially taking office on February 4. Marshall continued to serve as secretary of state as well until Adams’ term was completed one month later.

Marshall believed that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. As such, any law enacted by a branch of government must adhere to its principles or be struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Marbury vs. Madison, which determined that an action by a public official violated another’s constitutional rights, reflected this concept of judicial review. Judicial review, which is the practice of reviewing actions of government branches, firmly established the Supreme Court’s powers.

U.S. #1050 from the patriotic Liberty Series.

As chief justice of the US Supreme Court for 34 years, Marshall participated in more than 1,000 decisions and authored more than 500 opinions. The legacy of the Marshall Court was an increase in the power of the Supreme Court as a branch of the Federal Government. It placed an emphasis on the role of the judiciary in states and led to a stronger Federal Government.

As a close friend of George Washington, Marshall announced his 1799 death, offered the eulogy at his funeral, and led the commission that planned the Washington Monument. At the request of Washington’s family, Marshall wrote a five-volume biography about our nation’s first president, The Life of George Washington. John Marshall died in 1835, ending the longest tenure of any chief justice in Supreme Court history.

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  1. I agree with Noah. Hopefully we can elect a new President this year that believes in Marshall’s concept of our Constitution since the next President will be proposing up to 4 new members if the Supreme Court.

  2. He also, I believe, was a cousin of Thomas Jefferson. They differed politically since he was a Federalist believer in a strong Federal govt while Jefferson favored a weak one with more power in the hands of the states.

  3. A heroic career, topped off by the biography of Geo. Washington. The Court remains an essential part of our government, despite it’s sometimes unfortunate political persuasions.

  4. Noah is correct, justices often look to other means of deciding cases that suit their agenda. Our country has become extremely polarized. Unfortunate that these flames of division are fanned even at the highest levels. Marshall must have been a courageous man who let the Constitution be his guiding light, and was not intimidated.

  5. I wonder if he had any slaves? Since Virginia was a slave state it is likely he had slaves. If he did then he didn’t really believe in “all men are created equal” as stated in the Declaration of Independence the other great founding document which was not consistent with the Constitution the “highest law of the land” as Marshall called it. This conflict often makes our founding fathers look like hypocrites. And there was the matter of stealing all that land from the Native American Indians.

  6. John Marshall stood up to president Jackson over the removal of Indian tribes in the southeast. Jackson replied that Marshall made his decision, now “let him enforce it.” Thus the Army forced the five tribes to relocate to Oklahoma on what became known as The Trail of Tears.

  7. Without which, (The Bill of Rights) the people would not be a civil society but have only anarchy and tyranny to rule on.

  8. I would also like to jump on Noah’s bandwagon regarding supreme court judges. An incite into the deal making and crony system that is employed to render decisions is available in the movie Roe v Wade. Regardless of any opinion of the decision itself, the methods are shockingly revealing.

  9. Thanks Mystic, for presenting this great essay on a great American and a great Supreme Court Justice. My humble opinion is this, however: I do not believe that the Justices of the Supreme Court should be appointed for life. I believe their should be a restrictive amount of time 10 years – 20 years, maximum and then it is time to replace them with new blood and new thinking. Our government is to right and left, we need to become more centrist in our thinking and start creating a congress and a supreme court that is for all the people all the time, not just for what THEY believe in, or what they are paid to believe in. Thank you.

  10. It is laughable that a couple of our very conservative current Supreme Court Justices say that they believe in interpreting the Constitution according to the original intent of the men who wrote it. I respect the founders of our nation inc. John Marshall, but part of their “original intent” in the late 1700’s was that blacks should be slaves, women should have no political role, America should have no standing army, and so on. They lived in a world vastly different than ours, and yet the Constitution written in 1787 and amended only twenty seven times is still the basic law of our country. One of the great attributes of the Constitution they framed is that it was written is such a way that our nation has been able to grow and adapt without having to change or add to it every couple of years.

  11. It’s laughable as I read all these comments by the self righteuos in 21st century America. Although it was coming to an end, thankfully, slavery was an institution as old as mankind. Your precious bible talks of it, the Romans and the Egyptians practiced it as did every so called “civilization”. Including the Indians. They also took that same bible and determined that manifest destiny entitled them to the land that already belonged to someone else. The stronger always took from the weak. The bible was always the defining factor in womans place in society as well and men were so afraid of losing their superiority that they kept it that way. Remember, the reason the US was so slow to change was simply the bottom line. Profit, period. Hindsight is always 20/20 but if you don’t or simply can’t look at the past objectively and without injecting your own modern perceptions and prejudices, they’re irrelavent and nothing more than an opinion.
    Also, as long as we continue appointing justices, the supreme court can never truly be just since they are there because of the agenda of the president that appointed them and will continue that agenda as long as they serve, even after the president is gone.
    I’ve said this before, this is a stamp blog, not a political outlet for the comments of a bunch of frustrated old people. Keep your opinions to yourself, state only the facts and make them about stamps and only stamps.

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