John Marshall, Defender of the Constitutio


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In Francis N. Stites' book, John Marshall, Defender of the Constitution, he tells the story of John Marshall's life by breaking up his life into different roles such as a Virginian, Lawyer, Federalist, National Hero, and as Chief of Justice. John Marshall was born in Virginia in 1755. Stites describes him as a Virginian "by birth, upbringing, disposition, and property (Stites 1)." His father, Thomas Marshall, was one of the most prominent and ambitious men of his time, and had a major impact on John. At age nineteen, John Marshall made his first impression when he joined the Fauquier County Militia as a lieutenant to fight in the American Revolution. Marshall's education included three months of law study at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. Even though his education was limited, it was better than most of the political figures of his time. Marshall obtained his license to practice law on August 28, 1780 in Fauquier County. In April 1782, Marshall was elected to the House of Delegates from Fauquier County. This job led him to his future wife, Polly Ambler, whom he married on January 3, 1783 at the age of twenty-seven. In 1788, Marshall participated in the Virginia Convention to ratify the new Federal Constitution. Marshall also served on the Committee on Courts of Justice and was elected to the Council of State by the House in 1782. He later resigned from the council and was later elected again to the House of Delegates from Fauquier County. In 1785, Marshall was admitted to practice before the Court of Appeals and chosen for a seat on Richmond's governing body, the Common Hall. Later, Marshall declined several positions including the first attorney of the United States for the District of Virginia, attorney general and the job as minister to France. In June of 1797 the relationship between France and the United States worsened. Jay's Treaty of 1795 angered France, who was at war with Britain and recognized the treaty as support of an Anglo-American alliance. Almost 300 American ships bound for British were seized by France. Marshall finally accepted a national appointment from President John Adams as one of the three representatives to France to negotiate peace. He accepted because he was concerned about the controversy. However, when Marshall and the other representatives arrived in France, the French refused to negotiate unless the United States paid massive bribes.

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This diplomatic affair became known as the XYZ Affair, igniting anti-French opinion in the United States. Anger continued to increase when Talleyrand, the new Directory's foreign minister, forced Marshall and Pinckney from France. Marshall's handling of the affair made him popular figure and he returned to the United States as a national hero. After Marshall's return, President John Adams offered him an appointment to the Supreme Court that he declined. In 1798, he was elected to Congress and became a leader of the Federalists in the House of Representatives. Marshall declined to serve as secretary of war, but he accepted appointment in 1800 as secretary of state. In 1801, Marshall assumed the role of leading the Supreme Court of the United States. On January 19, 1801, President Adams nominated him as Chief Justice. A week later, the Senate confirmed his nomination. Before the next presidential election, Adams was making last minute appointments. These last minute appointments led to the Marbury v. Madison case. Republicans were angry with Adams for filling the government with Federalists and the new Republican government was threatening to repeal the Judiciary. This worried Marshall because he thought anarchy would come about once again. As Adams was making his last minute appointments, Marshall was supposed to deliver the Justice-of-the-Peace commissions to the nominees before the new president took office. However, he forgot to deliver the commissions and by the time President James Madison took office James Madison refused to allow the commission. As the Chief Justice, Marshall heard the case and decided that Marbury was entitled to his commission, but the Court ruled an act of Congress unconstitutional; according to the Judiciary Act of 1789. However, his strong will allowed him to go against the Supreme and stand up for what he believed in. This would be a quality that would make him a successful chief justice as he always tried to do what was just. Other examples of his just nature include cases such as Aaron Burr and Darthmouth v. Woodward. In the trial of Aaron Burr, the prosecution contended that Burr was guilty of treason and misdemeanor. Marshall acquitted Burr based on his belief that there was insufficient evidence to convict him and set bail at $10,000. Another one of Marshall's important cases included Dartmouth College v. Woodward. The case was meant to determine whether or not the college was a private or public institution. Marshall ruled that the college was a private corporation, and its charter was a contract within meaning of the Constitution which the states could not weaken. Marshall's career included other famous cases such as Struges v. Crowninshield, McCulloch v. Maryland, Fletcher v. Peck, Green v. Biddle, and Gibbons v. Ogden. Marshall's decisions in these cases and others expanded the power of the national government. In 1832, Marshall's wife Polly died. This could have been an omen of upsetting events to come as the government seemed to unfold. The Union faced difficulties in 1831 as the case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia arose. The state of Georgia and the Cherokee Indians claimed the same land. The national government had treaties with the Indians which gave them claim to the land, but Georgia ignored the treaties. The Cherokees went to the Supreme Court suing Georgia. Marshall dismissed the case on the basis of jurisdiction. However, problems continued when Samuel Worcester, the postmaster at the Indian capital was arrested. The Georgia court released him, but ordered that he leave the state. After refusing to do, so they arrested him and he was imprisoned. When the case reached the Supreme Court, Marshall ruled that all of Georgia's Indian laws were unconstitutional and ordered Worcester to be released. Marshall's last constitutional opinion before his death came in 1833 with the Barron v. Baltimore case. At the close of his term as Chief of Justice, the elderly Marshall injured his spine in a stagecoach accident. This led to a diseased liver which caused his death on July 6, 1835 at the age of seventy-nine. The country mourned over the loss of this great American and still celebrated today for defending the United States Constitution. Marshall's role as Chief Justice established a stronger national government by enforcing power of the courts to preside over matters. This is best demonstrated in the case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia where he showed he was still concerned with keeping a strong national government. At a speaker at the Philadelphia Convention, trying to persuade states to ratify the new Constitution, he spoke passionately about the need for a strong national government. The author has a biased opinion of John Marshall as he presents him a favorable light throughout the book. One example includes when Stites refers to John Marshall as a "good lawyer" on page 23 of his book. Another example is presented on page 32, he favors Marshall's side when Stites says "fortunately, Richard Henry Lee would be absent", when speaking against the Constitution. Stites could of reworded this sentence as, fortunately for the Constitutionalists or for Marshall, but Stites instead expressed his opinion that he was in favor of a stronger, national government as he was thankful Richard Lee was absent. The author makes the book a bit difficult to read. Stites has many examples and does not always go in chronological order and skips around a bit. On page 11, Stites talks about how Marshall was commissioned in 1776 and ordered to active duty in 1777. Later on the same page, he talks about Marshall at Valley Forge in 1775. Further, when Stite describes Marshall's cases as Chief of Justice, he explains the cases of 1819 (Dartmouth College, Sturges v.Crowninshield ect.) (Stites 123-127) then a few pages later on page 131, he talks about the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. The book seems to be targeted to one who has an understanding of history, for it does not tell much of a story, but instead describes facts of historical events and policies. It is an appropriate book for history students, but it was difficult to follow. Another weakness is how Stites describes other people other than John Marshall too much. One example is Stites goes into detail about John Marshall's father, Thomas Marshall. Perhaps Stites is just trying to provide a background, on his father and show what influence he made on his son. However, at the beginning of the story Stites makes it sound like the book is going to be about Thomas Marshall instead of John. An example of this is provide on page 10, when Stites writes "Thomas Marshall held the rank of major; his son John was a lieutenant." This sounds like John Marshall is just a small character in the book, instead of the main focus. He also describes George Wythe in great detail again on page 13 when he describes Wythe's political careers. Stites does this with many other characters in the book such as, George Washington, James Madison, and John Adams and others. It takes the focus off of Marshall whom is supposed to be the focal point of the book. Overall, Stites did an good job of describing John Marshall despite a few side-tracks. John Marshall played a crucial role in the Constitution as he defended national government his whole life. His virtue and intellect are qualities which contributed to his success as a politician.


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